[UPDATED] Joel Brinkley defends his Vietnamese diets article

UPDATE: Tribune Media Services sent me this statement on Friday evening —

Tribune Media Services (TMS) recently moved an opinion column by Joel Brinkley about his observations from a trip to Vietnam that did not meet our journalistic standards. The column has provoked a highly critical response from readers since its release.

TMS has a rigorous editing process for its content, and in the case of Brinkley’s column that moved Jan. 29, all the required steps did not occur. We regret that this happened, and we will be vigilant in ensuring that our editing process works in the future.


In a column distributed by Tribune Media Services, author and journalism professor Joel Brinkley writes about the “unique” diet of the Vietnamese. “Even now, as Vietnam rapidly modernizes and matures, if the dog wanders too far from home, someone will grab it and then serve dog for dinner,” he writes.

Brinkley’s getting blasted by chicagotribune.com commenters (“an outrageous pack of lies”) and a Romenesko reader says the award-winning journalist “ought to know a whole lot better.”

Brinkley’s response and photo evidence follows his critic’s letter.

Letters to Romenesko

From PAUL VON ZIELBAUER: Joel Brinkley’s bizarrely inaccurate op-ed about Vietnam, its people and culture serve up an antiquated and rather offensive caricature of Asian culture. Do Vietnamese eat dog meat and raise some dogs specifically for food?images They do – and so do Chinese and Koreans, by the way – to the understandable dismay of many Westerners. Are Vietnamese barbarians who snatch untended dogs off the street, and does that ridiculously false fact make Vietnam, as he claims, “an aggressive country”?

No. Vietnamese people – despite the taste among some for certain kinds of food that we may find offensive – are lovely people to a remarkable degree. Mr. Brinkley, an award-winning reporter in his day and now a Stanford University journalism professor who claims expertise in Southeast Asia, ought to know a whole lot better.

The response

From JOEL BRINKLEY: I was traveling in Vietnam in late December and early January, and this is what I saw with my own eyes, first hand. And this is what the people I interviewed told me. On the issue of meat and aggressiveness, perhaps that was not as well phrased as it should have been. But eating a diet rich in protein will make you more robust than others, in Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian states who eat rice and very little else. After all half of Laotian children grow up stunted, even today. In Cambodia the rate is 40 percent. That means they grow up short and not so smart. Would it also follow that they would be less aggressive than Vietnamese? I think so.

Don’t forget that the World Wildlife Fund calls Vietnam the world’s worst wildlife malefactor. And have a look at the attached photo [of rats below] I took in Da Nang.

(Credit: Joel Brinkley)

(Credit: Joel Brinkley)