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Media and the Vietnam War

John Simkin

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The topic title and description pretty much ask what I am looking for - I am completing my dissertation title on this and would really appreciate any replies that you could give me.

The US administration, unlike-most governments at war, made no official attempt to censure the reporting in the Vietnam War. Every night on colour television people saw pictures of dead and wounded marines. Dean Rusk, US Secretary of State, pointed out that: "This was the first struggle fought on television in everybody's living room every day... whether ordinary people can sustain a war effort under that kind of daily hammering is a very large question."

Newspaper reporters and television commentators were free to question the wisdom of fighting the war. Military leaders accused their critics of being "unpatriotic" and guilty of "helping the enemy." The Generals were especially angered by the way the media covered the Tet Offensive. General Maxwell Taylor wrote later: "The picture of a few flaming Saigon houses, presented by a gloomy-voiced telecaster as an instance of the destruction caused in the capital, created the inevitable impression that this was the way it was in all or most of Saigon."

Admiral Grant Sharp was another critic of the mass media. He argued: "The reality of the 1968 Tet offensive was that Hanoi had taken a big gamble and had lost on the battlefield, but they won a solid psychological victory in the United States." Sharp believed that the biased reporting of the Tet offensive convinced the American public and the government that the war was being lost and the only option was to withdraw from Vietnam.

One of the most influential acts during the war was the decision of Life Magazine to fill one edition of its magazine with photographs of the 242 US soldiers killed in Vietnam during one week of the fighting.

It was this type of reporting that encouraged General William Westmoreland, commander of US troops in Vietnam, to accuse the mass media of helping to bring about a National Liberation Front victory. However, defenders of the mass media claimed that reporters were only reflecting the changing opinions of the American people towards the war.

Public opinion polls carried out at the time suggest that the tax increases to pay for the war and the death of someone they knew, were far more influential than the mass media in changing people's attitude towards the war.


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I'm not too sure about the media having stopped it, but GI resistance certainly had a lot to do with it. Media portrayal of GI resistance is quite interesting.

The topic is very well covered in the documentary 'Sir, no Sir!'. You can view a 12 minute preview of it here


To purchase it you can go to http://www.sirnosir.com/

I attended a screening of the film on capitol hill organised by John Judge. It is quite fascinating and makes a very good case for the GI movement having stopped the war.

All the best,



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