The Week That Changed America Forever

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A U.S. military convoy moves into the Mekong Delta town of Rach Kein located some 20 miles southwest of Saigon, Vietnam, Jan. 5, 1967.
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At the beginning of 1967, the one place Americans couldn't go was Hanoi, North Vietnam.

It was two years after President Lydon B. Johnson escalated the conflict in 1965, and at home, the narrative of the first televised war was still that of the good guys shooting down the reds.

But in late December 1966, that perspective changed.

Harrison Salisbury, a reporter for The New York Times known as a "journalistic one-man band," was granted access into North Vietnam, and became the first American to report from the other side of the war.

Salisbury's first article came out in the late edition of Christmas 1966, a Sunday.

"Contrary to the impression given by United States communiques," Salisbury wrote, "on the spot inspection indicates that American bombing has been inflicting considerable civilian casualties in Hanoi and its environs for some time past."

Johnson and McNamara's line since the start of the war was that U.S. was bombing North Vietnam, but only targets of "concrete and steel, not human life."

On New Year's Eve, Johnson had a press conference at his ranch, calling Vietnam "the most careful, self-limited air war in history."

Salisbury's reporting continued into the first week of January.

"In the district as a whole, officials said, there have been more than 150 attacks since 1965...The hospital has been dispersed into half a dozen thatched huts around the countryside. Authorities say it is too dangerous to occupy any substantial building. Most such buildings in the region, they say, have been hit by bombs."

As the gap grew between what people read and what the government said grew, LBJ doubled down in his January 10th State of the Union because in reality, the American government knew that Salisbury was on to something. 

In many ways, this moment marked the beginning of our "post-truth" world. Here, we explore how this moment forever changed U.S. politics with rare audio from the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. Click on the 'Listen' button above to hear this segment.