Reading Communist propaganda can be tiring. Take, for example, the North Vietnamese pamphlet of October 1966 titled "Report on U.S. War Crimes in Nam-Dinh City" which tells its readers:
The April 14, 1966, air raid over Hang Thao street was one of the biggest deliberate U.S. attacks on human lives. ... At 6:30 A.M., when those who had just come back from a night shift were still sleeping, those who were about to work were having breakfast, women were getting ready for their shopping or for their house work, and children were getting ready for the kindergartens or infant classes, two U.S. planes came flying at low altitude along Ninh Binh Highway No. 10 and into Hang Thao, Hang Cau, Tran Hung Dao streets and Ben Thoc area, dropped eight MK.84 bombs killing forty-nine people ... wounding 135 people, and destroying 240 houses.
It's always the same with Communist propaganda — every target hit by American bombs is always full of kindergartners.
But on December 27, 1966, the following was reported by Harrison Salisbury in The New York Times:
Street after street in Namdinh has been abandoned and houses stand torn and gaping. One deserted street is Hang Thao or Silk Street, which was the center of the silk industry. Almost every house on the street was blasted down on April 14 at about 6:30 a.m. just as the factory shifts were changing. Forty-nine people were killed, 135 were wounded on Hang Thao, and 240 houses collapsed. Eight bombs — MK-84s — accomplished this.
The similarity was extraordinary when it was pointed out at the time — and it has become more extraordinary since.
In 1985, the Australian writer Robert Manne did a study of journalist Wilfred Burchett’s private papers (made available to La Trobe University in Melbourne upon Burchett’s death in 1983). It was suspected then — and thanks to the Soviet archives we now know for a fact — that Wilfred Burchett was a KGB agent.
Manne made a remarkable discovery in these papers, and wrote about it in the journal Quadrant:
Of Burchett’s propaganda successes of the 1960s (or at least that I am aware of) none could outdo the visit of the prestigious New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury to Hanoi in 1966 to report the impact of American bombing on North Vietnam. It is generally understood that Salisbury’s reports had a profound impact on the climate of American opinion in regard to the Vietnam War. For some time, moreover, it has been alleged that in his reports Salisbury passed off officially released North Vietnamese material as if it were his independent observation. But what has not been known is that Salisbury’s trip was arranged through the good offices of Burchett and that Salisbury was extremely grateful for what Burchett had done for him in Hanoi.
On February 7, 1967 Burchett wrote this to his father: "For your very private information I will quote an extract from a letter I found awaiting me in Phnom Penh from Harrison Salisbury: 'I need hardly say that I am deeply grateful to you for the aid and assistance that you were able to give in presenting my case to the Vietnamese authorities.'"
Burchett boasted in another letter: "Harrison said what I have been saying for a long time, but it is much more important that it is said in the New York Times."
Harrison Salisbury's reporting from North Vietnam should be remembered only as an embarrassment to the journalistic profession.
But it was, shamefully, exhibited as fact in Ken Burns's The Vietnam War documentary. It was a segment in which a number of interviewees in Vietnam were talking about the bombing. The narrator tells the audience that most Americans didn't believe what the North Vietnamese were saying — but then Harrison Salisbury's reporting convinced them that it was true.
Not a word about the controversy surrounding Salisbury's articles from North Vietnam, though it has been in dispute for 50 years.
It is obvious that civilians were, in fact, hit by American bombing. There must be better sources out there than Salisbury's fake news.