HDNet World Report: Vietnam’s Lingering Ghost

HDNet’s weekly news program, “HDNet World Report,” traveled to Vietnam to expose the continuing effects of dioxin poisoning and to consider knotty questions about the United States’ responsibility. This piece boasts a wider scope and more intimate point of view than the typical broadcast news or news magazine segment, thanks to veteran correspondent Greg Dobbs and producer Kira Kay. The program, which aired March 3, 2009, strikes a solid balance and achieves a compelling tension between well-contextualized information and blunt, shocking images.

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Insights from the Executive Producer

“[At HDNet World Report], we want to cover things that aren’t covered elsewhere, and at a level of detail that isn’t necessarily done elsewhere,” explains Dennis O’Brien, news director and executive producer. “While American vets’ experiences [with Agent Orange] have been covered fairly comprehensively over the years, the Vietnamese side hasn’t been covered as much. And it’s sort of a unique moment now, because the Vietnamese are a little bit more open to foreign journalists coming in to cover these types of stories.”

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Young girl believed to be affected by Agent Orange. She was abandoned at the Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

America’s history with Vietnam goes back more than half a century, O’Brien notes, which accounts for Americans’ ongoing interest so many years after the official end of the war. Agent Orange remains a lingering and controversial point of connection between the two countries as a result of both personal pain and geopolitical ramifications.

Vietnam’s Lingering Ghost: Facing the Legacy of Agent Orange takes a balanced view of its subject, giving no indication that the HDNet team landed in Vietnam with an agenda. But they weren’t striving for the Holy Grail of objectivity, O’Brien confides.

“Our piece didn’t advocate, but I wouldn’t say it was completely straight in terms of the right and the wrong,” he muses. “It’s fair to say you’re left with the strong impression that children are still being affected by Agent Orange. It’s not a terrible thing to allow your reporter to come to certain conclusions, as long you believe them to be well researched, fair and factual.”

Correspondent Greg Dobbs is clearly pained by much of what he encounters. Finding a ray of light amid the suffering and pollution, he visits a couple of rehab clinics funded with U.S. dollars. This segment is optimistic, a note that O’Brien feels is essential to hit. “I think you want to present something not as hopeless, but that people are trying to improve,” he says.

At the same time, O’Brien emphasizes, the usual challenge of television reporting—weaving information and emotion in a compelling fashion while walking the fine line of evenhandedness—was complicated by the Vietnamese government’s acute interest in the story having a particular slant highlighting some of the most severe cases. The authorities tended to steer the HDNet team to the most polluted hotspots and the most shocking cases of deformity, in their desire to drive the point home for American audiences.

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