Monday, January 16, 2006

Walter Cronkite's second Tet Offensive

Former CBS anchorman is re-living his Vietnam War glories, making headlines by calling for the United States to pull out of Iraq.

Way back when the TV triopoly controlled information enough to make Cronkite "the most trusted man in America," the CBS anchorman arguably had more of an influence on American public opinion than any media figure since.

That was before the New Media, of course, which drove a stake through Cronkite's successor, Dan Rather, forcing Rather to retire in shame.

Cronkite has never owned up to falling for a huge North Vietnamese propaganda operation, the Tet Offensive of 1968, which made it look as though the Viet Cong insurgency had overrun South Vietnam and its capital, Saigon.

In reality, the US, South Vietnamese and other allies smashed the Viet Cong during Tet, and effectively destroyed the insurgency.

But that wasn't the image that Cronkite and others showed on TV, which made it look as though Saigon was about to fall. Cronkite told viewers that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

He claims he made the comment after his boss urged him to put his "objectivity" aside.

President Lyndon Johnson, who obsessed over the ABC/CBS/NBC triopoly's TV coverage, reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Johnson announced he was quitting politics, and gave Hanoi and its Soviet allies proof that their military propaganda operations, if stretched out long enough on American TV, could grind down the United States' will to fight.

Now, at age 89, Cronkite proves he hasn't learned his lesson. His says Tet comment - putting his objectivity aside - remains one of his proudest moments.