The Impact of the Media on the Vietnam War

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Americans was greatly influenced by the extensive media coverage of the Vietnam War. Before the 1960’s public news coverage of military action was constrained by the government and directed by Government policy. The Vietnam War allowed the media to act without restriction and gave them the opportunity to film and record the war from the frontline. This war altered the perception of war in the eyes of the American citizens with television bringing it directly into their homes. It became known as the living room war. Being the first U.S. uncensored war with graphic images and unaltered accounts of horrific events made an impact on the public opinion. The media covered the conflict in a negative portrayal in print, photographs and television.

Despite the first amendment, during the Civil War, the military often kept reporters off the battlefield. During World War 1, the military controlled all radio communications and censored all photographs. On May 16, 1918, the government extended the Espionage and Sedition Act that made it illegal to publish anything disrespectful to the government, especially speech and the expression of opinion that would cast the government or the war effort in a negative light. This resulted in 75 U.S. newspapers losing their mailing privileges or being forced to change their editorial positions. World War 11 created the military office of censorship, if the press wanted access they had to apply for credentials and play ball with the military. This allowed the government to keep stories like the creation of the a-bomb out of the press until after the war. Things were different in Vietnam, this war spiraled out of control, restrictions on the press became increasingly lax.

As media technology evolved the government realizes the presence of images has come to dominate news coverages especially during war. As the ant-war movement grew at home, the press began to question the war and aired their concerns on the nightly news. Since the Vietnam War the government has put a much tighter rein on the press. As technology has advanced, the styles of media coverage have evolved from a sole emphasis on print to more complex concentration on photography and eventually the video-dominance of modern times”.

The war coverage is an example of how technology has affected the power of the media and affected the public perception. “The whole nature of television coverage revolutionized the way reporters, government officials, and audiences covered and reacted to the new era of journalism”. During the Vietnam War, viewing images of death and destruction had negatively influenced public sentiment.

World War 11, a war mainly covered by censored print journalism, resulted in a positive consensus on the war, Vietnam conflict being uncensored created a dramatic change. Each night Americans viewed the war from their living rooms, watching graphic imagery of death and mutilation. In Vietnam, government would find the Living Room war harder to handle, especially in an age of increasingly quick communication. Television was the greatest weapon of the Vietnam War. The media and their cameras did not show Americans the victorious images of World War 11 successes or their grand battleships and great armies; instead they watched burning victims, screaming children, violent explosions and losses of their American forces and carnage of the Vietnamese civilians.

Being a visual medium, television depicted the horror of war and primarily focused on the negative. The media recognized the potential of television to exploit and capture the minds of the viewers. There tendency toward negative reporting helped to undermine the support for the war. Americans placed trust in the pictures and television footage they saw. The United States faced much criticism worldwide through literature and footage during the war and it continued even after the war ended.
Many believe that the failure of the United States in Vietnam was the lack of public support. The notion the war was prosecuted by the government against the American people wishes is false. That most American youths took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War was also false. Early initiatives by the United States under Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy received broad support. Only two members in Congress voted against Johnson to wage war on Vietnam and most Americans supported the war. The antiwar movement in 1965 was small and the news buried the coverage in the inner pages of the newspaper. The American military and political leaders promised the war would end soon was not true. Every night Americans turned on their news to see bodies of their young flown home in bags. As the war turned into years, the public became inpatient. Many people began to feel it was time to cut their losses. The role of the media in American politics goes beyond Vietnam.

The media was central in the first civil rights movement, the urban conflict of the late 1960s, the Democratic Convention in Chicago. There were a host of new political movements and Watergate. With the growing prominence of the media it seemed there was a crisis in the political institution. The public confidence in government had declined dramatically during those years and both political parties had weakened. These development and Vietnam created a broader controversy about the relationship of the media and the American government.

Samuel Huntington wrote the national power in 1970, as compared to 1950, was the national media. Evidence suggest that the development of television journalism contributed to the undermining of government authority. The half-hour nightly news broadcast in 1963 led to dependence on television as a source of news. “In the words of Richard Nixon, The Vietnam War was complicated by factors that had never before occurred in America’s conduct of a war…. The American news media had come to dominate domestic opinion about its purpose and conduct”. The night news on TV and the morning’s paper reported the battles, but no purpose of the fighting was conveyed, television only showed the human suffering and sacrifice of the war. There was persistent conflict between the media and government over Vietnam.

The first “living-room war,” as Michael Arlen called it, began in mid-1965 when Lyndon Johnson dispatched large numbers of U.S. combat troops, beginning what is still surely the biggest story television news has ever covered. For years the Saigon bureau had the third largest networks after New York and Washington with five camera crews on duty most of the time. The argument has been made that a war that is reported in an unrestricted way by television would eventually lose the public support. On March 8, 1965, two battalions of U.S. Marines arrived on the beaches of Danang. Those 3,500 soldiers were the first combat troops of the United States had dispatched to South Vietnam to support the Saigon government in its effect to defeat an increasingly lethal Communist insurgency. The power of the image, both moving and still, effects public perception of an event is more evident in a war coverage.

Because of the nature of war, the images are emotionally loaded swaying public opinion. On June 11, 1963 on the streets of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire. The monks made sure that foreign reports were on the scene and photos and TV footage of his blazing body spread around the world.

His act protested the ant-Buddhist policies of the South Vietnam President, who was supported by the U.S., but soon the self-sacrifice became emblems of a broader campaign of resistance against the Vietnam War. It certainly stunned millions of people around the world who saw it June 1963. As a U.S. embassy official put it, the photo “had a shock effect” of incalculable value to the Buddhist cause, becoming a symbol of the state of things in Vietnam.” President John F. Kennedy said of Browne’s photo that “no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one. The political crisis that Quang Duc’s self-immolation did not prompt either Kennedy or his successor, Lyndon Johnson, to rethink the American involvement in South Vietnam. In 1963, the United States had less than 16,000 troops in South Vietnam, Four years later there were half a million. In 1968. The generals claimed a major victory in the Tet offensive, Walter Cronkite returning from his own inspection of the war said it had become a “bloody stalemate.”

January 1968, during the lunar new year (or “Tet”) holiday, North Vietnamese and communist Viet Cong coordinated an attack against various targets in South Vietnam. Both the U.S. and South Vietnamese militaries sustained heavy losses during the assault. The Tet Offensive played an important role in weakening U.S. public support for the War in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh and leaders in Hanoi hoped the Tet Offensive would achieve a victory that would end the grinding conflict that frustrated military leaders on both sides. A successful attack that could force the United States to negotiate or perhaps withdraw. The North Vietnamese hope it would at least stop the escalation of guerilla attacks and bombing in the North. Hanoi selected the Tet holiday to strike because it was traditionally a time of truce, and because Vietnamese traveling to spend the festival with their relatives provided cover for the movement of South Vietnamese National Liberation Forces (NLF) who supported the communist force. The strike had a strong psychological impact, it showed the NLF troops were not as weak as the Johnson Administration had previously claimed. The Tet Offensive consisted of three phases. The first phase became the


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The Impact of the Media on the Vietnam War. (2020, Sep 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-impact-of-the-media-on-the-vietnam-war/

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