The Corner

60 Minutes & The Truth

If, as now seems likely, the Air Guard documents that 60 Minutes used to bash the president are exposed as forgeries, it would not be the first time that CBS and 60 Minutes were duped because they were predisposed to believe a story. This comes from my piece for the NR issue of 23 February:

[H.G.] Burkett discovered that over the last decade, some 1,700 individuals, including some of the most prominent examples of the Vietnam veteran as dysfunctional loser, had fabricated their war stories. Many had never even been in the service. Others had been, but had never been in Vietnam.

The story of Joe Yandle is a case in point. Yandle had admitted to being the getaway driver during a 1972 liquor-store holdup in Medford, Mass., that resulted in the murder of the store manager. Under Massachusetts law, even though Yandle did not pull the trigger, he was as complicit as the gunman. Convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison without parole, Yandle never claimed to be innocent, but contended that Vietnam had driven him to drugs and crime. 60 Minutes did a segment in which Mike Wallace told viewers that Yandle did two tours in Vietnam, and survived the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh; and that he then “came home with a Bronze Star for valor, two Purple Hearts, and something else — a heroin habit.” The 60 Minutes report was instrumental in convincing then-governor William Weld to commute Yandle’s life sentence to time served — 23 years. But Burkett discovered that although Yandle had indeed served in the Marines and had been honorably discharged, he had never set foot in Vietnam at all.

Thanks to Burkett’s work, Yandle is now back in prison. But what is striking about his case is the predisposition of journalists to accept uncritically the claim that service in Vietnam is an explanation for criminal activity at home. How could the hard-nosed Mike Wallace and others like him be so easily taken in? Burkett’s answer to this question stands as a rebuke to American journalism. It is also a rebuke to John Kerry.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is senior national security fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, editing its journal Orbis from 2008 to 2020. A Marine Corps infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, he was a professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College from 1987 to 2015. He is the author of US Civil–Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.

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