Vietnam War and the Media

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Write an essay that offers a critical examination of the concept of the ‘guilty media’ thesis in respect of any war of your choice

Natasa Perdiou

The Vietnam War was the first war that allowed uncensored media coverage resulting in images and accounts of horrific events that served to shape public opinion of the war like nothing that had been seen before. This portrayal by the media led to a separation between the press and the U.S. government, as much of what was reported defied the intentions of government policy. The media has fell blame by many for the result of the war, as it is widely believed that the war could not have been won under the scrutiny that came from the American people as a result of the media coverage. From the beginning of the Vietnam War to the present, the media has been an immeasurable factor in the perception of the war as the stories, true or false, that were reported gave the American people a face to an ugly war.

The question over how much, if any, the media had affected the outcome of the war has been an unrelenting one and is likely to continue for a long time to come. But one fact that cannot be doubted is that the dreadfulness of war entered the living rooms of Americans for the first time during the Vietnam War. For nearly a decade the American public could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death, and American body bags being sent home. Although early coverage mainly supported U.S involvement in the war, television news dramatically changed its frame of the war after the Tet Offensive. Images of the U.S led massacre at My Lai dominated the television, yet the daily atrocities committed by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong rarely made the evening news. Moreover, the anti-war movement at home gained increasing media attention while the U.S soldier was forgotten in Vietnam.

There was a stable build up of US military support activity in Vietnam during the period 1954 to 1965, but the first combat troops did not emerge until March 1965. During this period, media attention in the war was slow in building up, the first resident TV correspondent, NBC’s Garrick Utley, only arriving in late 1964. The media did build up and as the war became progressively more aggressive, journalists were sent out in increasing numbers. It would be fair to say that reporting of Vietnam increased approximately in proportion to the military presence. Prior to the involvement of ground troops in Vietnam, media coverage was concentrated to the political dimension of the war of stabilizing a non-communist regime in South Vietnam. The media at this time was committed to reporting news that reflected the common anti-communist stance, which was so " powerful in the early 60's that as long as the Vietnam War remained small, the administration had little trouble with the press" (Hallin 28).[4]

By 1965 media coverage of Vietnam increased as the U.S. was becoming more part of an aggressive war. Reporting began to shift from the intention of eradication the world of communism to the frustration of the men in the field. After the heavy use of ground troops, a shift in coverage occurred that “put much of the attention on the military situation” of the war. (Wyatt 133). [9] An increasing number of reports began to emerge about a lack of incentive and motivation on the part of the South Vietnamese troops. This brought to question the whole role of American interference, as the U.S. was proposed to support the South Vietnamese in their effort against the North, not the other way around.

1965 did not only mark the increase of ground troops into Vietnam, it also brought the emergence of television into the realm of media coverage, while the government was trying to maintain the idea that that the U.S was making encouraging progress, that the Vietnam War was necessary and that victory was not inevitable. While a small percentage of coverage was dedicated to...
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