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Media Coverage of the Vietnam War

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Topics: Vietnam War
Media Coverage of the Vietnam War
Mass Media and Society COMS-130E-O

Media Coverage of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was one of the first wars to receive strong opposition from the American people mainly due to raw, uncut, uncensored and graphic media coverage. Many people agree with the fact that the Vietnam War was the first televised war. Media coverage and televised images literally brought the war into the living rooms of several American homes. Because of the brutality, horror and truthfulness the people saw, it had them questioning why our soldiers were in Vietnam, which eventually lead to protests in the homeland. “For almost a decade in between school, work, and dinners, the American public could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death, and American body bags being sent home” (McLaughlin, 2012). Although Americans and the media initially supported the war, that all changed after the Tet Offensive that occurred in the early morning hours of January 30, 1968. Political leaders had continually told the public that American and South Vietnamese forces had successfully disabled communist forces, rendering them incapable of launching a massive attack. The communists proved otherwise when the National Liberation Front (NFL) launched one of the most coordinated attacks in history that took troops, the government, and the people all by surprise. It left them in a state of complete shock. Media coverage reflected the changes that took place as the people began to question the reality of the war after the Tet Offensive occurred. Rather than hearing and watching victorious portrayals of the war, the people began to really see what was going on with their soldiers in Vietnam. Several graphic pictures were released such as a Pulitzer Prize picture of young children running away after the Tet Offensive attacks occurred. One young, naked little girl, Kim Phuc, stood out as she ran amidst the children, her arms outstretched and her backside badly burned. To see children facing such horrors had the American people in an uproar. In yet another media released image, the American people were subjected to the sight of a monk quietly immolating himself in the street in protest of the presence of American soldiers in Vietnam. As a result, the American people began to protest as well. To quell the rising protests of the American people, the Johnson administration tried to sway the people into believing media coverage was biased and distorted rather than honest. The Johnson administration’s efforts failed miserably. Americans were furthered angered by the Mai Lai Massacre that took place on March 16, 1968 in which the “Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division were ordered to enter the village…with an order to, ‘go in there aggressively, close the enemy and wipe them out for good’ (GCE History, n.d.). The American people were angered at the fact that soldiers cold heartedly gunned down men, women, and children who were unarmed and caught completely by surprise. Investigation reports suggest that approximately 347 people were murdered and of those, only 3 or 4 were actual confirmed Viet Cong. Although the American people were making it quite obvious that they were not in favor of the war and despite continued media coverage that depicted the negativity of such brutality, President Richard M. Nixon announced the drafting of 150,000 more soldiers in order to further expand the Vietnam War efforts. The announcement was made on national television on April 30, 1970. The reaction of the people was swift and protests erupted throughout the homeland. A number of students launched a protest at Kent State University in Ohio. Media coverage of the incident caused even further anger as Americans learned about the death of 4 Kent State University students whom National guardsmen opened fire on (History, n.d.). It was media coverage of this incident, combined with media coverage of the Vietnam War that had people realizing, the war was no taking place in America just as much as it was taking place overseas. The killings were no longer happening just in Vietnam, they were occurring on American soil too. Media coverage continued to provide a slew of blood, gut-wrenching horror, and death and American protesters continued to speak out or demonstrate their dismay. They made it very clear that they no longer supported the war, which finally forced it to come to an end. The war lasted nearly 20 years from November 1, 1995 when military conflict first broke out in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam to April 30, 1975 with the fall of Saigon. Unfortunately, Vietnam veterans were depicted as brutal, psychotic savages rather than war heroes because that is how the media made them out to sound. Despite the fact that the soldiers were only doing what they had been ordered to do, they were turned into monsters that were seemingly looked down upon by the American people. Unlike war heroes in the past, Vietnam veterans did not receive the honor and respect that most soldiers earn. Because of Vietnam War media coverage, the war lost the support of the American people. What had initially started out as a war with seemingly victorious outcomes and the full support of the people and the media quickly turned sour when the media began covering the war with honesty. The honest approach that the media used is exactly what the people needed to open their eyes. Rather than supporting another war based on blind faith, the people finally realized, thanks to dedicated media workers, that the war was not what political officials made it out to be.

GCE History (n.d.). The usa and vietnam: failure abroad and at home, 1964-1975. Retrieved from
History (n.d.). Kent state incident. Retrieved from
McLaughlin, E. (2012). Television coverage of the vietnam war and the vietnam veteran. Retrieved from

References: GCE History (n.d.). The usa and vietnam: failure abroad and at home, 1964-1975. Retrieved from History (n.d.). Kent state incident. Retrieved from McLaughlin, E. (2012). Television coverage of the vietnam war and the vietnam veteran. Retrieved from

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