Television - Friendly persuasion: lbj, tv news, and the dominican republic



On 28 April 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered U.S. marines to the Dominican Republic to protect U.S. citizens during political violence and to prevent communists from seizing power. Johnson was extremely concerned about news coverage of the intervention. He tried unsuccessfully to get CBS to remove television correspondent Bert Quint, whose reports from Santo Domingo cast doubt on whether there was a significant communist threat. But Johnson found other ways to affect television reporting. In an oral history interview, NBC correspondent John Chancellor revealed the following about events of 2 May 1965: "We had a program, a television program on a Sunday afternoon…. I had gone down … to stand in front of the White House and speak a little essay into the camera on what the President's reaction was…. As I stood out there waiting for the program to begin, what I didn't know was that the President was upstairs…. He was alone and looking at me out the window, and he got very curious about what I was doing…. And the guard in the West Wing came out and got me, and I went inside. He said, 'There's a telephone call for you,' and it was the President."

According to the tape of the telephone conversation, Johnson said:

John, … I don't want to be quarrelsome, but I want you to know the facts…. If we don't watch out, the bellyachers are going to run the country and we'll lose our democracy…. Our mission down there [in the Dominican Republic], evacuation, is not half-way through.…. [U.S. Ambassador John Bartlow Martin] says that the Latin American … ambassadors, generally, are very favorable to us because we've saved their hide…. While they can't come out and say we're against mother or we support marines in Latin America, … they're very happy…. And … he's [Martin] going to point out [at a press conference] some of … them that have been imported and are known Castro leaders…. Fifty are identified as of last night…. I have to be very careful because I don't want to say a guy [who] disagrees with me is a Communist, or I'm a McCarthy…. The point, though, that I want to get over with you is those on the ground … are very happy that their lives have been spared and we're there…. Number two—the mission is not com pleted or about to be completed.

Chancellor replied, "All right, I have that clearly in mind," and Johnson said, "Okay, partner."

Chancellor recollected: "And I went out and stood out there—it didn't sound right, what he had told me, but nonetheless … I put it into the piece I'd written…. Then I went back and the following day I was able to determine pretty accurately that what he'd told me was an absolute fabrication, a big lie! I've rarely been as angry. I really was just furious! Presidents use all kinds of tools on reporters to do their work….. I've never really told this to anybody before except a few close friends because you don't go around calling the president a liar. In this case, he was."



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