The Vietnam War was and continues to be a powerful political symbol, a montage of discrete, contradictory and striking images seared into our individual and collective psyches. Some of the most poignant images invoked include: a Buddhist monk in flames, a South Vietnamese officer executing a captured Vietcong, and the American flag being burned. For many, the war is remembered through direct personal experiences, for most people the war was and is known only through experiences portrayed by others. As the primary mediator of images of the war, the press holds unparalleled power to decide what the war means.
The Vietnam conflict, often referred to as ‘the first televised war’ was and is considered a turning point in history. The objectivity of the press collided with national interest which had a massive impact on the home support of the American occupancy in Vietnam. However, the Vietnam conflict can be considered a collective of disconnected episodes of combat. Much of the reporting took more than 30 hours to reach the television screens of U.
S. citizens, this helped to reflect the disorganized and fragmented pattern of the conflict itself. War both intensifies and transforms the norms of press government relations. Prior to WWI, reporters either found their own way to a warzone, or at the discretion of a commander, attached themselves to a military unit. If said reporters were found in a warzone without permission, they were often arrested. The press’ valuable dissemination techniques, and the constantly growing unrest of the public eventually led to the development of a more formal system.
This system granted the press access to the forefront in exchange for formal accreditation and military censorship. Journalists and photographers were given a certain level of freedom whilst reporting during the Vietnam conflict. With the release of graphic images such as a naked Vietnamese child fleeing the site of a napalm strike by the South Vietnamese army, the intentions of the U.S. were called into question. The U.S. government received an unprecedented amount of backlash for their time spent in Vietnam, as it later became unclear whether their exploits were progressive. This text will be an analysis of the following; how the press affected public support, the effects of media bias on the development of public opinion and how the press reportage affected military action in Vietnam.
There were many factors that had significant influence on the coverage of the Vietnam conflict. While the press has a long lasting tradition of national loyalty, the press also holds the role of government ‘watchdog’. while the press is restricted by economic interests, it’s main priority is to relay information that is in the public interest.
During times of war, the press has an inclination to report what the government wants disclosed to avoid sabotaging national interest.
Through fears of seeming unpatriotic and alienating the viewers and sponsors, during wartime the press is often pressured into minimizing the severity of incidents or spinning information to make it more palatable to the public. Therefore, the press is essentially restrained by loyalty for the state. meaning that economic interest is assisting in the shaping of public opinion during times of war.
Objective news Reporters amid the Kennedy and Johnson administration utilized two sources: White House authorities and soldiers in action. While these sources did not change over the span of the Vietnam War, the way journalists illustrated the war did (Hallin, 1989). According to Hallin (1989, p. 68), writers in America abided by three principles in reporting.
Firstly, independence, media should remain solitary and not feel pressured by the influence of outside powers, government officials or advertisers. Secondly, objectivity, journalists should introduce just ‘the reality’ and avoid subjective critiques, unless they are isolated from the facts. Thirdly, balance, news ought to be ‘unbiased’, not supporting either party associated with a discussion. Hallin (1989) notes that these standards are inherently ‘negative’. They just say what a journalist can’t or ought not to do; they do not provide direction on the most proficient method to report. They do not convey to journalists which stories to centre around, or which ‘truths’ to emphasize or even how to ‘display those truths’. Writers, therefore, could report on the occasions they considered most intriguing or stunning and they could pick what to say regarding them without breaking the standards. This pattern occurred amid the Buddhist crisis and the Tet Offensive and it is still happening now.
Regardless of whether reporters strived for objectivity in their pieces, it was not feasible for them to accomplish it. Even if objective reporting was attempted, there would always be the individuality of the reader or viewer who would interpret the news subjectively and make their own assumptions. It cannot be overlooked that the media is much the same as any other business interested in peddling a product, instead for the media the product is information. The more outrageous and sensational the information is, the more it draws in the general population and the more the TV or newspaper makes through promoting or deals. This turned out to be genuine later, however amid Johnson’s early administration, journalists referred to for the most part official government sources and gave record of official policy.
The most serious scope of Vietnam preceding 1964 was amid the Buddhist emergency. Diem earned a lot of his assistance from Vietnam’s Catholic populace. On May 8, 1963, Buddhists in Hue were disallowed from flying religious flags amid the festival of Buddha’s birthday. Protests began quickly, prompting a half year of sensational, fierce encounters amongst Buddhists and the South Vietnamese government. Negative press coverage amid this period is often seen as confirmation of media policymaking power, as before the conflict the administration supported Diem and by its end supported a coup against him. More distinctly, the press is blamed for undermining the U. S. war exertion that depended so intensely on a steady South Vietnamese government. These allegations do not stand up under examination. While the reality of the matter is that the press reprimanded Diem amid this period, so did numerous American diplomatic and military authorities in Saigon and Washington. Without a doubt, before May 1963 the press reliably revealed the official U. S. line that, while Diem was not flawless, he held the way to progress. As the New York Times explained in 1962: Official Americans here, however frequently eager with a portion of Ngo’s oppressive strategies and his evident hesitance to impact changes, seem to have reasoned that his authority is a fundamental resource. A few Westerners who have influenced a claim to fame of concentrate the Vietnamese personality to have proposed that a bureaucrat is truly what the greater part of the general population need.
The pushes and pulls of the press’s competing tendencies arc bounded, however. When the topic is consensual, the media serves as advocate or celebrant of that consensus. When the topic is one about which legitimate groups or individuals disagree, then the media is obliged to present those opposing views. The key, however, is the term legitimate. The media does not advocate or even neutrally present views that fall outside of the dominant culture, While the lines between consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance are not written in stone, they are real, and the rules governing media coverage are different for each. Consider, for example, national election coverage. The importance of elections in the political process is never debated. Elections as an institution fall clearly within the sphere of consensus. During the election campaign, however, the media are free to present the opposing views of legitimate political candidates almost always defined as the Democratic 128 MICHAEL X. DELU CARPINJ and the Republican nominees. This is the sphere of legitimate controversy. The views of individuals and groups falling beyond its bounds. Those of fascists, communists, socialists, etc.-are seldom covered in the mainstream press. When they are, it is usually to expose them as threats to the consensus, not to present their points of view objectively. (FCC guidelines for the Fairness Doctrine state, ‘It is not the Commission’s intention to make time available to Communists or to the Communist viewpoints.’) Since the press is the dominant source from which people learn about the political world, it is not only part of the spheres of consensus and legitimate controversy, it also ‘plays the role of exposing, condemning, or excluding from the public agenda those who violate or challenge the political consensus. It marks out and defends the limits of acceptable political conflict. ‘(Neuman, J. 2008)
Coverage of Vietnam, despite claims to the contrary, seldom left the spheres of consensus and legitimate controversy. When it did, it was to ridicule deviance rather than present it as a legitimate alternative. The media did, of course, criticize the war, and helped shape the debate over the war’s direction. And Vietnam was covered differently than other wars. But the mainstream press never stood outside the dominant culture to criticize it. Instead, it reflected societal shifts in the boundaries between consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance. Ultimately it continued to serve as a boundary-maintaining mechanism, preserving the status quo from serious challenges.
In 1950s, there were just 9% of American home possessed a TV, however this figure climbed drastically to 93% out of 1961. In a review led in 1964, 58% US respondents said that they ‘got the vast majority of their news’ from television2. TV, along these lines, turned into the most imperative wellspring of news for American individuals amid the Vietnam conflict. (Hallin, 1986)
Along with the rise of television, new record technologies such as video camera and audio recorder also arose. Journalists and reporters were now able to take much more photographs and record video materials (Neuman, J. 2008). Therefore, the government had to face a big challenge in censoring all the new media for the first time – the job they had done properly in the World War I and World War II by using strict policy4. With inadequate government controls, the media was now able to publish uncensored pictures and videos showing the brutality of the war in Vietnam and, thus, vastly influenced American public opinion in unprecedented proportion.
After the Tet Offensive, media scope of the war turned out to be overwhelmingly negative. Pictures of both regular citizen and military losses were progressively televised (Hallin, 1986). The level of triumph stories announced by columnists diminished from 62 preceding to 44 after the Tet (Hallin, 1986). Also, numerous famous photos of the war, for example, The Execution of a Vietcong Guerrilla or The Napalm Girl applied a negative and enduring effect on people in general inclination. As the war ended up uglier on screen, its open help likewise declined essentially.
As indicated by a Gallup survey in March 1968, 49% of respondents felt that the US inclusion in Vietnam was a mistake. In August, the number expanded to 53%10. As the war turned out to be more disliked, more dissents and exhibitions spread all through the nation. On November 15, 1969, the same number of as half of million individuals assembled over the White House in an enormous exhibition called the Peace Moratorium. The rally highlighted antiwar talks, melodic exhibitions and an important minute when the group drove by Pete Seeger sang along a John Lennon’s new song called ‘Give Peace A Chance’. This occasion was later accepted to be the biggest exhibit in the U.S. history (Anti-Vietnam War Demonstration Held, 1969).
With the disclosure of My Lai Massacre in November 1969, the media kept on exciting open stun and doubt which began since the Tet Offensive. The war was currently portrayed as one of the greatest violations in U.S history where American troopers were marked as killers and child killers12. After two years, the Pentagon Papers at first distributed by the New York Times exhibited that the legislature had ‘methodicallly lied’ to people in general about the whole war. By and by, the administration’s believability was basically harmed. As an outcome, most Americans presently held a profound doubt of their legislature.
Under colossal public pressure, the administration in the long run needed to make concessions. In 1969, President Nixon started to execute the Vietnamization strategy and steadily pulled back U.S. powers from Vietnam. Right on time in 1970s, alongside the troop withdrawal, the media started to lose centre around Vietnam. Truth be told, the quantity of American columnists declined to less than 200 in late 1971, and just 59 in late 1973 (Neimanwatchdog, 2014). In addition, the level of battle stories on TV was lessened from 48 percent in the vicinity of 1956 and 1969 to just 13 percent in the vicinity of 1970 and 1973 (Bonior, Champlin, Kolly. 1984). After the Paris Peace Accords in the long run marked on January 1973, the Vietnam War was considered ‘over’ for the two Americans and their media
Before the end of the first Indochina War, it became obvious that a communist North could control all parts of Vietnam and that is the reason President Eisenhower held a press conference on April 4, 1954. There, he communicated his reasons behind the involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam and clarified the acclaimed ‘domino theory’, which was later utilized by future President Lyndon B. Johnson to legitimize and justify military action (Anderson, 2011, p. 146). It appears that his thought processes were, to some degree, driven by economy and fear for the manufacture of specific materials, for example, rubber or jute. He also communicated his stress for individuals who may lose their right to freedom ‘under a dictatorship’. (Public Papers of the Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954)
As Anderson (2011) highlights, the unsuccessful final moments of the Vietnam War left the U.S. disillusioned and uncertain whether the cost and setbacks were necessary toward the end. Regardless, the majority of political figures appeared to concur on one issue and that was the part media played amid the war and how it helped end it.
Amid the war in Vietnam, journalists and photographers delighted in a phenomenal opportunity for both freedom of speech (and photography) and movement in South Vietnam with no apparent control from the legislature. Whilst journalists in World War II needed to subject their work to investigation from the government, the reporters in Vietnam were given a chance to join military operations, observe daily lives and later illustrate on their experience (Hammond, 1990, p. 6). As one can assume, their reports were regularly subjective and not at all like in WWII, they utilized sources that didn’t just contradict each other, but also remained anonymous. This left the reader to some degree confounded and removed from the ‘war effort’ (Hallin, 1989).
Hallin (1989) notes that the press was no longer an extension of the government; they basically did not feel the duty to convey news that was compliant with political agenda. He goes on further to say that as the press has gained more political independence, journalists began scrutinizing the authority and choices of individuals in control. Therefore, when the early 1960s official government policy did not appear to relate with the actual situation in Vietnam, journalists communicated their disarray. The freshly discovered autonomy of media added to the general agreement that media assumed a critical part in Vietnam War.
Even though newspapers and radio announced consistently on the circumstances in Vietnam, and they were vital sources of information, it was really television that energized intrigue amongst Americans. Not a single war before Vietnam had the advantage of being televised, it had not yet been created, in the case of WWII, or on the grounds that very few individuals had one in their homes, in the case of the Korean War. In an article, television coverage of the Vietnam War and the Vietnam Veteran by E. McLaughlin; Bonior, Champlin and Kolly (1984) estimates the figures of homes with televisions. In 1950, it was just 9 percent though by 1966, it grew exponentially to 93 percent.
The chance to see global news across the world in one’s family room, prompted an expansion in both the viewers of evening news broadcasting and the validity of the news itself. Hallin (1989, p. 106) shows the developing force in the aftereffects of a collection of studies done by the Roper Organization for the Television Information Office amid the years 1964 and 1972. In 1964, an inquiry was held, seeking to discern which medium individuals received the most data from, 58 percent of respondents admitted to TV which was followed by daily papers with 56 percent. In 1972, the figures for TV went up by 6 percent while for daily papers they dropped to 50 percent. The same survey also inquired about the trustworthiness of TV and newspapers and resulted in a fascinating outcome. Almost half of the general population surveyed said that they trusted in the news appearing on TV more and just 21 percent of interviewees would have picked newspapers. Hallin (1989) proposes that the percentage in support of TV was so high, since it conveys a couple of innate qualities, for example, ‘the presence of pictures’ and a ‘personal nature’. Consistent watchers viewed the same presenters read them the news and they inevitably developed a trust in them, for example, the case of anchor-man Walter Cronkite.
In his article, Mandelbaum (1982) states that it became a broadly acknowledged truth that TV picked up a tremendous power and by showing the aggravating reality of war it created an unflattering image of American government and soldiers alike. It can be argued that TV contributed to withdrawal of the U.S. army from Vietnam and resulted in the U.S. basically losing the war. In 1975, Marshall McLuhan added to the issue when he stated: ‘TV brought the mercilessness of war into the solace of the front room. Vietnam was lost in the lounge rooms of America, not on the combat zones of Vietnam.'(cited in The Media and the Vietnam War, Truthful or Deceptive? 2012)
Hallin (1989) gives an alternative perspective and states that there are individuals, for example, David Brinkley, who does not concur with the idea that media had any impact in decision making in Vietnam. Brinkley ventures to state that TV just publicised the image of war, it didn’t make them and if the watchers disliked those, it was in no way the fault of television.
Nonetheless, the images of the violence were distributed and more likely than not had some effect on Americans, as Hallmann clarifies it in his paper in The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture from 2006, the carnage seen conflicted with the American’s impression of themselves as the heroes and defenders of innocent. As the war continued and more lives of Americans and Vietnamese were being lost, public support was getting to be non-existent. It comes as no surprise that the U.S. government decided to withdraw from Vietnam.
Hallin (1989, p. 30) highlights the fact that despite General Taylor advising the President to send military power to Vietnam with Kennedy concurring, correspondents were being informed that Taylor and Kennedy both were ‘hesitant’ to send any Americans. After days of stalling and distributing false information, the media at last got a message that the President would help Vietnam and send a couple of ‘advisers’. As indicated by Hallin (1989), this was ‘the first instance of government management of Vietnam news’. It was vital for government to stop the media from composing negative reports, so the decision-making process seemed almost routine, and undermined its significance.
Conclusively, the relationship between the news and peace in regards to the Vietnam war is one of uncertainty. The stance of news reporters during the war changed at different points during its progression. Where on one hand the press was demonised for essentially sabotaging national interest by reporting the less than savoury aspects of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam. Whereas, one could also argue that had the American government not lost national support through acts of the press, military action in Vietnam may have continued. Thus, a higher death toll costing the lives of both American and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians would have been expected. From this, one could conclude that by remaining objective whilst reporting, the press has effectively achieved peace. It is now clear that the media had a huge political influence on the war in Vietnam. In fact, the American public so depended on the media to understand the war that as the war was depicted as a failure on screen, it also became their perspectives. This resulted in public opposition, at first, against the war and later against the government who waged it. The increasing opposition led to American troop withdrawal as well as a significant drop in financial aid to South Vietnam which mainly contributed to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Therefore, as Marshall McLuhan said, it is arguable that Americans did not lose the war to the Vietnamese Communists but to the power of their “democratic” media.