One of history's great villains died yesterday, and NPR was on-call to provide its special math for the occasion . Robert Strange McNamara died yesterday and Monday's ATC featured three segments on his life and legacy - one by Daniel Schorr, the second by Mary Louise Kelly, and the last being Robert Siegel interviewing Errol Morris, McNamara filmmaker and documentarian.
Here's a challenge: listen to all three reports and see if you can find mention of the millions (2 to 4 is the usual estimate) of civilians killed by the United States in the Vietnam war. At least twice, you'll hear of the 58,000 US service people killed in Vietnam. Siegel safely mentions something that McNamara has already admitted to - 100,000 Japanese civilians burned alive in one night of bombing he helped engineer during WWII - but those millions of Vietnamese dead somehow just vanish.
In addition to disappearing millions of civilian victims - there are other distortions in the reports. Daniel Schorr describes McNamara's killing spree as "his stewardship of the Vietnam War." Also McNamara's presidency of the World Bank - where he lavished money on the torture states of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Romania - is described by Mary Louise Kelly as "a successful tenure" and by Schorr as "helping underdeveloped countries." Schorr goes even further and sees it as McNamara's "way of working out a sense of guilt."
Siegel's interview with Morris offers a telling bit of analysis from Siegel himself. Citing critics who have complained that if McNamara had admitted to some of his mistakes sooner it might have made an actual difference, he surmises "but that might have required his exile from the Washington establishment." Well, Mr. Siegel, turn that judgement on yourself and NPR: to investigate and report the news truthfully would put you and NPR on the outs with those who wield economic, military and political power - and might just lead to NPR's "exile from the Washington establishment." And that just wouldn't do...would it?