'Hanoi Jane' Fonda Rumors Blend Fact and Fiction

Blak and white photograph of Jane Fonda in Hanoi in 1972.

manhhai/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Viral messages accuse actress Jane Fonda of betraying American POWs in North Vietnam by handing over secret documents to their Communist captors.

Description: Viral text

Circulating since: Sep. 1999

Status: Mostly false

This is an example of the text that has been circulating since 1999:

Hanoi Jane Fonda

Looks like Hanoi Jane may be honored as of the "100 Women of the Century."
JANE FONDA remembered? Unfortunately may [sic] have forgotten and still countless others have never known how Ms. Fonda betrayed not only the idea of our "country" but the men who served and sacrificed during Viet Nam.
There are few things I have strong visceral reactions to, but Jane Fonda's participation in what I believe to be blatant treason, is one of them. Part of my conviction comes from exposure to those who suffered her attentions. The first part of this is from an F-4E pilot. The pilot's name is Jerry Driscoll, a River Rat. In 1978, the Commandant of the USAF Survival School was a former POW in Ho Lo Prison-the "Hanoi Hilton."
Dragged from a stinking cesspit of a cell, cleaned, fed, and dressed in clean PJs, he was ordered to describe for a visiting American "peace activist" the "lenient and humane treatment" he'd received. He spat at Ms. Fonda, was clubbed, and dragged away. During the subsequent beating, he fell forward upon the camp Commandant's feet, accidentally pulling the man's shoe off — which sent that officer berserk.
In '78, the AF Col still suffered from double vision (which permanently ended his flying days) from the Vietnamese Col's frenzied application of a wooden baton.
From 1983-85, Col Larry Carrigan was the 347FW/DO (F-4Es). He spent 6 years in the "Hilton" — the first three of which he was "missing in action." His wife lived on faith that he was still alive. His group, too, got the cleaned/fed/clothed routine in preparation for a "peace delegation" visit. They, however, had time and devised a plan to get word to the world that they still survived. Each man secreted a tiny piece of paper, with his SSN on it, in the palm of his hand.
When paraded before Ms. Fonda and a cameraman, she walked the line, shaking each man's hand and asking little encouraging snippets like: "Aren't you sorry you bombed babies?" and "Are you grateful for the humane treatment from your benevolent captors?" Believing this HAD to be an act, they each palmed her their sliver of paper. She took them all without missing a beat. At the end of the line and once the camera stopped rolling, to the shocked disbelief of the POWs, she turned to the officer in charge...and handed him the little pile.
Three men died from the subsequent beatings. Col Carrigan was almost number four. For years after their release, a group of determined former POWs Including Col Carrigan, tried to bring Ms. Fonda and others up on charges of treason. I don't know that they used it, but the charge of "negligent homicide due to depraved indifference" would also seem appropriate. Her obvious "granting of aid and comfort to the enemy," alone, should've been sufficient for the treason count.
However, to date, Jane Fonda has never been formally charged with anything and continues to enjoy the privileged life of the rich and famous. I, personally, think that this is shame on us, the American citizenry.
Part of our shortfall is ignorance: most don't know such actions ever took place. Thought you might appreciate the knowledge. Most of you've probably already seen this by now...only addition I might add to these sentiments is to remember the satisfaction of relieving myself into the urinal at some airbase or another where "zaps" of Hanoi Jane's face had been applied.
To whom it may concern:
I was a civilian economic development advisor in Viet Nam, and was captured by the North Vietnamese communists in South Viet Nam in 1968, and held for over 5 years. I spent 27 months in solitary confinement, one year in a cage in Cambodia, and one year in a "black box" in Hanoi.
My North Vietnamese captors deliberately poisoned and murdered a female missionary, a nurse in a leprosarium in Ban me Thuot, South Vietnam, whom I buried in the jungle near the Cambodian border. At one time, I was weighing approximately 90 lbs. (My normal weight is 170 lbs.) We were Jane Fonda's "war criminals."
When Jane Fonda was in Hanoi, I was asked by the camp communist political officer if I would be willing to meet with Jane Fonda. I said yes, for I would like to tell her about the real treatment we POWs were receiving, which was far different from the treatment purported by the North Vietnamese, and parroted by Jane Fonda, as "humane and lenient."
Because of this, I spent three days on a rocky floor on my knees with outstretched arms with a piece of steel placed on my hands, and beaten with a bamboo cane every time my arms dipped.
I had the opportunity to meet with Jane Fonda for a couple of hours after I was released. I asked her if she would be willing to debate me on TV. She did not answer me, her former husband, Tom Hayden, answered for her. She was mind controlled by her husband. This does not exemplify someone who should be honored as "100 Years of Great Women."
After I was released, I was asked what I thought of Jane Fonda and the anti-war movement. I said that I held Joan Baez's husband in very high regard, for he thought the war was wrong, burned his draft card and went to prison in protest. If the other anti-war protesters took this same route, it would have brought our judicial system to a halt and ended the war much earlier, and there wouldn't be as many on that somber black granite wall called the Vietnam Memorial. This is democracy. This is the American way.
Jane Fonda, on the other hand, chose to be a traitor, and went to Hanoi, wore their uniform, propagandized for the communists, and urged American soldiers to desert. As we were being tortured, and some of the POWs murdered, she called us liars. After her heroes — the North Vietnamese communists — took over South Vietnam, they systematically murdered 80,000 South Vietnamese political prisoners. May their souls rest on her head forever. Shame! Shame! History is a heavy sword in the hands of those who refuse to forget it. Think of this the next time you see Ms. Fonda — Turner at a Braves game.
Please take the time to read and forward to as many people as you possibly can. It will eventually end up on her computer and she needs to know that "we will never forget." Lest we forget..."100 years of great women," Jane Fonda should never be considered.

Jane Fonda to Play Nancy Reagan?

A new variant of this message circulating since mid-2012 contains the additional claim that Jane Fonda has been chosen to play Nancy Reagan in a movie of Reagan's life story. This is partly true. Fonda was indeed hired to play Nancy Reagan in a theatrical film titled "The Butler," released in 2013, but Reagan isn't the focus of the story.

Barbara Walters Named as the Author

New versions of this message circulating since 2010 incorrectly claim the above text was authored by Barbara Walters (misspelled "Barbra Walters" in some versions), and that the person honoring Jane Fonda as a "Woman of the Century" is President Obama. False on both counts.


The text above, which began making the email rounds in September 1999 and continues to circulate many years later, purports to reveal heretofore unknown facts about Jane Fonda's anti-war tour of North Vietnam in 1972. It is well known that during this trip, she actually did pose for photo ops with Communist troops and broadcast anti-American propaganda over Radio Hanoi.

The record shows that Jane Fonda also participated in a staged press conference with unwilling American POWs, the purpose of which was to "prove" that American prisoners weren't being mistreated by their Viet Cong captors. Years afterward, when the then-released POWs described the very real torture and degradation they had suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese, Fonda dismissed them as "hypocrites and liars."

Considered treasonous by some, her behavior during these years earned Fonda the nickname "Hanoi Jane" among veterans and POWs of the Vietnam War, many of whom hate her to this day.

Image Revamped

Since the 1970s, Fonda has revamped her public image several times over, rededicating herself to acting, becoming a fitness guru and businesswoman, marrying and divorcing billionaire media mogul Ted Turner. In 1988, she delivered a televised apology to Vietnam veterans and their families. The gesture failed to mollify everyone, but served to establish some distance between the new Fonda and the old — whose actions, she later admitted, had been "thoughtless and careless."

Old Wounds Reopened

As the '90s wore on, Fonda's radical past showed signs of fading from public memory — until 1999, that is. That year, Barbara Walters decided to honor her in a TV special called "A Celebration: 100 Years of Great Women." The announcement of the program, which aired in April of 1999, prompted a renewed outcry from veterans, ex-POWs, and their families, many of whom took to the internet to vent their indignation. Angry recriminations were posted in newsgroups, newsletters, and on websites, and circulated via forwarded email. Bits and pieces of those texts, along with some shameless fabrications, were cobbled together by person(s) unknown to create the "Hanoi Jane" email reproduced above. Much of it is false.

There's no disputing the fact that Jane Fonda toured North Vietnam in 1972, that she engaged in what amounted to a propaganda campaign on behalf of the Communists, and that she participated in an orchestrated "press conference" distorting the truth about the treatment of American POWs. There's no denying that she defamed the POWs by calling them liars when they later spoke out about their plight.

New Allegations in Forwarded Email

As to the specific allegations in the "Hanoi Jane" email, let's examine their veracity point by point, beginning with the most egregious:

  • Claim: Fonda betrayed POWs by turning over slips of paper they gave her to their captors. POWs were beaten and died as a resultStatus: FALSE.

"It's a figment of somebody's imagination," said Ret. Col. Larry Carrigan, whom I reached by phone at his home in Arizona. Carrigan, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, says he has no idea why this story was attributed to him. "I never met Jane Fonda," he told me. It goes without saying he never handed her a secret message.

He said he did see Jane Fonda once while he was a POW — on film. The occasion was a night when Carrigan and the other 80 or so men he was interned with were called out into the prison courtyard ("the first time we'd been outside under the stars in 5 or 6 years"). As the men stood there wondering what was in store for them, a movie projector began whirring behind them. Their captors were showing them footage of Fonda's 1972 visit to Hanoi.

  • Claim: A POW spat at Fonda, for which he was brutally beaten. Status: FALSE.

I received personal confirmation from Jerry Driscoll that the story is indeed bogus — as he put it, "the product of a very vivid imagination."

Mike McGrath, currently serving as the president of Nam-POWs, has worked hard to help Driscoll and Carrigan squelch the false rumors circulating under their names. "They would like to get their names removed but the story seems to have a life of its own," he told me. "There are a lot of folks out there who would love to have a story like that to hang their hat and their hate on."

  • Claim: POWs were beaten for refusing to cooperate or meet with Fonda during her visit. Status: TRUE.

The final anecdote in the "Hanoi Jane" email recounts the experience of a POW who agreed to meet with Fonda but announced to his captors that he planned on telling her how horrid conditions in North Vietnamese prison camps really were.

"Because of this," the narrative continues, "I spent three days on a rocky floor on my knees with outstretched arms with a piece of steel placed on my hands, and beaten with a bamboo cane every time my arms dipped."

Those words were written by Michael Benge, a civilian adviser captured by the Viet Cong in 1968 and held as a POW for 5 years. When I contacted him, Benge confirmed that the story was indeed his own, and true.

Titled "Shame on Jane," Benge's original statement on the matter was posted online in April 1999 by the Advocacy and Intelligence Network for POWs and MIAs. The text was clearly cribbed from that of another website and combined with the fictitious anecdotes above to create the "Hanoi Jane" email that still circulates to this day.


A good cause is never well served by lies, and that's how all of the ex-POWs I spoke or corresponded with about the falsehoods in this message felt. Paul Galanti said: "None of us are members of the Jane Fonda Fan Club, but these fabrications are something she just did not do."

No one had an answer to the question, "who made up these stories, and why?" but both Carrigan and McGrath expressed serious doubt that it was a POW.

"She did enough to place her name in the trash bin of history," McGrath explained. "None of us need to make up stories on her."

Jane Fonda could not be reached for comment.


Hughes, Mark. "Jane Fonda plays Nancy Reagan." The Telegraph, Sept. 13, 2012, New York.

ambiguouslyfamous. "The Jane Fonda Myth." Ambiguously Famous. February 2007.