How far do you agree with conservative claims that
“the news media helped America lose the war in Vietnam”?
The news media was very important during the Vietnam War because due to the advent of television news reporting, it was the first war in history where civilians at the home front got to witness the atrocities in the battlefield instead of reading or hearing about it from the newspapers and the radio. At a time where dissent had been legitimised by the Civil Rights Movement in America and when civilians were starting to lose their faith in their government, they turned to the media to give them information that their government otherwise would not. The growth of television news reporting, the media’s misguided reports on the Tet Offensive and the media’s constant coverage of the anti-war movement had all affected the ways in which the American people saw the war and also government policies. Thus, this essay will posit that although the news media was not the main reason why America lost the war in Vietnam, there is truth to the conservative claims that it definitely helped in doing so.
At the start of the Vietnam War, the media generally favoured America’s involvement. Reports on the early stages of the war mainly appeared in print and on the radio because television news reporting was still in its infancy. Reports on the war were relatively positive, as the media embraced the notion that America was saving South Vietnam from communism. War correspondents “emphasised the skill, toughness, commitment, and compassion of the American troops.”1 However, Phinney states that the Kennedy administration made it a point to pursue a press policy that presented its own version of the events in Vietnam, in attempts to manipulate information and blame the press for misreporting.2 As one may predict, this was not received well by the press. Instead of relying on military officials for news, the press instead started to get information from the soldiers in the field with whom they had built a rapport. In addition, television became an important medium to communicate the news to the masses and thus the intensity of war coverage changed, as stories mainly focused on the soldiers in action and camera crews followed troops to cover the stories from the field.
The television becoming a main source of information during the war was detrimental and helped lose the war effort in Vietnam. Through the television, the media could show videos taken during the war and show it to most of the American population: by January of 1968, television reports had potential audience of 96 per cent of the population because nearly a hundred million sets were distributed across America, reaching sixteen of every seventeen homes.3 Thus, the television medium could easily reach out to the American people and provide video evidence where convenient. Braestrup concluded that “TV was always worse” than newspaper reports because the emotive demands of the medium and commercial demands of holding an audience just worked against calm, dispassionate reporting.4 Therefore, the television distorted information in order to get a reaction from the American public, because instead of producing real information, they produced information that was aimed at the people’s emotions. This is supported by Reed Irvine’s article in AIM Report, where he says that TV was especially effective in convincing the public that they had been deceived when their leaders told them that great progress had been made in Vietnam.5 This was because all TV news reports had to do was show images and videos of war atrocities during the evening news to debunk these claims. This was demonstrated during the Tet Offensive, which frustrated officials in the high ranks of government, because although reassuring views of Westmoreland and Bunker were distributed to a few officials in the top rank of government, a quite different and much more sobering version was broadcast to the American...
Bibliography: 2. Anderson, Terry H. The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in American from Greensboro to Wounded Knee (New York, 1995).
3. Dumbrell, John. Vietnam: American Involvement at Home and Abroad (Halifax, 1992).
4. Gettleman, Marvin E. et al. Vietnam and America: A Documented History (New York, 1995).
5. Lewy, Guenter. America in Vietnam (Oxford, 1978).
6. Neale, Jonathan. A People’s History of the Vietnam War (New York, 2003).
7. Oberdorfer, Dan. Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War (New York, 1971).
2. Heinl Jr., Colonel Robert D., “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” Armed Forces Journal (1971).
3. Irvine, Reed. How The Media Helped Defeat Us, AIM Report (April 1975).
4. Phinney, Jaqueline, ‘And That’s the Way It Is: The Media’s Role in Ending the Vietnam War,’ Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management 7/1 (2011).
5. Young, Stephen. ‘How Vietnam Won the War,’ The Wall Street Journal (August 1995).
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