The Vietnam War and the United States media engaged in a complex relationship in the 1960s and 1970s, and for the first time, Americans witnessed the influence of the media on the outcomes of an unpopular war. The core of their association was based upon the necessity to keep the general public informed on the events of the war and the devastation experienced by American soldiers, including dramatic loss of life, life-threatening injuries, and intense violence. While many Americans believed that the media coverage was too intrusive and disrespectful, the journalists and television reporters were often required to defend themselves to a disgruntled audience, who virtually witnessed many key moments of the war on their television sets. It is widely believed that because of the tremendous coverage presented on television during the Vietnam War, media coverage of major events would never be the same. The absolute intrusion of reporters into a dangerous and deadly war zone resulted in raw, disturbing footage of deadly violence displayed all over American television sets. As a result of these experiences, media coverage has developed into an invasive and disturbing instrument that interferes with privacy and personal freedom, and consequently, many innocent lives are destroyed in the process. The following discussion will develop this hypothesis in detail through an analysis of the media coverage during Vietnam and its consequences. Furthermore, the discussion will provide a thorough analysis of the events surrounding the Vietnam War that resulted in an invasion of the battlefield by a selfish media who were eager to provide television viewers with a brutal display of the front lines of America's most unpopular war.
Advantages of Media Coverage of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was encompassed in a virtual media frenzy, with reporters flocking to the scene to cover one of the bloodiest wars in American history. As a result, Americans were informed of the latest news and casualties that were lost during each battle of the war. In addition, the media provided Americans with updates on government press events and other speaking engagements that related to the war. This wealth of information provided Americans with the ability to observe the war through still photos and live footage. They were able to develop their own views concerning the war with the assistance of a well-informed media presence. Media coverage in Vietnam stirred many emotions in Americans who witnessed them, and this led to a pro- or con- stance surrounding the war itself and its underlying factors. Finally, the extensive media coverage that defined the Vietnam War was instrumental in providing Americans with a reality check because the war was an actual event in which American soldiers were dying at alarming rates. The media gave Americans without any comprehension of war a perspective that convinced them to believe that the war was real and that people close to them were losing their lives each and every day.
Disadvantages of the Media Invasion into Vietnam
The tremendous interest in the Vietnam War led to a number of realities regarding the intrusion of the media onto the front lines. Reporters who entered the war zone were taking enormous risks regarding their safety in order to capture the best possible footage of the bloody action. As a result, Americans were fed with constant coverage of the war that included numerous visions of ambulances, wounded soldiers, and body bags, often too disturbing for a typical American family. This reporting technique was termed "Action News" and provided Americans with pictures of real soldiers fighting for their lives in the midst of horrendous bloodshed. These images were often disturbing to most Americans, but they were also intriguing on some level. By January 1967, several hundred journalists were covering the war and the events of the day were publicized on the national news.2
Americans were exposed to violent combat and bloodshed as they ate their dinners. In addition, detailed descriptions of soldiers and their preparations for battle were depicted all over the place. Finally, many news reports portrayed American soldiers as relentless in their efforts to harm Vietnamese women and children at alarming rates.3 Although the effects of this direct exposure to viewers were never measured or publicized on a widespread scale, the effects were evident because the Vietnam War was the first television war, and many Americans were dramatically affected by its events. Parents would engage in heated conversations regarding the war and its devastation at home in front of their children.2 Many young people who disagreed with the premise and necessity of the war responded through large-scale protests that took place all over the United States, most notably in the Chicago Riots of 1966.3 Much of this anger and frustration that took place on American soil was a direct result of the incessant media coverage of the war. The media was interfering with the war and government decision-making processes by questioning the interference of the government in the war as well as the right of American soldiers to fight in the war.3 As a result, Americans were exposed to a variety of opinions and representations of the Vietnam War that caused a tremendous amount of tension and regret throughout the United States.
The Pentagon Papers and the Tet Offensive
Two events that dramatically changed the way that the media provided war coverage were the Pentagon Papers and the Tet Offensive. The Pentagon Papers is perhaps one of the most famous cases in history involving freedom of the press and war, and these demonstrated the influence that the media possessed in the coverage of world events.4 The Pentagon Papers began in 1971 as a series of articles that ran in The New York Times and the Washington Post that were based on a top-secret government study involving Vietnam decision-making policies.4 The government did not want this information publicized; therefore they attempted to cease the publication of these articles. However, the judicial system ruled in favor of the two newspapers, resulting in a large victory in favor of media coverage of the war's events.4
The Tet Offensive was another issue that raised much controversy regarding the war and its true purpose. Until this point, the media had skewed its portrayal of the Vietnam War through its declaration that the death toll was relatively low for American soldiers and very high for Vietnamese soldiers.4 As a result, American citizens believed that the war was heading in the right direction. However, on the Vietnamese festive holiday Tet, the North Vietnamese engaged in a suicide mission, sent to attack American soldiers through assaults on the United States Embassy as well as many other South Vietnam cities.4 This comprehensive attack shocked media representatives all over the world and demonstrated that President Johnson was not honest regarding the true events taking place in the war.4 The media began to depict the daily bloodshed and violence that was occurring on the front lines, and many American opinions were changed regarding the war and its devastating effects on American soldiers. The media also portrayed President Johnson as a fraud and demonstrated the opinion that the United States was not gaining a victory in the war; rather, they were losing and there was no turning back. These two events perhaps changed the way that the media performs its duties forever. Consequently, Americans began to anticipate such honest coverage as part of their daily routines, and some became captivated by the violence and bloodshed in which many soldiers were involved.
Print Coverage of the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was never officially declared by the United States Government.5 As a result, policies towards press coverage were lenient, and military leaders concluded that members of the media were permitted to move freely throughout the war zones.5 Consequently, the media began to form their own opinions concerning the ongoing events in Vietnam, and military officials lost much control over the stories that were being created by journalists and reporters who witnessed the war.5 Magazine and newspaper coverage reflected the sentiment that Americans were experiencing at various times throughout the war. If Americans were unhappy with the way that the war was progressing, the print media would respond with numerous photos of disturbing combat situations.5 Many Americans believe that the failure of the United States to prevail in Vietnam can be attributed to the intense scrutiny that the war received through extensive media coverage.5 As a result, the American public who witnessed the accounts firsthand is forever changed by their observations of a war so desperately reviled by so many Americans.
The Media's Role in Government Decision-Making in Vietnam
After the Vietnam War ended, the United States government was perceived in a negative manner, although many accounts may disagree with this assumption. Many believed that the government planned the defeat of the United States in military battle, and many members of the media agreed with this hypothesis.6 As a result, when the war ended, Americans did not just suffer from physical defeat, but they also succumbed to…