310. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
466. Embtel 464.2 Trueheart and I spent hour and a half with President Diem this morning seeking persuade him change his position on expulsion of Robinson (NBC). Regret to report that Diem proved quite impervious to my arguments. He did agree, at my request, to allow Robinson to remain in Vietnam three more days but he gave us no reason to believe that he would use this period to reconsider the matter, still less to change his position.
In approach to Diem, I made it clear that I considered decision to expel Robinson was matter of utmost gravity which could only have highly adverse effects on our joint effort here—particularly coming after expulsion Sully and continued banning of Newsweek. Reminding him that what I was telling him was in large part repetition of what President and Secretary had told Thuan in Washington,3 I stressed that it was essential that American public, Congress and government not gain impression that GVN was seeking to conceal what was going on in Vietnam. I pointed out that press reporting on Vietnam had improved markedly in recent weeks and that this favorable development would be undermined by expulsion Robinson. I urged him to accept fact that press problem would cure itself, and could only be curbed, by manifest success in defeating Viet Cong. Finally, I told him calmly that his rationale for action against Robinson would not be understood or accepted by US Government or people.
Trueheart and I repeated these and other arguments many times in course of meeting without apparent effect. Diem acknowledged that visa question was technicality and that action was directed against Robinson personally. He had with him a dossier of Robinsonʼs past broadcasts and showed me one of about six months ago which was highly critical of President and his family. He characterized Robinsonʼs attitude as “intolerable”, lacking in elementary respect for chief of state, referring specifically to Robinsonʼs alleged remark to GVN press [Page 722] officer, after long interview with Diem some months ago, that president had “taken a great deal of time saying nothing”. He referred to sacrifices which he and his family have made for Vietnam over many years and said that for these past actions he and his family were widely respected in Vietnam. It was his duty not to permit this respect to be undermined by insulting press reporting. He said several times that it was also his duty to other chiefs of state not to tolerate attitude of reporters like Robinson. (It was made clear that American political leaders do not expect immunity from personal press attacks for themselves or their families.)
This is essence of lengthy discussion in which I believe all available arguments were brought to bear with great earnestness and in which basic difference in points of view was clearly isolated. Fundamentally, this difference is that Diem is unwilling or unable to subordinate to other considerations, however important, his canons of correct behavior, and what he regards as his primordial obligations to his family. Accordingly, I frankly have little or no hope that Robinsonʼs expulsion can be averted.
Robinson has been advised of three-day reprieve and gist of above.4
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 951K.50/10-2962. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC for Polad.↩
- Telegram 464, October 28, reported that Nolting had talked repeatedly to no avail with Thuan about the expulsion of James Robinson,NBC Southeast Asia correspondent. (Ibid., 951K.50/10-2862) Despite Noltingʼs appeal directly to Diem, Robinson was expelled on November 5. For another account of the expulsion, see Mecklin, Mission in Torment, pp. 136-138.↩
- For memoranda of Thuanʼs conversations with President Kennedy and Secretary Rusk, see Documents 285 and 292.↩
- At 7 p.m. on October 29, the Embassy in Saigon transmitted Robinsonʼs message to NBC in Washington summarizing the events of October 28-29 and stating that American correspondents were alarmed that Diem might get away with the expulsion without a vigorous protest from Washington. (Telegram 467; Department of State, Central Files, 951K.6211/10-2962)↩