203. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1
2192. Saigon pass COMUSMACV. Joint State/Defense/AID/USIA message. The President has approved the decision to place one man in overall control of dealing with the American and foreign press in Saigon and of prosecuting a vigorous program to assure that the true story of our efforts is reported in the United States and elsewhere. The appropriate agencies here have spelled out that decision in the following details:
- Barry Zorthian, presently the Country Public Affairs Officer, will assume the responsibilities of over-all press counselor. He will retain the title of Country Public Affairs Officer with jurisdiction over the total information effort. He will delegate such of his responsibilities as he considers necessary to his deputy in order that there be no lapse in the execution of all our information programs.
- It will be most important that Mr. Zorthian be kept fully informed on all significant activities and plans, both political and military, so that he can, under the guidance of the Ambassador, undertake advance planning of informational and psychological activities.
- Mr. Zorthian will service both the Ambassador and COMUSMACV in their contacts with American and foreign correspondents. They can look to him for advice concerning the desirability of seeing certain correspondents, concerning the substance of information in which those correspondents are interested, and concerning the reliability of those correspondents in handling sensitive information.
- It will be Mr. Zorthian’s responsibility to conduct a continuing effort to publicize such information as will refute and counteract erroneous and misleading reports now emanating from Viet Nam. It is expected that the agencies concerned will contribute sufficient personnel to assist him in the conduct of such a program.
- It will be Mr. Zorthian’s responsibility to help newsmen cover the positive side of the news in order that the American and world public may get a more balanced picture of GVN operations. In order to do this, it is expected that the US military commands will make readily available appropriate transportation for this purpose. There is much misinformation in the world press about ARVN willingness to fight, about the ratio of their combat losses to the enemy, and about their so-called [Page 472] brutality. On the other hand, there is very little reporting of Viet Cong terror, especially against civilians, Viet Cong defections, and Viet Cong military losses.
- Under the Ambassador’s direction and in consultation with other country team members, it will be Mr. Zorthian’s responsibility for developing further aspects of the informational program in the Psychological Operations Committee which he chairs. It is expected that all agencies will make available to the Committee such resources as are required to do an effective job.
It is our hope and expectation that, with this concentration of authority, effective pressure can be brought upon the GVN to secure active cooperation on their part so that their efforts are invigorated and they carry their share of the burden. This work must be done not only in Viet Nam in order to have the desired effect upon the population of South Viet Nam; it must also be done internationally through official Vietnamese missions abroad. The story of Viet Nam is of critical significance to every nation and every person in the Free World. We and the Vietnamese must do our utmost to see that it is well and accurately told.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, INF 8 US–VIET S. Confidential. Drafted by Rowan and Sullivan and cleared by Forrestal and McNamara. Repeated to CINCPAC↩