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As Vietnam Evolves

Jim Rhodes: The one striking difference between American news coverage of Obama and Vietnamese news coverage of Obama is that there seems to be more complete and unbiased coverage of the President here in Hanoi.

After three plane changes, being extorted by extra and overweight baggage fees, forced into cramped sardine cans known as "economy class," and about 24 hours in the air; we were finally able to breathe the humid, damp air of freedom at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi.

Vietnam Evolves

Although the hour was late, seeing the welcoming staff of the university (the national Academy of Journalism & Communication-otherwise known as AJC) was a sight for sore eyes and bones.

Nina and I will be completing a United States State Department Fulbright educational rotation at AJC. Before we departed America, we received the obligatory warning from the Viet Kieu (US Vietnamese still living in the 1960s) regarding "the Communist government in the North" as well as my mom's distain and misunderstandings for having a son that spends too much time with non-Christian, non-white Communist foreigners. Mom means well but she has become a victim of FOX News and the fundamentalist, conservative Tea Party movement. This is exactly why we felt compelled to be at AJC teaching journalism and communication-"fair and balanced" for us is not a propaganda slogan but a reality that must be exhibited in all (real) news reporting.

AJC has a variety of departments that educate their up and coming leaders of the communication fields and include philosophy, economics, science, history, journalism, public relations, broadcasting, international affairs, publicity, sociology, culture, psychology, education, government, and international law. Truly this is not the Vietnam I knew when I was first here in 1968 nor is it the Vietnam currently on display by American media sources.

The first notable difference between mass media in Vietnam and the United States can be seen on any hotel's satellite television system. The system readily available in Vietnam contains 24/7 news coverage for Asia, the Pacific region, Australia, Europe, Africa, China, Russia in a variety of languages and subtitles with Vietnamese and English being the dominant languages.

Local programming contains many music programs including MTV which has too much influence on young, developing Vietnamese children's minds and has done, what I firmly believe, more to destroy Vietnamese culture that our failed war efforts here over four decades ago; cartoons--where many children learn English; game shows; movies in a variety of languages; documentaries including the ones this week on Patton, Lincoln, and Ellis Island; sports with an undue emphasis on cricket, golf, and football (that would be soccer to us); and a multitude of programs generated from area schools.

The one striking difference between American news coverage of Obama and Vietnamese news coverage of Obama is that there seems to be more complete and unbiased coverage of the President here in Hanoi. Of course ,anything the president does, according to FOX News, would be "wrong" and "incompetent;" while MSNBC will provide basic, but not in depth, coverage of the president's activities. The recent murders of Mexican students received limited, almost censored, coverage in America, while here there are segment after segment of ongoing coverage. There are special segments of news coverage specifically regarding poor and economically disadvantaged people in an non-judgmental non-biased manner -- something I have yet to witness in the United States.

The one striking difference between American news coverage of Obama and Vietnamese news coverage of Obama is that there seems to be more complete and unbiased coverage of the President here in Hanoi.

During the war journalist To An reported on our illegal involvement in Laos and Cambodia. His reports were discounted in the American media as "Communist propaganda" when in effect all his reports were spot on. Our national media corps became lap dogs for the war mongering industrial-military complex until Daniel Ellsberg leaked The Pentagon Papers.

It is interesting to note that during this time period, self-proclaimed true patriots -- all eligible for deferments, of course -- beat the war drums that sent those less affluent and less politically connected into combat that they themselves would never experience. These same politically connected Vietnam war avoiders would later set the tone for current U.S. foreign policy and include:

President George Bush; Vice President Dick Cheney; Vice President Dan Quayle; Mitt Romney received a "religious beliefs" deferment that was not given to professional black boxer Muhammad Ali; Rick Santorum (R-PA); Newt Gingrich (R-GA); Mitch McConnell (R-KY); Eric Cantor (R-VA); Saxby Chambliss (R-GA); Tom Tancredo (R-CO); John Ashcroft (R-MO); Rudy Giuliani; Trent Lott (R-MS); Bill Frist (R-TN); Dennis Hastert (R-IL); Tom Delay (R-TX); John Boehner (R-OH); Karl Rove; Rush Limbaugh; Paul Wolfowitz; Roy Blunt (R-MO); William Cohen (R-ME); Jon Kyl (R-AZ); Phil Gramm (R-TX); Elliott Abrams; Joe Lieberman.

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To An was killed while reporting our non-existence in Laos. Unfortunately he was killed during the same time period my unit had operations there. I checked the records and was relieved my unit was not in To An's area at the time of his death. His son To An Xo is the current Vietnamese Consul in Houston.

Dr. Le Cao Dai was another interesting figure during the war years. Dr. Le performed operations for Vietnamese wounded in a secret underground hospital near one of the airfields where I was stationed in the Pleiku, Central Highlands, area. After the war, Dr. Le would become a noted scientific contributor regarding Agent Orange at several U.S. medical facilities and universities. Although now deceased, Dr. Le Cao Dai has relatives working at Vietnam Television International, who are my colleagues, and relatives attending university in the United States.

Print media, unlike the United States, is alive and well in Vietnam. Vietnam has dozens of daily and weekly publications, most of which are also available on line. There are newspapers directed at young people, working people, people in the military, students, geographic areas, and a host of other targeted subject areas. Many of the publications are in English as the tourist favorite VIET NAM NEWS. Vietnam television has programs in both Vietnamese and English, especially business and international news coverage. Voice of Vietnam radio also covers a variety of topics in English as well. Unlike the geographic area we live in when we are back in the United States, the Vietnamese have a program of inclusion, as opposed to exclusion, and has no problems in dealing with issues of diversity or those of a multi-culture nature.

We bash the Communist one-party system but as I voted before we departed the United States, most of the offices on my ballot contained on only one name, a Republican. What is the difference? In the one-party system currently operating in Vietnam, there are spirited elections at the district, commune, precinct, and ward levels. There is a total absence of religious bigotry injected in Vietnamese elections because here people have a Constitutional right to believe, or not believe, a particular point of view. Arrogant and uninformed Americans call this a "godless system" however that is because we refuse to examine it. Many Vietnamese will tell foreigners they have "no religion" but if a foreigner would get to know that Vietnamese, they would quickly ascertain this was not totally true.

Women's issues are not a political topic here as constitutionally, and socialistically, women have equal rights and have always been a major force in shaping and creating what is current day Vietnam. Like many other global locations, problems exist, except here there is an actual working mechanism to address these types of situations.

Few foreigners realize Vietnam adopted the "Doi Moi" system of government after 1989. Representatives from all over the nation met in Hanoi and admitted the style of government they had in place was not working (we need to send these folks to Washington).

As a result, they scrapped the Soviet model and made drastic reforms, many of which are still being implemented today. Private businesses could be owned and operated for profit. Foreign investment was now encouraged. English would eventually become the nation's auxiliary language. This was a major and radical change not reported on by American media who would have us believe some old Soviet style of "gulag" repressive government is in power.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong is on track to visit more U.S. states than all his previous colleagues at the Embassy in Washington. When we hosted the ambassador for his Alabama trip, at which time he met the governor, local human rights workers were puzzled as to why the ambassador would visit a state like Alabama which is so immigrant and foreign unfriendly. And this is what truly separates us-we see color, religion, political affiliation while the Vietnamese do not.

As the Vietnamese welcome us during our education tour, we often wonder if they actually realize how much we have learned from them?

jim rhodes

James Rhodes