Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Peter Arnett to speak on
“Vietnam: When Young Reporters Defied Old Press Doctrines”
Fresno—Days before the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett will speak in Fresno about coverage of the Vietnam War.
Mr. Arnett is the headline speaker at this year’s Roger Tatarian Symposium, hosted by Fresno State University’s Department of Mass Communication on Wednesday, April 15, from 10 a.m. to noon in the university’s Satellite Student Union building. The public is invited and there is no charge.
Mr. Arnett covered most wars from Vietnam through Afghanistan and Iraq. He became most famous as the Emmy-winning CNN correspondent whose live coverage of the First Gulf War from Baghdad in 1991 was a spectacular virtuoso performance. CNN had been in existence for 11 years but its audience increased dramatically and it really made its name as millions around the world tuned in to watch Mr. Arnett’s dramatic accounts of the intense bombing campaign and his interview with President Saddam Hussein.
Born Nov. 13, 1934, in New Zealand, where it was typical for journalists to begin their careers straight out of high school, Mr. Arnett started at 17 as a cub reporter on a country weekly newspaper and worked his way up to big city dailies in Australia and Thailand.
As an Associated Press part-time stringer during a coup d’etat in Laos in 1960 when communications to the outside world were cut, he swam the Mekong River to neighboring Thailand several times to file his exclusive stories detailing the end of American political influence in the landlocked former French colony adjoining Vietnam.
Impressed, the AP hired him full time. In 1962, as the buildup of U.S. advisors in Vietnam marked the beginning of what was to become a huge and vastly destructive war, the agency dispatched him to Saigon.
Staying until the war’s bitter end thirteen years later, he distinguished himself with on-the-ground coverage. His Vietnam reporting won him a Pulitzer for international reporting, awarded in 1966. Along with the work of other correspondents, it also fueled the anti-war movement by showing that the U.S. was not winning the war despite horrendous casualty levels among combatants and civilians alike.
This – the focus of Mr. Arnett’s talk – was a new role for the American news media, whose reporting of World War II and the Korean War had been far less critical. The White House and the Pentagon were beside themselves. President Lyndon Johnson had Mr. Arnett investigated by the FBI and asked his bosses to move him out of Vietnam. The AP editors refused.
“I was not anti-war, not anti-American and not pro-communist,” Mr. Arnett wrote later in an article for a French magazine. “The truth of what was going on was important to all parties. I was unwilling to deliberately conceal and hide the truth. And that truth was that the war was going badly for the United States.”
Another famous Pulitzer-winning Vietnam correspondent, the late David Halberstam of the New York Times, in his book The Best and the Brightest, called Mr. Arnett “the best reporter of the whole Vietnam war.” Mr. Halberstam later added, “Arnett is the journalist most respected and beloved by his peers. No one saw more combat and no one would put himself more on the line.”
Setting what became a pattern for him in such situations, Mr. Arnett refused to leave Saigon on April 30, 1975, as the Vietnamese communist troops moved in and the Americans were evacuating his colleagues. He was in the AP office typing a story when conquering soldiers walked in. Offering them warm Coca-Colas, he continued writing his account of the day’s events.
Following his retirement in 2007, Mr. Arnett taught journalism at a university in China. He now lives in Orange County, California. Following up his 1994 authobiography, Live from the Battlefield
coming out April 23 will be his new account of events leading up to the end of the war in Vietnam, Saigon Has Fallen.
The Tatarian symposiums are sponsored by a foundation honoring the memory of Roger Tatarian, longtime head of AP’s rival news agency United Press International. A Fresno native, Mr. Tatarian spent the final years of his career teaching journalism at his alma mater, Fresno State.
After Mr. Arnett speaks, he will take questions from the audience. Any guest who needs a parking space should look for a parking permit dispenser and pay $3.00 for a one-day permit.
News organizations seeking separate interviews may make their requests through Bradley Martin, this year’s Roger Tatarian chair in journalism.
Contemplating an exciting career in mass communication and journalism? Check out the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism (MCJ). Graduates of the program are well represented on the staffs of many of America’s finest newspapers, radio and television stations, broadcast and film production companies, advertising agencies, and public relations firms.
MCJ graduates in print journalism are working for newspapers such as the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Fresno Bee, and other major newspapers. Graduates in broadcast journalism are heavily represented on the staffs of Fresno radio and television stations. They also can be found at CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and PBS. Graduates in advertising are working for agencies that include: J. Walter Thompson, Chiat/Day, Publicis and Hal Riney, and Foote, Cone, and Belding. Public relations graduates have obtained jobs with American Airlines, Caltrans, Coca-Cola, and other nationally known entities. The department’s advertising students regularly finish high in regional and national competitions sponsored by the American Advertising Federation.