Vietnam War and the Media

Write an essay that offers a critical examination of the concept of the ‘guilty media’ thesis in respect of any war of your choice Natasa Perdiou The Vietnam War was the first war that allowed uncensored media coverage resulting in images and accounts of horrific events that served to shape public opinion of the war like nothing that had been seen before. This portrayal by the media led to a separation between the press and the U. S. government, as much of what was reported defied the intentions of government policy.
The media has fell blame by many for the result of the war, as it is widely believed that the war could not have been won under the scrutiny that came from the American people as a result of the media coverage. From the beginning of the Vietnam War to the present, the media has been an immeasurable factor in the perception of the war as the stories, true or false, that were reported gave the American people a face to an ugly war. The question over how much, if any, the media had affected the outcome of the war has been an unrelenting one and is likely to continue for a long time to come.
But one fact that cannot be doubted is that the dreadfulness of war entered the living rooms of Americans for the first time during the Vietnam War. For nearly a decade the American public could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death, and American body bags being sent home. Although early coverage mainly supported U. S involvement in the war, television news dramatically changed its frame of the war after the Tet Offensive. Images of the U. S led massacre at My Lai dominated the television, yet the daily atrocities committed by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong rarely made the evening news.

Moreover, the anti-war movement at home gained increasing media attention while the U. S soldier was forgotten in Vietnam. There was a stable build up of US military support activity in Vietnam during the period 1954 to 1965, but the first combat troops did not emerge until March 1965. During this period, media attention in the war was slow in building up, the first resident TV correspondent, NBC’s Garrick Utley, only arriving in late 1964. The media did build up and as the war became progressively more aggressive, journalists were sent out in increasing numbers.
It would be fair to say that reporting of Vietnam increased approximately in proportion to the military presence. Prior to the involvement of ground troops in Vietnam, media coverage was concentrated to the political dimension of the war of stabilizing a non-communist regime in South Vietnam. The media at this time was committed to reporting news that reflected the common anti-communist stance, which was so ” powerful in the early 60’s that as long as the Vietnam War remained small, the administration had little trouble with the press” (Hallin 28). [4]
By 1965 media coverage of Vietnam increased as the U. S. was becoming more part of an aggressive war. Reporting began to shift from the intention of eradication the world of communism to the frustration of the men in the field. After the heavy use of ground troops, a shift in coverage occurred that “put much of the attention on the military situation” of the war. (Wyatt 133). [9] An increasing number of reports began to emerge about a lack of incentive and motivation on the part of the South Vietnamese troops. This brought to question the whole role of American interference, as the U.
S. was proposed to support the South Vietnamese in their effort against the North, not the other way around. 1965 did not only mark the increase of ground troops into Vietnam, it also brought the emergence of television into the realm of media coverage, while the government was trying to maintain the idea that that the U. S was making encouraging progress, that the Vietnam War was necessary and that victory was not inevitable. While a small percentage of coverage was dedicated to warfare and death, what was seen was not forgotten by the American people.
The famous General William Westmoreland states that “[the coverage was] almost exclusively violent, miserable or controversial; guns firing, men falling, helicopters crashing, buildings toppling, huts burning, refugees fleeing, women wailing. A shot of a single building in ruins could give the impression of an entire town destroyed. ” [7] So, in spite of continuous reports of victory, the public had a hard time coming to grips with what they saw their troops involved in Vietnam. Such coverage, along with the vivid images that emerge on T. V. ed to a serious rise in anti-war protest that was merely strengthened by the events of 1968. The Tet Offensive of 1968 marked the greatest conflict in beliefs of the United Stated government and the media. In January, North Vietnamese troops attacked the North cities of South Vietnam and the U. S. embassy in Saigon. The media and the television, however, portrayed the attack as a brutal defeat for the U. S, totally altering the outcome of the war at the very moment when government officials were publicly stating that victory in Vietnam was “just around the corner” (Wyatt 167)[8].
The media covered all the events that immediately followed the Tet Offensive and the American public began wondering whether this war could be won. Don Oberdorfer a Washington reporter said that “there’s no doubt Tet was one of the biggest events in contemporary American history, within two months the, American body politically turned around on the war. And they were significantly influenced by events they saw on television”. [2] The Tet offensive was not totally unpredicted by the US military.
In reality, the final result was a success, in military terms, for the US as the Vietnamese did undergo serious casualties and were driven back. However, the America media were not expectant of the attack and assumed that the military did not either. Seeing the US embassy being undertaken by the Vietnamese presented the event as a defeat, ‘television fell prey to its chronic lust for drama. ’[1] After the Tet offensive the media began to attack the American involvement in Vietnam.
It became clear to the American public that there was no clear way to win the war. Also, in reaction to public mood the media started sending damaging reports from the frontlines; they suggested that American troops lacked the specific training for the terrain and the type of warfare they were subjected to. They also gave the idea to people that the new rebellious generation and the great pressures of the war meant that many soldiers were drug abusers and carrying out atrocities. The media concentrated on civilian casualties and incidents such as the one in My Lai,
These images on people’s televisions, left people in outrage, many had lost faith in the war and saw no military plan capable of wining such a war. They were outraged by their country’s conduct in the war and were set into a moral panic, seeing brutal scenes of civilian casualties committed by their own troops. The war was now seen as a shameful one and the government was seen to be at fault, forcing many young men to their death or to commit the atrocities they saw on their TV screens.
The former Vietnam correspondent Robert Elegant of the Los Angeles times said that “for the first time in modern history the outcome of a war is seemed destined to be determined not on the battlefield but on the printed page and, above all, on the television screen” [3] The reporting of the actual war was deteriorating, just at the moment when the American military advisers hoped to push for victory. The North Vietnamese causalities following the Tet offensive had left them vulnerable and it was expected that an immediate attack to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail would permit the US troops the chance for total success.
The news, though, was almost totally concentrating on the rising anti-war division in the US and stories of low morale and indiscipline among the US troops. The media were responsible for the American withdrawal from Vietnam because of the poor quality of reporting which lacked in validity in its facts about events and incidents in the war. It seems with all these misreports or blatant lies, which was meant to purposely damage the image of the American fighting forces in Vietnam public opinion of the war was very low in America. However the question is to what extent, if any, did this coverage change the outcome of the war?
It would be reasonable to suggest that the Tet offensive was the most significant incident in shaping the outcome of the war. The media certainly reported the assault in the most inaccurate way for the US army. Activist young journalists, who had not in the past witness any real fighting were all of a sudden bounded by fighting supposed that the North Vietnamese had won a great victory. The US government and army were to a degree guilty since they were aware the assault was going to happen and did not inform the media for reasons of national security.
There was a succeeding recovery by the Americans and the media did not report this. Moreover, fragile leadership, mainly from Lyndon Johnson, did not motivate confidence in the war effort. Evidence does also indicate that there was no absolute public support for the war, even earlier than the negative coverage by media began. The reasons for the war, to ceased the spreading of communism (the Domino Theory), were not clearly demonstrated and maintained. Some Americans began to realise that the Communist threat was used as a scapegoat to hide imperialistic intentions.
After the media’s massive blunder of reporting the Tet offensive as a major psychological defeat, and not having the sophistication, integrity or courage to admit their error opposition to war rose sharply. These innumerable domestic divisions gave the chance to high ranking members of Johnson’s administration to begin expressing their disapproval of Johnson’s actions to the media. This put pressure on government into engaging in to a more defensive military strategy that may have altered the likelihood of victory for the US.
President Johnson was under fire from anti-war ‘doves’ and submitted to both ceasing the bombing of North Vietnam and beginning the Paris Peace talks. As expected, he also announced his decision not to stand for re-election. To make things worse, the war cost two-thousand-million dollars every month. The price of many goods in the United States began to rise. The value of the dollar began to drop. The result was inflation. Then economic activity slowed, and the result was recession. Opposition to the war and to the Administration’s war policies led to bigger and bigger anti-war demonstrations. Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, in an effort to gain the public support back announced a plan of ‘Vietnamization’ of the war. This involved swapping US troops with more South Vietnamese troops, trained and armed by the US, after the first US troop withdrawals from Vietnam started in June 1969. Unluckily for Nixon, this did not discourage the anti-war protest who demonstrated in record numbers (250,000) in Washington in November 1969. [10] Images in television in every living room in America were showing the true dreadfulness of war for the first time.
Reports of military failure (especially Tet) and slaughter such as the My Lai event shaped an air of scepticism. The media at home were also reporting the rising number and intensity of anti-war protest, legitimising opposition to war. A thing television was guilty of was only placing emphasis on the US troops. The stories that made the news were always about US troops in combat, US troops doing civil action, sometimes US troops in trouble (desertion, drugs, fragging). The allies, whose losses (280,000 South Vietnamese dead) far exceeded those of American troops, were invisible to the American crews.
This gave the American public the feeling that the war was being waged mostly by the Americans and it was probably this, more than the almost exclusively violent coverage which gave the public a sense of disillusionment and war weariness. Additionally, media coverage of the war in Vietnam shook the faith of citizens at home. The media was the catalyst, which promoted the rising American anti-war movement. They were to a great degree accountable for the American troops’ withdrawal from Vietnam because of its poor quality of reporting which lacked in accuracy about the facts and events of the war.
It is obvious that this kind of misinformation seriously destroyed both the image and the morale of the American soldier in Vietnam. There’s no wonder public opinion of the war was very low in America. But the truth is that the media only sunk a slowly sinking politically based ship, as public opinion of the war was already falling. The public were already starting to see through the government’s political talk that they had no definite military plan for victory or a justifiable reason to fight against a nation of infantrymen.
The American media just dramatised the events to entirely destroy the very political principles which started the war. The media caused such a moral alarm in America at the time, people lost trust in its own government. The media left t America in such a chaos that its own government had to surrender to public opinion. So to what extend are the media guilty for the loss of the war? The media played a key role in American withdrawal from Vietnam. It might as well be proper to suggest that with American support for the war, America forces effort into the war may have been better and the outcome of the war may have been different.
Nevertheless, the chief reality is that the America forces in Vietnam had no apparent military strategy to be successful in its political mean. So consequently the media can not be solely guilty for the American withdrawal. Yet, the question is, would have American forces been withdraw from Vietnam with no media negative reporting of the war? The answer is that we will never know for sure. But we can undoubtedly say that Americans’ support for the war would have mostly remained high all over the war, the pressure on the American troops and government wouldn’t have appeared.
Without all of the these factors the American troops may have had the time to adjust to the style of warfare and topography and resolve the behavioural and discipline troubles they were facing which highly attracted the media attention. This could mean that America would have continued the war in Vietnam, which may, but not definitely would have created a different outcome. Despite this, you still can’t say that the media is totally responsible for the withdrawal of American fighting forces in Vietnam. It was the longest war in American history which resulted in nearly 60,000 American deaths and an estimated 2 million Vietnamese deaths.
The financial cost to the United States was just as deep. Even today, many Americans still ask whether the American effort in Vietnam was a sin, a blunder, a necessary war, or a noble cause, or an idealistic, if failed, effort to protect the South Vietnamese from totalitarian government. Nicholas Hopkinson’s statement is the one that probably best reflects the situation of the media in Vietnam: As public enthusiasm faded, reporting became more and more critical[…] but to single the media out as the decisive element in declining public opinion is incorrect.
US opinion turned against the war because it was long unsuccessful, costly in terms of human life and expenditure. ’[6] Words: 2314 References Bibliography: 1. Braestrup, Peter. “The News Media and the War in Vietnam: Myths and Realities” 2. Don Oberdorfer, Tet! , September 1, 1971 3. Elegant, Robert, ‘How to Lose a War’, Encounter, 57, 2 (1981), 73 89 4. Hallin, Daniel C. , The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. Los Angles: California University of California Press, 1986. 5. George Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States in Vietnam, 1950-1975 (1986) . Nicholas Hopkinson, “War and the media’’ Wilton Paper 55 (London: HMSO, 1992): 6-7 7. Westmoreland, William C. A Soldier Reports (Garden City, N. Y. , Doubleday, 1976) 8. William M. Hammond, Public Affairs: The Military and the Media, 1962-1968 (1989) and Public Affairs: The Military and the Media, 1968-1973 (1996). 9. Wyatt, Clarence R. Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Internet sources : 10. www. nytimes. com/learning/general/onthisday/big/1115. html

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