How did the U.S government control and manipulate the press on the war in Vietnam?
“But it has come to be widely accepted across the political spectrum that the relation between the media and the government in Vietnam was one in fact of conflict: the media contradicted the more positive view of the war officials sought to project, and for better or for worse it was the journalists’ view that prevailed with the public, whose disenchantment forced an end to American involvement”(Hallin, 1989).
During the Vietnam War between 1957 and 1975, the horrors of war entered the living rooms of Americans for the first time. For over a decade, watching towns and cities being destroyed, Vietnamese children being incinerated and body bags of U.S soldiers being sent home became a relatively normal daily and nightly Television broadcast in US homes. “Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America, not on the battlefields of Vietnam.” Marshall McLuhan, 1975. Although initially, the coverage of the US war on Vietnam was largely in favour of the Americans, the media’s viewpoint then took a large shift. The lack of censorship on new media at the time was a large factor in determining what was allowed to be reported, ultimately contributing to the fall of the US army. The Mai Lai massacre became a heavily covered event, which dominated daily news bulletins. In 1971 possibly the largest turning point took place for the US media in Vietnam. The ‘New York Times’ followed by another handful of papers defied the government’s ruling and chose to publish classified history regarding the war known as ‘The Pentagon papers’. The Pentagon Papers, revealed by journalists, contained numbers from the war that included far higher rates of American casualties and far less successful battles than the officially released government statistics had indicated. This in many ways influenced the development of investigative journalism – reporters weren’t satisfied with the government’s press releases and began to delve more deeply into the truth behind the stories. So why did the press, the government and the actual battles differ so much from each other? This has much to do with new forms of media and technology arising and various instances of deception between the US Government and the media.
Throughout the First World War the government had complete control over the press and what was published. From the commencement of the First World War throughout much of the Second World War the government forbid any pictures of wounded or dead US soldiers to be published. The government at the time even utilized the media in a means to spread propaganda to the US public. Using the technological avenues at the time, the government exploited print media and radio to spread the word of how well the American soldiers were doing and how brave and courageous the troops were.
“With the advent of television technology, the government faced new challenges in how it controlled, or failed to control the press during WW11 and the Vietnam War. Each American conflict, of course, has had its own circumstances, but from the introduction of photography and television into the arena of war, the government has had the difficult task of trying to manipulate the dissemination of images”. (Neuman, 2008 pp82). Towards the end of WWII, the press was able to record video and produce much more photographic content. With this swift rise of new technology, the government did not have time to censor all these new media avenues. By the time American troops descended into the Vietnam War, there was little to no control or censorship of the media. The intensive coverage of gruesome and gut wrenching events in Vietnam is a major reason the press and the government of America developed opposing viewpoints. ‘From that moment to the present the media has always played an immeasurable factor in the perception of...
References: • Noam Chomsky, “Fight it better”: The Media and the Vietnam War’ Understanding Power: The indispensible Chomsky (London: Vintage, 2003), pp 12-36.
• McNab, C. (1999) The Illustrated history of the Vietnam War. Amber Books Ltd. London.
• Neuman, J. (2008) Lights, Camera, War: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics. St Martin’s Press: New York .
• Pilger,J. (1986) Heroes. Johnathan Cape 1986, Vintage 2001 South End Press . Accessed 20/9/12
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