This Veterans Day, a reflection on Vietnam War documentary ‘Dateline — Saigon’ | St. Louis Public Radio

This Veterans Day, a reflection on Vietnam War documentary ‘Dateline — Saigon’

Nov 11, 2015

Journalism movies are making a big splash this Oscars season. From “Truth,” the Robert Redford film about the Dan Rather controversy, to “Spotlight,” which follows the Boston Globe investigation of child abuse by Catholic clergy, journalists are once again the center of their own stories.

As Veterans Day passes by, “Dateline — Saigon” is another such movie making journalistic waves—this time at the St. Louis International Film Festival.The documentary profiles five Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who covered the Vietnam War and brought in a “new era of journalism that seeks to hold the government accountable.”

Richard Chapman.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Richard Chapman, an executive producer of the doc and a senior lecturer in screenwriting at Washington University, joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday to discuss the film. Chapman had previously worked to produce an HBO film “Live from Baghdad.”

“A longtime friend of mine, Tom Herman, came to me for a project that was in the works, he had already interview Walter Cronkite, and he had a grand design to interview all the journalists he could find who had reported the war in photojournalism, print journalism, electronic journalism…it was a very ambitious project.”

Over the years, they collected over 50 interviews. Now, three of the five journalists eventually featured in the documentary have passed away. All of these journalists were under the age of 30 when they covered the Vietnam War.

Their experiences, shared on screen, highlight the difference between what the American government was telling its people and what journalists were actually seeing happen in Vietnam.

“It became readily apparent that facts were not squaring with what they saw on the ground,” Chapman said. “The body counts, in particular, were vastly overdrawn by the military authorities.”

“They knew they were being manipulated, managed and lied to,” Chapman continued. “This did cause a great degree of improvisation on how they got their stories out.”

Listen to the discussion to hear specifics of how photographs and stories came together during the Vietnam War:

“The most important aspect of the journalism, though, in addition to getting the truth was the context of that these young men came in as a patriots,” Chapman said. “They were of the Cold War generation of ‘duck and cover.’ They thought we went into Vietnam with just cause. When they were lied to, that changed the game.”

Related Event

What: St. Louis International Film

Festival Presents "Dateline Saigon"

When: Sunday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Washington University’s Brown Hall Auditorium, Forsyth Blvd. and Chaplin Dr.
More information.  

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.