Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – Peter Smark praised by Vietnamese war hero

The late Australian journalist Peter Smark is recalled with affection and respect by Vietnam’s most honoured spy, Pham Xuan An, whose double life made a major contribution to the NLF’s 1975 victory.
Smark was a war correspondent in Saigon in the early 1960s when An worked for Reuters (later he became a senior reporter with Time Magazine).
In Perfect Spy – The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, biographer Larry Berman reveals An’s high regard for Smark’s understanding of the US-led war.
He told Berman, a Californian academic: “Peter Smark really understood Vietnam. You need to read his articles.”
In another interview An told his biographer: “He (Smark) knew what the war was doing to the country and was interested in the new (US) counter-insurgency programme. He was one of the first to see that it was going to become a big war.
“We became very close friends. He was at my wedding. I gave him some valuable tips.”
When An died in 2006, researchers found a collection of Smark’s articles in the double agent’s personal archive. I suspect that Smark, who died in March 2003, would be chuffed to receive such accolades from Vietnam’s very own Kim Philby whose “cover” included jobs on the London Times, The Observer and The Economist.
Smark was Graham Perkin Journalist of the Year in 1982 for his brilliant coverage of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s deranged air, sea and ground attack on the Malvinas (Falklands) after the South Atlantic islands had been retaken by their rightful owner, Argentina.
He was a remarkably fine journalist and had the potential to be a great editor of The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald. However, an incompetent Fairfax management lacked the courage or the good sense to promote him.
They confused his Irish bonhomie for a lack of gravitas. In fact, behind his famous sense of humour and story-telling Smark was a highly intelligent, well-read and serious-minded newspaperman. I still miss him very much.

Tokyo buys the FT

Rupert Murdoch owns the world renowned Wall Street Journal with editions in the US, Europe and Asia to promote his profound belief in capitalism and the unfettered free market.
Now its British counterpart, The Financial Times, has been bought by Japanese media conglomerate Nikkei.
The unlisted, privately-owned Tokyo group has paid a breathtaking $1.5 billion for the “Pink ‘Un”, or 35 times the paper’s operating income.
In other words, Nikkei wanted to acquire the FT very badly indeed. The company secretly clinched the deal while the Pearson Group was telling all and sundry that Germany’s Axel Springer press was the preferred buyer.
Nikkei has loyally served the Emperor and Japan’s ruling political, financial and manufacturing elite since its founding in 1876. It was originally created as a weekly business journal by the giant Mitsui corporation but later “spun off” as a separate media entity.
It currently owns Japan’s largest financial newspaper, Nihon Kenzai Shimbun, television and radio networks, the weekly Nikkei Asian Review (started in 2013) and gives its name to the Tokyo Stock Exchange index, i.e. the Nikkei.
What’s notable is that the American press has warmly welcomed the FT’s takeover by the Japanese company while the British media has been less impressed.
The chief complaint is a real and undeniable one. Over the decades of post-war business scandals in Japan, Nikkei has played a disgraceful role. It has never broken stories of white-collar crimes and has followed the revelations made by others with strained reluctance.
There was anger and bewilderment over its coverage of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster when it became a government mouthpiece for “keeping calm” and “ending recriminations”.
Ironically, it was the Financial Times, founded in 1888, that exposed the Olympus scandal in 2011 and Nikkei had scant coverage of the major scandal over Toshiba’s overstatement of earnings.
The Olympus scandal blew open Tokyo’s criminal corporate culture in which losses were concealed, illegal payments were handed out and boardroom links to criminal organisations exposed.
It all took place on Nikkei’s watch, but not in the pages of its business daily.
As the London Observer remarked: “On the whole, Japanese politicians and business chiefs expect, and receive, a degree of polite media compliance that is wholly alien to British journalism.” (The Observer, 26 July 2015).
Hiroko Tabuchi, a Japanese-American journalist working in New York, was more direct, describing Nikkei as “basically a PR machine for Japanese business”.
My prediction? The Tokyo-owned FT will join The Wall Street Journal in propaganda warfare against China and preaching a policy of “containment”.

The royal Nazis

Why has there been such a fuss over Brenda Windsor, the queen of Australia, giving a Nazi salute in 1933 when Hitler was Germany’s chancellor?
I thought it was common knowledge that the English royal family was riddled with Nazi lovers in the 1930s. They also adored Mussolini but drew the line at other fascist dictators, Franco (Spain) and Salazar (Portugal), because they were raving Catholics.
Predictably, the Rothermere-owned Daily Mail launched a campaign to “hunt for the traitor” who leaked the film footage.
Viscount Rothermere, grandfather of the present owner, has a special place in Fleet Street’s sordid history for his personally penned column which he headlined: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” (January 1934)
He praised Hitler as the “saviour” of Germany from “alien elements … Israelites of international attachments”.
After Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in September 1938, Rothermere sent the Fuhrer a telegram saying: “I salute your excellency’s star which rises higher and higher.”
He also sent a 1939 New Year greeting: “May I tender to you Fuhrer und Reichskanzler my heartiest good wishes for another successful year of your wonderful regime. I am most hopeful that in this new year a long stride will be taken to meet Germany’s just demands.”
They were sentiments which would be endorsed by Brenda’s uncle, Edward VIII, who had been forced to abdicate in 1936 after admitting an affair with the American pro-Nazi, Mrs Wallis Simpson.
In the 1920s and 1930s the English royals played diplomatic footsy with European fascism which they regarded as a bulwark against Bolshevism. That squalid chapter of royal history remains under lock and key.

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