Embassy in Crisis: Diplomats and the Tet Offensive – Don North on the Tet Offensive


The Tet Offensive was probably the biggest story that I had in serving over five years in Vietnam, but there were certainly frustrations, I mentioned that I was very disappointed not to be able to interview any of the brave MPs and Marines who were guarding the embassy and who even though they were trained as Building guards they fought as an infantry platoon to defeat these 15 Viet Cong sappers I Was very disappointed of the Embassy’s Reaction to press at that time After the attack on the embassy there seemed to be a curtain drawn an information curtain drawn around the embassy In talking to the Ambassador we had to only report that the source was a senior U.S. diplomat We couldn’t even name him by name the Press attaché at the Embassy Barry Zorthian was very helpful he had experience as a journalist with CBS before he joined the State Department and We considered Barry sort of the sweet voice of reason in an embassy that was often hostile to journalists and Barry would help us as much as possible and of course he was the first one to get on the phone and warn our news agencies that an attack was underway at the embassy and Barry told me that afterwards he was under very strict Reprimand from others at the Embassy for him doing this they felt that he’d spoken prematurely before really a Clear picture of what was happening was going on on some spin could be put on the situation but In many ways You know there was no censorship really in Vietnam toward the journalists Certainly there wasn’t covering the embassy attack there was such confusion and chaos Nobody sort of was a minder and said dawn. You can’t go here. You can’t go there but the worst censorship ironically that I Experienced was from my own company back in New York There was a big difference and divide in the journalists that worked for ABC News between the Vietnam journalists and the New York and Washington journalists the Washington journalists of course were getting briefings having lunch with the president every few days and they were hearing this huge Public relations offensive to convince Americans the war was being won and After the attack and we were all being told to leave the embassy I asked for a few more minutes just to make wrap-up comments what we call a stand offer to conclude our report to television and this is what I said I said since the Lunar New Year the Vietcong and North Vietnamese have proved They are capable of bold military moves that Americans here never dreamed could be achieved but whatever turned the war now takes the attack on this embassy for almost seven hours is a psychological victory For the enemy. Now that was delivered basically 30 minutes after the attack was declared over no time to appoint a committee to Decide and an analyze the situation But just a very quick on the hoof wrap up It never got used some senior producer in New York said Don you’re editorializing, and we’re not going to use it they didn’t and of course the analysis that this indeed was an American military victory but a psychological loss was Very much accepted afterwards, but my poor attempts to say this just thirty minutes after the attack was thwarted

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