LBJ threatening CBS News over the Vietnam War reporting of Morley Safer
The most outraged reaction to Cam Ne came from the White House. The morning after the broadcast the president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, telephoned his good friend and member of the president’s Advisory Commission on the United States Information Agency, Frank Stanton, who was also the president of CBS.
“Hello, Frank, this is your president.”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“Frank, you trying to fuck me?” The president then went on to give Stanton, one of the coolest, most aloof men I have ever known, a dreadful tongue lashing. He described graphically how CBS and I, and by inference Stanton himself, had publicly desecrated the flag. A few days later he summoned Stanton to the White House and in a small office off the Oval office, with Bill Moyers, then his press secretary, continued the harangue. The meeting then took a much darker turn. Johnson threatened that, unless CBS got rid of me and “cleaned up its act,” the White House would “go public” with information about Safer’s “Communist ties.”
Johnson claimed that he and Moyers “had the goods” on me as a result of an investigation launched by the FBI, the CIA, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In fact there was an investigation that produced nothing, except perhaps the fact that politically the Safers were an extremely conservative bunch. Johnson, with Moyers help, was simply bluffing.”
[Morley Safer, Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam, p. 94]
Wikipedia on Morley Safer and Cam Ne search and destroy mission, broadcast on August 5, 1965
In 1964, Safer joined CBS News as a London-based correspondent. In 1965, he opened the CBS News bureau in Saigon. That year he followed a group of United States Marines to the village of Cam Ne, for what was described as a "search and destroy" mission. When the Marines arrived, they gave orders in English to the inhabitants to evacuate the village. When the homes were cleared, the Marines burned their thatched roofs with flamethrowers and Zippo lighters. Safer's report on this event was broadcast on CBS News on August 5, 1965, and was among the first reports to paint a bleak picture of the Vietnam War. President Lyndon Baines Johnson reacted to this report angrily, calling CBS's president and accusing Safer and his colleagues of having "shat on the American flag." Certain that Safer was a communist, Johnson also ordered a security check; upon being told that Safer "wasn't a communist, just a Canadian", he responded: "Well, I knew he wasn't an American."
Morley Safer on Dean Rusk and Bill Moyers
To this day Rusk believes the entire Cam Ne story was staged. He says I convinced a Marine Corps unit to bring in some Vietnames refugees to an abandoned village that the marines were using for training exercises, that I then asked the marines to torch the village, and that, being susceptible, well-meaning young Americans, they obliged.
Rusk maintains that it was “common knowledge at the White House that the reporter was a questionable character with ties to the Soviet intelligence apparatus… The White House had its own intelligence on him but for reasons I can’t recall, they never used it.”
I find it hard to believe that Bill Moyers would engage in character assassination over one brief evening news broadcast - even given the political imperatives of the moment. But I confess, I find it harder not to believe it. His part in Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover’s bugging of Martin Luther King’s private life, the leaks to the press and diplomatic corps, the surveillance of civil rights groups at the 1964 Democratic convention, and his request for damaging information from Hoover on members of the Goldwater campaign suggest that he was not only a good soldier but a gleeful retainer feeding the appetites of Lyndon Johnson. “
[Morley Safer, Flashbacks: On Returning to Vietnam, p. 96]