The following is a translation of Swedish public radios hourly news segment on the 25th anniversary of Vietnams reunification, 30 April 2000, followed by a review of the chief editors attempt to justify the emphasis on the suffering of the United States.
Introduction to the hourly news
Todays news: Lawyer criticizes informer-telephone line at Immigration Bureau. Municipality paid for Danish youth leaders casino gambling. Silence in the United States on the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Dogs in the southern provinces can breathe out-- the fate of those in the rest of the country is decided tonight . . . .
Several news items. . . .
News reader: Today, it is 25 years since the Vietnam War came to an end and in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, the occasion was celebrated with a giant parade. Festivities and cultural events continue throughout the city this evening in celebration of the U.S. withdrawal. In honour of the event, Vietnams government is planning to release 12,000 prisoners-- the largest amnesty in Vietnam thus far. In the United States, however, the day passed largely in silence.
Raymond Valdinsky: It isnt very easy for me to even tell myself what the motivation was to come here. . .
Reporter: Near the water in the southern part of New York stands a large glass wall in which letters from the Vietnam War have been sealed. There are carnations and other flowers lying about this weekend, and in front of the war memorial stands Raymond Valdinsky, reading a letter which is special to him. It is from the U.S. solider who was the last to be officially counted as killed in the war, and who was on his way in an aircraft to collect Raymond when he was shot down.
Raymond Valdinsky: He was coming to pick me and my fellows up, to go to a mission in Poland, and I know myself that there were actually eighteen others that were killed in that mission with him.
Reporter: While victory was celebrated with pomp and circumstance in Vietnam, it was relatively quiet in the U.S.. Naturally, the anniversary was noted in the media. But much of that had to do with relations between the two countries today. President Clinton has no plans to mention the war on its anniversary, and in the U.S. capital the only modest acknowledgement of its significance was to clean the war memorial in the morning.
A majority of U.S. citizens say that the country never should have got involved in the Vietnam War, according to one recent survey, while just under one-fourth support that chapter in U.S. history. Among the latter is Raymond Valdinsky. He is 45 today, and at the time was a young man flown in from New Jersey to keep watch over B-52 bombers at a base in Thailand. He defends the war and, according to his theory, it was the Vietnam War that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. And he feels that the many dead, including those in the glass wall, were worth it.
Raymond Valdinsky: Absolutely! Absolutely, 100 percent. Yes, I do. I really do. Because a direct result of the war in Vietnam was the Berlin War falling, and the demise of the evil empire of the Soviet Union.
End of story.
At a public meeting in Stockholm on 10 September 2001, the editor-in-chief of Swedish public radio attempted to justify this curious approach to the reunification of Vietnam and the appalling war of aggression that preceded it.
Stating that the essence of the report could not be conveyed by a written transcript, editor Staffan Sonning played back the entire report on a tape recorder and suggested the following interpretation: When I listen to this piece, I get the feeling that this is a tragic figure, desperately trying to justify something that, deep inside, he knows to be wrong. I know that that was what the reporter was trying to convey. It is a rather cleverly constructed piece that works with the contrast between various sound images. . . . In short, I would argue that this is, so to say, a portrayal of wars insanity-- a portrayal that is every bit as dramatic as if we had instead broadcast a report from Vietnam.
Interested parties may form their own opinion of that interpretation by listening to the 4:45 p.m. edition of the news on 30 April 2000, which is available in full audio format at Swedish Radio's web site. The report is in Swedish, of course, but the words of Raymond Valdinsky are presented in their original English.
Editor Sonnings interpretation of the report from New York was questioned at the public meeting, but he chose not to reply. Among the sceptics in the audience were three immigrants from the United States, all of whom felt that the effect of the report was clearly to elicit sympathy for the mournful U.S. veteran and his fallen comrades.
A native Swede with some experience of post-war Vietnam said afterward that, I cannot treat the report as lightly as Staffan Sonning did-- as though it merely presented the confused ideas of a pathetic figure. For one thing, we know that there are many others like him. For another, it cannot be assumed that everyone in the Swedish radio audience experiences the same immediate gut feeling as Staffan-- and which we other enlightened ones are presumed to experience. The report should never have been allowed to stand alone, without comment.
There are certainly many like Mr. Valdinsky in the United States. Opinion surveys of Vietnam War veterans suggest that some three-quarters of them regard their experience as positive, and would be prepared to repeat it if called upon to do so. As for the majority of U.S. citizens who say that the country never should have got involved, the report neglected to point out that it has little to do with concern for Vietnam and its people. The war is regretted for its negative impact on the U.S. and its citizens; no one else seems to matter.
In Sweden, there is a strong and increasingly vocal minority which has always supported U.S. aggression in Vietnam and elsewhere. That opinion has an eager mouthpiece in Svenska Dagbladet, the countrys second-most influential daily newspaper, which during the past year or two has been rewriting history to the United States advantage and Vietnams detriment. Further, it would appear that most Swedish youths who have grown up since the wars end have received their primary education in such matters from Hollywood (see Appendix D).
If is difficult to understand how the chief editor of Swedens most important source of radio news could be unaware of all this.
Editor Sonning also claimed that it was a mistake to concentrate on one item and allow that to characterize our entire coverage. . . . The problem for both TV and radio is that we have to be so extremely brief. . . . This means that, when dealing with a broad issue, we have to concentrate on one angle.
He then cited five other programmes that also dealt with the 25th anniversary of Vietnams reunification, but acknowledged that none of them included so much as a single Vietnamese voice. Four of them were talk shows broadcast during the preceding week, and their contents were not reviewed. The only other programme on the actual date of April 30th was a Sunday-morning magazine that focused on Swedes generally positive attitudes toward the United States; its concluding message was that not much of the old Vietnam anti-war movements packet of opinions has survived (see summary under Dead packet in main text of Suffering Americans).
Given editor Sonnings observation that we have to concentrate on one angle, the obvious question is why this particular angle-- the suffering of the United States-- was chosen on this particular occasion. As for the balance that was supposed to be provided by the other five programmes, that appears to be illusory-- and, quite possibly, deliberately misleading. Among other things, the news report from New York was repeated several times throughout the day, and was by far the most important and most widely disseminated of the six items cited.
One may also reasonably enquire as to what kind of balance would be appropriate in this case, given the enormous imbalance between Vietnam and the United States with regard to suffering and responsibility (see comparison, The Dimensions of Equivalence, in the main text of Suffering Americans). Editor Sonning did not address that issue, nor did he have anything to say about the analogy between Norways liberation and Vietnams reunification (see introduction to Suffering Americans).
In short, the effect of Swedish Radios news coverage on the 25th anniversary of Vietnams reunification was to reinforce the beliefs of the U.S. lobby in Sweden and the miseducation of the nations youth, while disregarding the nature, extent and continuing impact of the crimes committed by the U.S. against the land and people of Vietnam.
The explanation offered by editor Sonning gave the impression of someone desperately trying to justify something that, deep inside, he knows to be wrong.
Editor Sonnings presentation on 10 September 2001 was the culmination of a lengthy process which illustrates how difficult it can be to pursue a dialogue with journalists. It began with a phone call to Swedish Radios news department shortly after the broadcast on 30 April 2000, when it was learned that the journalist responsible for the report from New York was the producer, Micke Lindholm. When subsequently reached by phone, Mr. Lindholm confirmed that he was chiefly responsible for the report, but said that he was busy at the moment and asked to be contacted again at some later date. That date never came, as he was never available and did not return subsequent calls.
After two months of this silence, a polite letter was sent to him on July 2nd. It included the following question: Why did your report on April 30th place the emphasis on the suffering of U.S. soldiers and their efforts to justify the war, while practically nothing was mentioned about the vastly greater suffering of the Vietnamese-- which continues today, and will continue to do so long into the future-- or the fact that the war is widely regarded as the worst crime against humanity since World War II [references enclosed]? . . . As you are perhaps aware, this question involves much more than the Vietnam War; it also relates to news coverage of the Kosovo disaster and all the similar disasters that may be anticipated in the future.
In addition, the letter proposed the analogy with Norways liberation from Nazi Germanys occupation, and requested answers to the following questions:
Over sixteen months later, those questions have yet to be answered, apart from the rather dubious arguments of Staffan Sonning noted above.
That familiar silence was repeated on this occasion, so a confrontational follow-up letter was sent to Micke Lindholm on 11 September 2000, in an attempt to provoke some kind of response. It came nearly a month later, in the form of a note from Staffan Sonning which sought to correct two misunderstandings.
The first was that, The producer is not responsible for the contents of our news broadcasts. The responsibility lies entirely with the responsible publisher under Swedish law, in this case the chief editor [myself].
This was a defensive, legalistic response to what had begun as a simple enquiry concerning journalistic procedure, directed to the individual who had been identified by himself and colleagues as the person responsible. He was now effectively eliminated from any further discussion and replaced by editor Sonning, who would later note that he had not yet assumed his post at the time of the report on 30 April 2000. Nevertheless, he said, the burden of defending us has fallen to me.
The other misunderstanding, wrote editor Sonning, was that a single news report could not be used to represent Swedish Radios view of the Vietnam War. In our massive coverage [of the 25th anniversary of Vietnams reunification], a short feature on a U.S. war veteran can certainly be justified (see above).
To this, editor Sonning received a polite reply with yet another invitation to dialogue. After months passed without any further response from Swedish Radio, it was decided to address the issues in a series of public meetings. It was only then-- sixteen months after the initial enquiry-- that Staffan Sonning was prepared to offer the explanation summarized above. The question is: If that explanation is so evident and valid, why was it not presented in the first place?
This lengthy process reflects a fairly widespread reluctance among journalists to openly discuss the news they produce, which plays such a crucial role in the formation of public opinion, particularly in matters of foreign policy. Although they enthusiastically criticize and attack others-- often with great damage to careers, reputations and states of mind-- they seem largely incapable of critically reflecting upon their own work and behaviour. On those rare occasions when it is possible to elicit or provoke a response, it is frequently characterized by evasion, manipulation and defensive posturing.
The news department of Swedish public radio appears to be suffering from something of a siege mentality. Awhile back, a reporter from Etc. magazine called to enquire about a questionable news item, only to get this response from his colleague at Swedish Radio: I think you are behaving like a goddamn pig-- and this is not the first time you have been out to get us!
At the public meeting on 10 September 2001, editor Sonning invited questions and comments with the following encouraging words, spoken in perfect American English: Shoot! Kill me!
-- Al Burke