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Farber's follies.

Anyone relying on M.A. Farber's coverage of the Westmoreland trial in The New York Times might well be forming the notion that the general's forces are carrying the day. Farber has apparently decided to simplify his life by omitting to report that Westmoreland's witnesses are being submitted to the inconvenience of cross-examination. Such cross-examinations, conducted by David Boies, have often left these witnesses, in sorry shape, confessing to contradictions in testimony, misspeakings and memory holes large enough to jump through.

On October 19 anyone without access to The Times would have thought CBS had a good session in court the previous day. Boies had introduced cables from Gen. Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Westmoreland, urging him to hide increased North Vietnamese troop strength during 1967. The headline in USA Today was "Army cables score points for CBS"; in The Washington Post, "Westmoreland Told not to Inform Media"; in Newsday, "Brass Warned Westmoreland"; in the New York Daily News, "Westy ordered to withold data: calbes"; in the New York Post, "Westy Was Told: Keep Mum on Cong." By contrast, Farber's story in The Times was headed "A Statement Used by CBS Is Questioned at Libel Trial," because Farber chose to lead with a courtroom discussion of whether Westmoreland or Wheeler had said, "What am I going to tell the President?" Only in his thirteenth paragraph did Farber manage a tangential reference to the story every other reporter in court correctly took as the most telling event of the day.

Press coverage on October 25 provides another instructive guide to Farber's curious relationship to the events unfolding in the courtroom. The previous day Lieut. Gen. Phillip Davidson, Westmoreland's intelligence chief, had endured a difficult cross-examination by Boies in which he had contradicted himself numerous times and made a crucial admission that there was a "command position"--i.e. ceiling--on the number of North vietnamese troops that the high brass would accept. The Philadelphia Inquirer headed its story "Westmoreland aide struggles with testimony"; the Chicago Tribune, "About-face at CBS trial"; the Daily News, "Westy's witness trips over troops"; the New York Post, "Westy Aide: Hide Real Enemy Strength." The wire services reflected the same assessment of the news. The Times story was headed "U.S. Intelligence Chief Says He Wasn't Asked to falsify Reports in Vietnam," thus reflecting Farber's lead, which was about Davidson's unsurprising assertion to Westmoreland's lawyer, Dan Burt, that Westmoreland had never asked him to fake intelligence. Only at the end of his story did Farber allude to the cross-examination that, once again, every other journalist in the room reported to be devastating.

No one reading Farber would know that Westmoreland's prime witnesses--Walt Rostow, Robert Komer, Col. George Godding, General Davidson and even, to a certain extent, Lieut. Gen. Daniel Graham--have all had serious problems in cross-examination. The morning I was at the trial, reporters joked about which trial Farber was covering. It's no laughing matter though. Farber's ludicrous accounts in The Times help form the popular impression across the country that the honorable military is at last prevailing in court, just as decent Vietnam War veterans are at last winning the respect of their countrymen. I keep looking for a black face in those photographs of veterans who gathered around the memorial in Washington on november 12. No luck so far. I suppose no blacks fought in Vietnam.
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Title Annotation:M.A. Farber's press coverage of the Westermoreland-CBS trial
Author:Cockburn, Alexander
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Nov 24, 1984
Previous Article:The phantom planes.
Next Article:Uncivil liberties.

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