1963 October 22

President Kennedy Asks NY Times Publisher to Transfer Reporter David Halberstam from Vietnam


President John F. Kennedy was unhappy with stories in the New York Times by reporter David Halberstam, which indicated that American efforts to support the South Vietnamese government against the Viet Cong were failing. Kennedy tried to get the Times publisher to transfer Halberstam out of Vietnam on this day, but the Times refused.

This event was one of several attempts by President Kennedy to “manage” the news (see January 25, 1961 and April 27, 1961), and in this case to directly attempt to manipulate news coverage of a major event. On December 6, 1962, for example, a Pentagon official stated that the government has a right “to lie to protect itself.”

Halberstam’s stories proved to be prophetic about the Vietnam War. He later became a famous author of many distinguished books, including The Best and the Brightest (1972, about the Vietnam War tragedy), The Powers That Be (1979, about the news media), The Fifties (1993, about the decade), and The Children (1999, about the civil rights movement).

In addition to this incident, the Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Read Halberstam’s book on the Vietnam War: David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (1972)

Read his earlier book on Vietnam: David Halberstam, The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era (1965)

See Halberstam discuss his experience covering Vietnam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw-xb3vAU90

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