87. Memorandum for the Record of Discussion at the Daily White House Staff Meeting1

Mr. Bundy presided throughout the meeting.
Vietnam. Bundy opened the meeting by asking Forrestal if he had seen the latest Lodge report from Vietnam,2 which Bundy said was one of his best. He added that this would surely lead the President to calling a meeting on Vietnam during the day. Forrestal agreed.
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Bundy was visibly disturbed by the way things are going in Vietnam and, in a revelation one seldom sees, seemed at a loss about what to do. When asked if he had seen the Reston article in today’s paper (attached),3 he said that he had, that he had talked with Reston yesterday, but had batted only about 213 on that particular item. He later said that at least Reston supported continuing the war in the article, which he did not do at the beginning of the discussion yesterday.

The Reston article led to a general discussion of newspaper treatment of the situation on Vietnam. Bundy remarked that, under the circumstances, he thought the newspaper treatment had been mild; it could legitimately have been much worse. He remarked that someone in the State Department had been talking to Tad Szulc, who was writing inaccurate reports. Forrestal said that he didn’t know who it was, but that Szulc was particularly unreliable. Schlesinger, back since yesterday, dissented and said that Szulc actually had a sound base, but just did some “imaginative extrapolation.” After laughter died down, this led to a discussion about how to handle bright young reporters who “extrapolated.” Carl Kaysen, down on a consultant status, said he believed it was preferable to give them a line for their story rather than have them go off half-cocked in the wrong direction. The matter was left up in the air there.

About this point, Bromley Smith brought in a ticker tape that Diem’s brother, Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, was coming to the United States, having left Rome today. The purpose of his visit will be to make arrangements for Madam Nhu’s visit. Already wobbly, this was close to the last blow for Bundy, who said that this was the first time the world had been faced with collective madness in a ruling family since the days of the czars. Ralph Dungan said that, if the Pope was peeved with the Archbishop, Cardinal Spellman would undoubtedly put him under wraps in New York.

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-646-71. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Major William Y Smith, Taylor’s aide.
  2. Supra.
  3. James Reston’s article appeared in The New York Times September 11. It was entitled “On Suppressing the News Instead of the Nhus.” It had as its central premise that the Diem government was doing the American public a disservice by censoring American correspondents in Vietnam. Reston also charged the Kennedy administration with clumsiness in handling the crisis. Reston suggested that the President should insist that the American-supplied equipment not be used against Buddhists and that the administration provide more information about the CIA’s role in Saigon. Reston, however, did state that proposed congressional plans to cut off aid so long as Diem remained in power would lead to a “loss of the Vietnamese peninsula and more.”