September 11, 2018

1970. Bill Downs Accused of Left-Wing Bias by Florida Politician

Downs Accused of Bias for Vietnam Coverage
Bill Downs reporting as the Pentagon correspondent for ABC News in the 1960s
This letter by Florida state senator John L. Ducker was written to Bill Downs in 1970. In it he accuses Downs of bias and concludes by saying "Radical Liberals in the news media are the real 'polarizers' of America."

The letter was in response to an ABC Evening News segment about Defense Secretary Melvin Laird's testimony on the unsuccessful mission to rescue American prisoners of war in North Vietnam.

Downs responded to Ducker with a transcript of the broadcast. He also referenced the letter in an opinion piece one month later, making note of its rhetorical similarities with Vice President Spiro Agnew's attacks on the news media.

The text from the letters and transcript is taken verbatim, including errors.
November 25, 1970

Mr. Bill Downs
ABC
1130 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York, 10010

Dear Sir:

We have all heard a great deal about "polarization of America" in the news media lately. This letter is concerned with the real "polarizers", the left wing commentators and self-styled pundits.

On the 11:00 P.M. News of November 24th, the local ABC television outlet aired a segment showing Mr. Melvin Laird discussing the recent air raids on North Viet Nam and the attempt to rescue our all-but-forgotten prisoners of war. Suddenly Mr. Laird's voice was cut off, although the picture showed him as he continued to speak, and a different voice interrupted criticizing Mr. Laird for making a "political football" out of the Viet Nam war and the prisoners of war. This other voice signed off with the announcement that it was Bill Downs speaking.

Now just who is Bill Downs? Who is he, to interject his puerile political partisanship on a national network? I and millions of other viewers object to Downs and others of his ilk pontificating their snivelling sentiments as the ultimate in wisdom. I personally, and millions like me, would like to answer Mr. Downs on national television because we are as intelligent as he is and know as much about what is going on as he does. We do not need a nursemaid to lead us into the "correct paths" of thinking. We can do our own. Who does the thinking for such as Downs? Who tells him what to say? He who pays the piper calls the tune. He who pays Mr. Downs tells him what to say. To shallow minds this may mean that somebody tells Mr. Downs specifically what to say. This is probably not what happens, but an employer can hire the "right" people who say the "right" things, who agree with them in their political left wing feelings and who see to it that those who air those views are the ones who are benefited and promoted over those who do not.

The fact that Mr. Downs works for ABC does not give him the right to make repulsive remarks about those whom he happens to dislike and with whom he happens to disagree. We can all listen to and judge the Honorable Mr. Laird without help from Mr. Downs or anybody else. Radical Liberals, like Downs and the officers of ABC are the ones who for the past several months have been criticizing Vice President Agnew and even the President of the United States for "polarizing" America.

Speeches of our elected and appointed officials can and should be answered by officials and representatives of the opposit party. This is not polarization. How can a nasty crack by a little pipsqueak like Downs be answered? It is frustrating and infuriating that many who listen and are helpless to reply.

Radical Liberals in the news media are the real "polarizers" of America.

Sincerely yours,

John L. Ducker
Downs responded:
December 8, 1970

Senator John L. Ducker
[address]
Orlando, Florida 32801

Dear Senator:

Attached is a verbatim transcript made by the Pentagon of my November 24th broadcast to which you took such unwarranted and undignified exception.

I have checked with the office of my good friend Secretary Laird and was informed that he agreed with my conclusion that the American POW's in Hanoi's hands should not become anyone's political football. I could find no one in the Defense Department who regarded the report as "repulsive", as you put it.

Sincerely,

Bill Downs
Downs attached the official Defense Department summary and transcript of the night's news broadcasts (errors included):
RADIO-TV DEFENSE DIALOG

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 1970 (BROADCASTS OF NOV 24)

SUMMARY OF REPORTS CONTAINED IN THIS ISSUE

John HART reports there is still much talk on Capital Hill about the recent bombing raid and rescue mission in NVN over the last weekend. HART also reports there were no reported US deaths in VN during the last 24 hours. Bob SCHEFER comments on the POW camp mission - says the maneuver was partially politically oriented. He says stale intelligence is nothing new for the was in SE Asia and that part of the problem was not being able to know what was in the prison camp cells. Secretary of Defense Melvin LAIRD also said the same thing about not being able to know what was in those camps - that reconnaissance planes cannot photograph through the roofs of buildings. Robert GORALSKI reports the CALLEY trial is recessed until after the Thanksgiving holiday after hearing 21 witnesses thus far. John CHANCELLOR reports on the reaction of some POW wives - most of them interviewed thought this was a tremendously brave effort and that it was good to show Hanoi the US is concerned about their POW's. Bill DOWNS reports Secretary LAIRD had a full day on Capital Hill today testifying before the Senate. Two US lawyers who were in Hanoi during POW mission believe the US knew there were no US POW's in that camp but pulled the mission off to show Hanoi our strength. There are more reports on drugs and the returning VN veteran.
ABC EVENING NEWS ABC-TV 6:30 PM

Laird Answers Questions At Senate

FRANK REYNOLDS: This has been another long day for Secretary of Defense Melvin LAIRD.

Earlier today, he went before the Senate Armed Services Committee to defend that commando raid on a prisoner of war camp near Hanoi.

Even though no prisoners were rescued, he said the raid showed that the American government does care about the prisoners of war.

Late this afternoon, Secretary LAIRD faced another hearing, this one before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was opened to live television coverage and was broadcast here on ABC.

The questioning by the Senators was sharp and detailed, with the nation watching and listening...

BILL DOWNS: The Senators wanted to know whether Secretary LAIRD had ordered the dramatic mission impossible to Sontay.

With faulty intelligence, which uselessly risked the lives of the men of the task force, and also possible ruined any chance of successful negotiation in Paris.

Senator FULBRIGHT questioned the intelligence.

FULBRIGHT: ...bad idea simply because it did fail - there was something wrong with the intelligence.

(Two men speaking at once)...

SECRETARY LAIRD: This was not a failure Mr. Chairman and I would...

FULBRIGHT: Well, it was a failure (both talking at once).

LAIRD: This mission was carried on by a group of men that performed the mission with one-hundred percent excellence.

FULBRIGHT: The men performed perfectly but who ever directed it didn't I mean.

LAIRD: These men knew full well the chance that there might not be POW's there.

FULBRIGHT: I'm not complaining about the men, but those men... (both talking at once)

LAIRD: I would like to tell your Mr. Chairman that we have made tremendous progress as far as intelligence is concerned.

(Laughing in background)...

But we have not been able - we have not... (both speaking at once)

LAIRD: We have not been able to develop a camera that sees through the roofs of buildings - the intelligence on where troops were located in the area was excellent.

The intelligence on SAM sites, the intelligence on anti-aircraft positions, every bit of intelligence proved to be correct.

The only intelligence that we did not have was the pictures inside the cells.

And this was something that every men - every man on this mission knew too.

This is something that I personally discussed with them and discussed with our intelligence people that were working on this mission.

Senator GORE, I felt the risk was worth it.

And I recommended this mission and I take the responsibility, but I cannot fault the intelligence that was supplied to us - we do not have men on the ground in NVN.

More than 900 GI's Missing Or Held In NVN

DOWNS: The tragic fact remains there are still more than 900 Americans, prisoners or missing in NVN.

Their fate deserves better than to become a domestic, political football.
Ducker responded with the final word:
December 11, 1970

Dear Mr. Downs:

After reading the transcript, which you enclosed with your December 8th letter, I do not retract a word of my letter. I think that I was absolutely right.

Sincerely yours,

John L. Ducker