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The Washington Post's Long Winter By: Scott Swett
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 30, 2006

On March 17, Media Life Magazine published an article about the difficulties facing the Washington Post, which recently announced that it would have to eliminate some eighty positions over the next year, or nearly 10% of its editors and reporters.  The key reason for the Post’s decline is a relentless drop in paying customers – daily subscriptions have fallen 17% in the last ten years, from 816,474 in 1995 to 678,779 in 2005.

Media Life was careful not to suggest that the paper bears any responsibility for its own problems, describing the Post as “one of America’s most celebrated newspapers, a Pulitzer Prize winner times over, and also among the best-managed.”

The article noted supportively that management “insists they will not cave into the pressures by compromising their high editorial standards.”  Media Life did observe that the Post’s circulation “is sinking faster than that of many other newspapers around the country,” but neglected to mention the fact that the Post’s primary competitor, the Washington Times, was racking up steady circulation gains during the same period – 3% in 2005 alone.

The topic of ideological bias at the Post does not appear in the Media Life article.


In December, the Post published a review of the film “Winter Soldier,” a newly released bit of 1970s agitprop documenting the Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s horrific, unsubstantiated allegations of routine war crimes by U.S. troops in Vietnam.  Perhaps the Post’s “high editorial standards” were on vacation, because Ann Hornaday’s review was a clearly biased valentine to the VVAW propagandists and their vicious film.


As the creator of the research web site WinterSoldier.com, I knew several things about the topic that Hornaday obviously didn’t, so I fired off the following letter to the Post:


Ann Hornaday's review of the 1971 documentary film, "Winter Soldier" overlooks a rather important aspect of the tales of American atrocities in Vietnam the film records - the fact that after more than 34 years of investigation by the U.S. military, historians, researchers and journalists, not one of the "war crimes" alleged by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War during the "Winter Soldier Investigation" has ever been proven to be true. 

Records available in the National Archives show that the House Committee on Armed Services directed the Department of Defense to conduct a "prompt review" of the Winter Soldier Investigation testimony in April 1971.  Army investigators determined that 46 of the allegations, if true, would qualify as war crimes, and opened a case file for each.  Three individuals could not be identified.  The other 43 cases were resolved as follows:  25 individuals making the allegations "refused to provide factual data," 13 more provided information to investigators that "did not support the allegations," and the final 5 could not be located.

Records of the Naval investigation are not available in the Archives, but the respected historian Guenter Lewy included a summary of the Naval Investigative Service report on the event in his 1977 book, "America in Vietnam." Lewy noted the VVAW's "use of fake witnesses and the failure to cooperate with military authorities and to provide crucial details."

None of the military investigations resulted in any charges being filed.

Hornaday accepts the claims made at the Jane Fonda-funded conference at face value, writing, "Recreational killing of civilians, rape, arson, torture: They did it, or saw it, all."  She describes the film as an "eloquent, unforgettable tale of profound moral reckoning," and singles out this remark:

"I didn't like being an animal," one veteran explains on the hearing dais. "And I didn't like seeing everyone else turned into an animal."

Hornaday is presumably unaware that she is quoting Steve Pitkin, the only "Winter Soldier" participant to file a legal affidavit about the events there.  His affidavit states that VVAW leaders pressured him to testify about war crimes and atrocities that never took place.  Pitkin now describes the Winter Soldier Investigation as "a pack of lies." 


Touting the discredited propaganda of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War as an "eloquent, unforgettable tale of profound moral reckoning" furthers the perception that balanced political information is not to be found at The Post.  More importantly, it does a real disservice to the honorable veterans of the Vietnam War.


To my mild surprise, I received a call a couple of days later from Gina Acosta, the letters editor for the Post.  My letter was excellent, she said, and the Post would like to publish it, but it was rather long.  Could I trim it to about 200 words and send it directly to her?


I did so.  Ms. Acosta replied, “Thanks so much.  I may not be able to publish this until next week.”


Then, apparently, something happened.  The letter failed to appear the next week, or during the weeks that followed.  Ms. Acosta ignored my follow-up emails and phone calls.  Obviously someone at the Post – presumably not Ms. Acosta – had decided to leave the paper’s readers with only one side of the story about the film “Winter Soldier.”


Media analyst John Morton thinks that the declining fortunes of the Post are beyond its control, caused primarily by the ever-bigger bite online publications are taking out of print newspapers.  “Generally speaking,” said Morton to Media Life Magazine, “their circulation will continue to decline. I don’t know that there’s any solution.”


I certainly hope he’s right.


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Scott Swett is the primary author of a new book on the 2004 presidential campaign, To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry. He is also the primary webmaster of WinterSoldier.com and SwiftVets.com.

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