The first asserts that America lost the war due to damaging media coverage, particularly on television, which undermined political and military endeavours.
The second affirms that the majority of journalists and reporters opposed the war, and their subsequent opinions polluted popular support for Vietnam. Many scholars now argue that the media in fact did not guide public opinion, but merely shadowed the ebb and flow of fluctuating social and political sentiment.
United States news media and the Vietnam War - Wikipedia
Although there was some unfavourable press representation, which gained momentum as war raged on, it was inspired by a lack of perceptible confidence concerning Vietnam policy on the part of the administration and bolstered by a social view that Vietnam was an enduring conflict which had taken its toll on American lives and finances.
The press, the most visible exponent of a society which appeared to have turned against Vietnam, became scapegoat, providing a convenient explanation for anti-war sentiment. In an article in the French paper Le Monde Diplomatique emphasised the ubiquity of coverage of the Vietnam War in the United States over any other issue. Indeed, if the bulk of news media is now considered hostile to the war, then evidence should corroborate this claim. A marginal three percent of accounts which documented enemy perspectives hardly signifies a disapproving media. Furthermore, inundated with information about United States strategy and tactics, yet starved of facts about the devastation war was imposing on Vietnamese civilians, the public were destined to have little affinity or compassion for the Vietnamese.
Hence, implications of these findings hint that waning support for Vietnam had its roots grounded in influences other than the media. This view insinuates that although America may have been victorious on the battlefield, media misrepresentation undermined public support. He was standing straight and tall in Army fatigues. She was holding a baby in one arm and hauling a toddler with the other.
They both looked to be about two years out of high school. The woman started to cry. I call it the all-recruited military. Volunteers are people who rush down to the post office to sign up after Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center gets bombed. All the women in town knew that a destroyer was smaller than a cruiser and a platoon was smaller than a company, because their husbands had all been on destroyers or in platoons.
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That shift in language indicates a profound shift in the attitudes of the republic toward its armed forces. The draft was unfair. Only males got drafted. And men who could afford to go to college did not get drafted until late in the war, when the fighting had fallen off. Thirty-five died in Vietnam, and none since. Instead, the American working class has increasingly borne the burden of death and casualties since World War II.
In a study in The University of Memphis Law Review, Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen looked at the income casualty gap, the difference between the median household incomes in constant dollars of communities with the highest casualties the top 25 percent and all the other communities. Put another way, the lowest three income deciles have suffered 50 percent more casualties than the highest three.
Impact of Vietnam War on American History
If these inequities continue to grow, resentment will grow with it. With growing resentment, the already wide divide between the military and civilians will also widen. This is how republics fall, with armies and parts of the country more loyal to their commander than their country. We need to return to the spirit of the military draft, and how people felt about service to their country. The military draft was viewed by most of us the same way we view income tax. But as a responsible citizen, I also see that paying taxes is necessary to fund the government — my government.
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People would still grumble. We grumble about taxes. People would still try to pull strings to get more pleasant assignments. But everyone would serve. Let the armed services be just one of many ways young people can serve their country. With universal service, some boy from Seattle could find himself sharing a tamale with some Hispanic girl from El Paso. Conservatives and liberals would learn to work together for a common cause.
We could return to the spirit of people of different races learning to work together in combat during the Vietnam War. While overall coverage may have remained objective, this is not to say that certain broadcasts were not detrimental to the war effort — some are still remembered as turning points in the war.
Its effect was clear to see. On 31st March Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek a second term as President, and in a speech to the media shortly afterwards made clear that they were in no small part responsible for his decision Carruthers, This was by no means the only instance of extremely critical reporting. David Culbert is correct to emphasise the impact of both the footage and the still photograph, which appeared in newspapers around the world, on viewers and policy-makers alike.
It is impossible, of course, to determine the actual effect of such reporting on public and elite opinion, but it is unwise to discount its impact altogether. This ignores the compelling visual evidence about the war that was offered to the American public. But in terms of information it told you almost nothing. No context was given to the incident, giving the impression that it was a common occurrence.
Many scholars have dismissed the claim that television had such a large impact on the American public during the Vietnam War. Among them is John Mueller , who argues that the media followed a shift in public opinion against the war, which had actually occurred in the two years prior to the Offensive. Mueller cites rising casualties as the reason for dwindling support for the war, suggesting a similar pattern could be seen in Korea, where television coverage was minimal.
A changing media
Thayer notes that one survey in , the time at which critical coverage is meant to have had the greatest effect, found that less than half of the television households watched the news on a given evening. This provides a certain amount of perspective for the argument that television news played a role in shaping public opinion.
Nevertheless, in focusing on the violence, the controversy and the human costs of the Tet Offensive, the media contributed to turning what was a military success for the USA into a defeat for public opinion and elite consensus. Again, Hallin is correct in saying that the media maintained an objective stance, and his study is very convincing on this subject. However, the public shape their opinions based on the information available to them, and, as demonstrated above, the media reported stories that were politically very damaging.
This is clearly an objective position, but by reporting the negative side of the war the media informed the public that there was in fact a negative side, influencing the debate. If censorship were enforced, the public would have received most of their news about the war from the government, which as it is often repeated, was painting a rosy picture of Vietnam.
David Culbert claims that in a time of uncertainty, compelling visual evidence has a power denied it in ordinary circumstances. While this is true of television broadcasts, it can be applied to the media as a whole in a time of limited war. It must also not be forgotten that multiple news sources can also influence elite opinion, and so indeed can the public, and this is the basis of the vicious cycle that played some role in ending the war. It is widely agreed that the Tet Offensive was the key period of coverage of the Vietnam War, as this was the start of the shift to more critical reporting by the media.
This is important because negative coverage in mainstream news encourages opponents of government policy to speak out. Hallin agrees that the anti-war movement was given increasing airtime, but says they remained fringe voices. However, how these voices were presented is not significant — Hallin proves they were not afforded any favourable treatment; it is the fact that they were aired at all that had the impact.
Once mainstream media carries the question of the legitimacy of government action, the public and members of the Administration are free to consider it a credible response to the situation, and encouraged to question their own position. It can be said, however, that critical coverage encouraged opponents to speak out about the war, were given credibility by the media, influencing public opinion and forcing the Administration to carefully consider its actions with regard to public reaction.