As media dissects JFK assassination records, dark Vietnam War details emerge
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How Vietnam's president, brother were murdered
The media was all over the release late last month of several thousand long-classified government documents, notably CIA records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
That was totally understandable. But, in the process, it appears to have missed some head-turning documents about another assassination — this one essentially approved by the government itself. They involve the Vietnam War, the deadly mistake that took more than 50,000 lives and is the subject of the great Ken Burns-Lynn Novick PBS documentary. A national security expert in the government brings the documents to my attention.
That event was the Nov. 2, 1963, coup that resulted in the murders of Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam and long an American-supported despot, and Ngo Dinh Nhu, his brother and most influential adviser. The documents comprise an internal government report on the CIA's and other agencies' relationship to the coup.
It's always been known that the Kennedy administration debated overthrowing Diem. As the PBS documentary underscores in Part 2, Kennedy's advisers were divided, though Kennedy ultimately (and mistakenly) signaled that he wouldn't thwart a coup because he thought his own advisers approved such a move.
So the White House knew full well of the pre-existing plotting of generals against the two men, who were despots and the objects of growing domestic protests. The most vivid were staged by Buddhist monks who burned themselves to death for all the world to see due to Diem's despotic ways toward them and fellow countrymen.
The U.S. had backed Diem in his fight against the Viet Cong and its benefactor, North Vietnam. There were 16,000 Americans there at the time, both training South Vietnamese troops and accompanying them on helicopter raids into enemy territory.
The documents show how the most aggressive proponent of a coup was Henry Cabot Lodge, the ambassador to South Vietnam. He was a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and Richard Nixon's 1960 running mate against the Democrats' Kennedy-Lyndon Johnson slate.
The documents assert that the "CIA was not in favor of the decision to abandon the Diem regime, but faithfully carried out instructions," with two CIA officers serving as the U.S. government's conduits to the generals.
The documents note that a CIA source was present when the plotters "debated the ultimate disposition of the brother, accompanied the force that apprehended them, and witnessed the events immediately after their deaths."
Indeed, there had been "a lengthy argument" about whether they should be killed, "with most of the generals favoring their execution." The documents indicate that Captain Nguyễn Văn Nhung, the bodyguard of a key general who plotted the overthrow, "was designated as executioner."
Then, one finds two paragraphs about the Military Revolutionary Committee, namely the plotters:
"On the morning of 2 November, the Committee received a phone call from a casual informant telling where Diem and Nhu could be found. A force was dispatched to apprehend them. This appears to conflict with (a CIA operative's) report that the phone had been pulled out. Shortly after 10:00 a.m., Diem and NU entered the personnel carrier with Captain Nhung."
The not-fit-for-family-breakfast details include these concerning the event that preceded by only three weeks the Kennedy assassination itself:
"Nhu had been stabbed 21 times in the back with a carbine bayonet and shot five times. Diem had been shot twice in the chest. Nhung leaped from the M-113 with the bayonet in hand and proudly displayed it to all observers. His arms were soaked with blood. From the photos, it looks as if Diem and Nhu had their hands tied behind their backs."
The key document concludes, "CIA had no hand in the assassinations and had no foreknowledge of them."
The generals proved inept, a succession of governments followed and the war was ultimately lost. Most people don't recall Diem and Nhu. And, of course, most Americans still can't find Vietnam on a map.
But, at minimum, this reminds how often there is only so much that journalists (and historians) can really know about important events. And probably how no government is to be reflexively trusted —certainly not by journalists with even a modicum of skepticism.
Fact-checking Trump in South Korea
His press conference in Seoul this morning (our time, as Americans slept) was an obvious topic for the morning cable news shows, where no shortage of ignorance was exhibited aggressively and bombastically by President Trump (the three major shows weren't a whole lot better) as he claimed the Texas church shooting does not justify greater gun control laws.
Trump repeated a White House line, most recently articulated at a daily briefing by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that Chicago has the nation's strongest gun laws but "Chicago is a disaster," he said. On "Trump & Friends," they quickly parroted that line after co-host Ainsley Earhardt said, "I didn't know that, Chicago had the toughest gun laws." Chimed in co-host Steve Doocy, "Oh, yeah," prompting Earhardt to continue, "They're reporting murder after murder. They've had more murders, I believe, than any city in the country."
"Which goes to the president's point," concluded Doocy. "Here's a town with all these guys and it ain't working."
Stop, everybody, pretty please. The one very strict Chicago law was a total ban on handguns that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out as a violation of the Second Amendment in 2010. It was a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito. The reality is that it was largely unenforceable and never enforced. Other state laws aren't that broad and, in what's a real problem, the laws in nearby states aren't strong at all, like Indiana. Lots of guns flow from outside the city. There's also an issue of a largely spineless judiciary on gun crimes. New York City, by comparison, has tougher laws, enforces them more diligently and has less crime (for many reasons).
After 2015's mass shooting at an Oregon community college, then-Republican presidential candidates Trump, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina all blabbed the same line. It's baloney. As the Chicago Tribune noted amid the Republicans citing Chicago as evidence of gun controls' failure, "But Chicago's gun laws aren't as tough as their reputation suggests. They once were, but courts have overturned or gutted many of them in recent years, forcing a city that once banned handguns and gun shops to allow both."
It's something that folks at CNN and MSNBC, if not Fox, at least might correct next time Trump or surrogates repeat the claim. Nobody did that today.
The Paradise Papers (cont.)
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists got play worldwide with its latest exclusives on the use of tax havens by the wealthy, based on 13.4 million records and the labor of 380 journalists from 96 news organizations working on six continents in 30 languages. Vice ran a terrific behind-the-scenes one-hour special on HBO last night, starting with reporters and editors from all over the world meeting at the Suddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, to whom the documents were leaked, and the group coming up with a collaborative battle plan marked by amazing discretion, a division of labor and a heavy reliance on datas-crunching geeks. That nobody, anywhere, broke the Nov. 5 embargo is itself impressive. The stories are more impressive.
Many have now followed the initial weekend disclosures.
Did you watch Apple chief Tim Cook talk the talk on tax reform with NBC's Lester Holt in an "exclusive" last week? Well, now see, as governments shut down tax loopholes, how Apple found new ways to keep its rates nice and very low. It helps explain its accumulation of a Mount Everest of $252 billion in cash offshore. And see how "Ireland tied itself in knots hoping to retain Apple, its biggest source of corporate taxes."
And if you're into jets and yachts, see how "Private jet owners touch down in the Isle of Man and avoid millions in sales taxes." Indeed, the United Kingdom outpost in the Irish Sea "has registered roughly 1,000 aircraft since it started in 2007," while also registering luxury yachts for the United Arab Emirates and Microsoft founder co-founder Paul Allen," owner of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL and the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA.
'New meaning to Naked Chef'
From Conde Nast Traveler: "France already boasts hundreds of beaches, campsites, and spa centers meant to be enjoyed in the nude, and now, the famously clothing-optional country is breaking new ground in naturism. According to local newspaper Le Parisien, the first nude restaurant in Paris opened to the public on Friday — and local naturists are already big fans of the new spot."
As David Friend, a friend and Vanity Fair editor, tweeted, "Brings new meaning to the term Naked Chef."
A great photographer near the top of a key book list
When Barack Obama was a new U.S. senator, the Chicago Tribune dispatched reporter Jeff Zeleny and photographer Pete Souza to cover a European trek he was taking to Europe with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana to assess the state of post-Cold War "loose nukes." It was Obama's first foreign trip as a senator and the two senators inspected "how weapons of the past can present a danger for the future," as Zeleny, who is now with CNN, wrote at the time.
When Obama was elected president, he picked Souza to be his chief photographer, his second such tour, since he was also one of Ronald Reagan's photographers. Souza has a photo-heavy new book on Obama that's out Tuesday and is already No. 2 on Amazon's best-seller list.
Is this from The Washington Post editorial page or The Onion?
Bzzzz. Time's up.
It's The Onion. But you wouldn't be surprised to see it elsewhere, would you?
Virginia's big elections
Here's what political journalists will be looking for Tuesday in Virginia: Does "Trumpism" win both in the governor's race and the overall battle in the state legislature?
A tip for economics writers
The issue of productivity is a critical one if you're writing about the economy. Everybody knows that technology dramatically increased productivity but that such growth has slowed for around a decade. University of Chicago economist Chad Syverson offered a lecture and video confronting the thesis that the slowdown partly reflects a measurement challenge, namely that standard data isn't up to measuring transformative technologies.
"I show that, in several different ways, the data do not support this ‘mismeasurement hypothesis.’ "
Content on DNAinfo resurfaces
There's word from DNAInfo that "Mayor: Terror Suspect Should 'Rot in Prison' But Not Face Death Penalty." But isn't that word from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio a bit late?
Yes and no. It's the lead story on the New York site. It's from last week, obviously. And it follows word that Omaha billionaire Joe Ricketts was closing the 115-person operation nationwide. He scrubbed the site initially of everything on it, except his announcement. That outrage was noted, and now you can again find the handiwork of many good journalists, albeit now unemployed journalists.
Hard to teach some old dogs new tricks
From Nate Cohn of The New York Times:
"A year after polls broadly overestimated Hillary Clinton’s strength in the decisive Rust Belt battleground states, top pollsters and analysts across the survey industry have reached a broad near-consensus on many of the causes of error in the 2016 presidential election."
"But so far, public pollsters — typically run by news outlets and colleges — have not changed much about their approach. Few if any of the public pollsters that conducted surveys ahead of Tuesday’s elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey appear to have adopted significant methodological changes intended to better represent the rural, less educated white voters who pollsters believe were underrepresented in pre-election surveys."
On death in a church
As Ainsley Earhardt, a co-host of "Trump & Friends," put it after talking to Fox colleagues Monday: "We were saying there’s no other place we would want to go other than church, because I’m there asking for forgiveness. I feel very close to Christ when I’m there. So, I’m trying to look at some positives here and know that those people are with the Lord now and experiencing eternity and no more suffering, no more sadness anymore.”
Hmmmm. If only faith melded with a bit of gun control.