Does the Washington Press Lie?

This 1967 Post editorial claims that the press corps was too large, diverse, and self-correcting to lie collectively about the Vietnam War.

Political cartoon

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There’s a lot of talk of “fake news” and distrust of the media these days, but fifty years ago, at the height of the Vietnam war, the role of the press was also controversial as news from the front became increasingly grim and more at odds with the government’s account of the war. In a July 15, 1967, editorial in the Post, famed columnist Stewart Alsop—a supporter of the war—put things in perspective when he asked,  “Does the Washington Press Lie?” (see below).

Alsop writes that the media was too big and diverse for one viewpoint to permanently dominate. Moreover, the press worked within a self-correcting process. Reporters could always advance themselves by pointing out other reporters’ errors and disproving their lies. “The half-truths and lies get winnowed out, mainly because reporting is a fiercely competitive business,” he writes.

Following the war, America appeared to re-evaluate the press. Their trust of the media rose, aided by the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which proved that successive American governments had, in fact lied about Vietnam, and Watergate, where the press was instrumental in exposing the crimes of the Nixon Administration.  In 1976, Gallup reported the highest level of Americans’ trust in the media: 72 percent. But trust has eroded over the years. In 2007, polls showed public trust slipping under 50 percent. Today, it has fallen to 32 percent.



Click to read “Does the Washington Press Lie?” by Stewart Alsop, an editorial from the July 15, 1967, issue of the Post.

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  1. Very interesting column from mid-’67. The focus here is largely on President Johnson and Vietnam and what’s true or not in relation to that. It’s only a few years after JFK’s assassination which then (as now) was a riddle.

    The article mentions Mac Bird! by Barbara Garson which implies LBJ was behind the murder, done out in a Shakespearean manner that (frankly) was a clever sleight-of-hand distracting disguise, to the extent it COULD be disguised.

    That fall of ’67 when I started 5th grade, our teacher ordered the paperback Mac Bird! for us to read as a class, and do a book report on. My Dad was not happy about it. He was a hardcore Democrat and Catholic (I’m an Independent and non-denominational) and upset with my teacher for putting this ‘disgraceful’ book in our hands.

    Dad would later acknowledge he felt Johnson would ‘play ball’ with the government and military regarding Vietnam, and Kennedy’s wanting to end it may have contributed to his end. I agree with him on that. 8 months after this editorial came out, Johnson announced he would not run again for President in 1968 when it all became too much for him, but was still about to get a lot worse.

    I’m surprised that the public’s trust in the Washington press was 50% in 2007, and as HIGH as 32% today, even though that’s only 1/3. I don’t know anyone that has ANY trust in Washington at all, and haven’t in decades!


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