Sydney Schanberg: My Four-Decade Fight to Report the Truth

Roundup: Talking About History

[Sydney Schanberg won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the war in Indochina]

From the beginning, nearly 40 years ago, the evidence was in plain sight. For reasons unexplained, however, the mainstream press did not acknowledge it and has continued to ignore it to this day.

I’m referring to the evidence that North Vietnam—after the peace treaty had been signed on Jan. 27, 1973 in Paris—held back hundreds of American prisoners, keeping them as bargaining chips to ensure getting Washington’s promised $3.25 billion in war reparations. The funds were never delivered, and the prisoners were never released. Both sides insisted to their people and the world that all POWs had been returned, challenging the voluminous body of facts to the contrary.

But behind the scenes, where the press did not go then or now, President Nixon accused Hanoi of not returning a multitude of prisoners. In a private message on Feb. 2, 1973, Nixon said U.S. records showed 317 prisoners in Laos alone. “It is inconceivable,” he wrote, “that only 10 of these men” were being returned.

Hanoi stonewalled and never added any men to its prisoner list. Yet just two months later, Nixon did an about-face and claimed proudly on national television, “all of our American POWs are on their way home.” He had to know he was telling a terrible lie.

There were occasional times when the press detoured from its pattern of disinterest. Early in 1973, for instance, the New York Times published a front-page story that described how taken aback the intelligence community was by the tiny number of prisoners being released from Laos. But neither the Times nor any other major news organization followed up with a serious investigation.

I take no pleasure in criticizing my profession. But in a sense, the press too abandoned the POWs. By its silence, the news community enabled Washington to cover up the scandal – though scandal is too mild a word for it. I believe it is a national shame....

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Arnold Shcherban - 5/28/2010

was simple: the US government just did not want to meet its obligation to pay the war reparations agreed on.
The lies and hypocrisy of the US mass-media and political elites in this POW's case are actually much less and less damaging than the lies and hypocrisy of the US mass-media and Washington about the war in Indo-China, in general, that have only multiplied and deepened, recently; that is real shame of gigantic proportions, the grave consequences of which for the US foreign policies, and especially the world in large, continue unabated, as we speak.