The Saigon Post
March 19, 1971
C' EST LA GUERRE
A steady, cold drizzle here. Press Camp fairly active. Bedding satisfactory. Food tolerable, if you're the tolerant sort. The trips out to Khe Sanh through the foggy mountains, interesting. Best of all, the phone lines to Saigon worked.
Several days after arriving, this reporter left. A diligent Lieutenant discoverd that I had been doing my work on the basis of a Vietnamese press card instead of a MACV one.
ON VISITING LAOS
Ham Nghi, three klicks south of Khe Sanh proper, is the site of the Vietnamese headquarters for the operations in Laos. News people who want to go into Laos are brought here from Quang Tri in US helicopters. Most, so far, haven't made it into Laos.
The danger, the often dark skies, the shortage of Vietnamese helicopters, are only part of the reasons why. One of the most important reasons is connected with a new ruling which has come down all the way from Secretary of Laird himself.
This Laotian affair marks the first time that newsmen are allowed to visit the scene of important operations only on a specially assigned "press" helicopter. On the surface, it seems considerate to make this chopper available each day. In practice, so far, it means that you're not likely to get into Laos.
Things were different last May and June in Cambodia. You showd up at headquarters in Tay Ninh, If the "press" helicopter had already left, or there weren't any, you waited around for anything on a space available basis. You were welcome to an empty seat on most anything going into Cambodia. It was understood that a newsman, as an adult, took his chances as he saw fit. This custom also allowed him to avoid press parties. He was able to get around and exercise initiative, enterprise, and other things that used to be associated with good journalism.
One of the subtle effects of the new ruling for Laos has to do with its creating a certain conflict between the newsmen and the helicopter pilots. These pilots already have their hands full in flying normal military missions into Laos. One of the most professional newsmen told me that some pilots don't like the idea of having to fly a hazardous mission exclusively for the press.
"And I don't really blame them," he said.
The new ruling for Laos might conceivably keep some of the correspondents from getting themselves killed, as well as from getting first-hand information. On the other hand, forcing them to travel only in relatively large groups could contribute to increasing the media fatalities. If the helicopter is hit, you could lose a lot of people all at once. That's what happend in February when four, including famed photographer Larry Burrows, all went down in Laos.
Luckily it didn't happen on March 12 when a US helicopter took three bullet holes over LZ Lolo in Laos. The chopper turned back and was able to land safely in Quang Tri. It was carrying six civilian correspondents.