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November 10, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

ONCE UPON A DISTANT WAR: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett--Young War Correspondents and Their Early Vietnam Battles by William Prochnau (Vintage: $15, 546 pp., illustrated). From 1961 to 1963, Halberstam, Sheehan, Arnett and a few other correspondents discovered that the optimistic official reports about the campaign "to win the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people had no basis in reality. The messengers were condemned for the bad tidings they brought: Their professional skills and patriotism were publicly questioned by the flamboyant Madame Nhu, by their fellow journalists and by officials in the Kennedy White House. Prochnau's powerful and disturbing account of the government's efforts to manage the news has ominous implications today.

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