The Press: Expelling the Exposer

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There is a backlash built into every exposé, witness the case of Don Luce, 36, a U.S. correspondent in Viet Nam. Last spring Luce (no kin to TIME'S founder) discovered political prisoners of the Vietnamese government locked into underground "tiger cages" that were being maintained by American dollars supporting the Vietnamese penal system. Luce told visiting Democratic Congressmen William R. Anderson and Augustus F. Hawkins, then escorted them on a tour of the cages, during which Congressional Aide Tom Harkin snapped a number of damning pictures. The Congressmen broke the story, and Luce supplied material for a pictorial essay in LIFE, creating considerable embarrassment for the Vietnamese government and the U.S. embassy in Saigon. He also wrote pieces for the Manchester Guardian and some Vietnamese papers.

The director of the Vietnamese press center, Nguyen Ngoc Huyen, has now told Luce that his press card will not be renewed. Huyen admitted to other correspondents that the reason was the tiger-cage story. The pro-government Saigon Post, an English-language newspaper, cheered: "The mills of the gods have finally caught up with Don Luce. This man was more dangerous to Viet Nam than a Stokely Carmichael. So we must kick him out, and any others like him."

Don Luce is to the South Vietnamese government what Ralph Nader is to General Motors. An agricultural specialist who went to Viet Nam in 1958 for International Voluntary Services, Luce speaks Vietnamese fluently, knows the culture and people better than virtually any correspondent or U.S. Government employee. That may be the problem. Luce feels he witnessed wholesale indifference to the fate of the Vietnamese people. When his Vietnamese workers on one agricultural program were deprived of six months' pay by a Vietnamese provincial administrator, he was told by U.S. and Vietnamese officials it was none of his affair. When an entire island was defoliated by U.S. planes, Luce asked $10,000 restitution for lost crops. A U.S. official told him: "The whole damn country is not worth $10,000." He switched to journalism in 1967, and ever since, his strongly antiwar attitude has led him to concentrate on revealing the damage of the Viet Nam War to the ordinary citizens. Popular with the Vietnamese he lived and worked with, Luce now finds that many of his old friends have stopped visiting him for fear they will be followed.

In the past, American journalists have usually been saved from losing their press cards by zero-hour rescues from the American embassy. So far, no such aid has been offered to Luce.