There has been a lot of thrashing around lately about Jane Fonda, whose recent TV shopping network promo of her new book was scotched at the last minute by some folks, mainly Vietnam Vets, who complained mightily about her presence. Since she made the famous trip to Hanoi 40 years ago, and in particular sat at the North Vietnamese anti aircraft gun and urged them on, she has been a pariah of the Veterans groups. According to Snopes, though, many of the long and oft repeated stories about her purposely turning over ‘secret’ pieces of paper given her by American POWs, to the North Vietnamese, are long proven to have NO credibility. Yes, she was somehow helped by some North Vietnamese staff people in their Paris embassy, into doing what they wanted, publicly, and yes, she sat at that AA gun (ahhh… bad idea Jane!) But it brings up some interesting points, when you analyze the vitriol that many vets feel about her. I’m not a huge fan, but I think that the process needs a little more discussion. There have been, lately a couple of new pieces about Henry Kissinger, and his role not only in the Nixon years, but later, when, during the Reagan presidency, he changed many of his views to make them more palatable to the Reaganites who were in power. One researcher recalls: "As his friend and mentor (Hans) Morgenthau identified in 1975, one of his greatest skills was his ability to 'adjust ... intellectual conviction to political exigencies' from time to time.”
Adjusting? Yeah, in spades. Actually, the Kissinger thing is pretty interesting when you think about it. Does anyone think he really gave much of a damn about the American troops in Vietnam ? The famous Nixon 'secret plan' to end the war, which stayed pretty secret from what I remember, must have had Henry's hands all over it. But aside from the effort to pull troops out (by '72 you found -- as John Saar and I did in a LIFE piece-- that a lot of Army units were stuck in the middle of ‘indian country’ only to see their resources sharply cut back, as the "cut backs" were actually put into effect .. (aka Vietnamization).. I don't remember much of a plan. I think General Giap had a plan too, but he didn’t really bother to keep it secret. In the end.. I just wonder if Kissinger didn’t deserve as much disdain from the vets as Jane Fonda did. I didn’t see the VFW boycotting any appearances of his for his new book on China. Obviously he came from a different end of the spectrum, but was he near and dear to the hearts of grunts? I think not. Certainly his attitude about imperial American hegemony (a word i seldom like to use since i barely know what the hell it really means) was not exactly the kind of thing which would lend itself to adoration.
I'm not a huge fan of Jane Fonda.. and she still (Time this week) recites her admissions of apology (even though the apologies themselves are a bit faint-hearted) and says she shall for some time to come for that picture on the AA gun. Kissinger of course has never apologized for anything that I am aware of.... but maybe I missed something. But the bigger issue (and this is what really got me going tonight) is the attitude of the populace now vs. thirty-forty years ago. In the 70s world of 'real' journalism, for all its faults and they were legion, the populace really was better informed about what was going on in the world, and able to make their decisions about what they thought government action ought to be based on those opinions. (Long discussion to ensue.) Today's internet/twitter/blog world has a helluva lot of propwash, and so little which actually has substance to it. You can read all sorts of crap which is aligned to what you already believe, things which bolster your attitudes, already pre-formed. But like propwash in the lake, the bubbles eventually disperse, and there is little left, other than the fact that the boat is somewhere else, and the water is calmed. But can you call it information? Data? I’m just not sure those terms apply.
When I began working in France in 1973, I was bemused by the fact that the French press was already arranged in a very political fashion. France-soir was the Gaullist paper, Liberation the Socialist, Humanite, the Communist. So if you were a Communist auto worker, you probably read Huma'... a banker more likely France-soir or Le Monde. I couldn't believe that you could have a progressive society (which the French always have taken themselves for) which had dismissed the idea of a free and independently aligned press. If you read any of the big US papers (the Times, Chic. Tribune, LA Times...) at least in the eyes of many, there were attempting to be great papers -- to conduct great journalism. And you can assign the rise of FOX news as a reaction to what many conservatives believed was the Lame Stream press at work, altering their view of the world to conform to their liberal leanings.
We have lost whatever we might have once taken as simply good journalism, and replaced it with this engagé form. And the populace, for all the internet, twitter, etc, isn’t necessarily a whole lot better informed. I agree with Mort Rosenblum, a long time AP reporter who bemoans the death of journalism in this world of ephemeral news, and that in losing the bases for what we consider classic journalism, the country suffers greatly. And we're so busy tweeting each other, that no one seems to give a damn. The propwash swirls. At least we don’t have to watch Henry’s Work Out Videos. We’re just sayin’… David