Shades of Influence – The American Press in Vietnam

The war in Vietnam was an experience that has affected American society as a whole for the last forty years. Many American lives were lost or ruined during this dark time in our nation’s history. It was a bitter war, fought without the backing of the American public as a majority; thus the conflict spawned many radical anti-government groups who openly displayed their distrust. 

The United States became a chaotic, divided nation during the height of the Vietnam era, fueled by the loss of young American lives without reason. What caused this division in American society? What happened to American patriotism during Vietnam? What were the goals that warranted such loss of American lives? The answer to many of these questions mainly lies in the advancement of American journalism from the Korean War to the Vietnam Era (1951-1965).  For American journalists and broadcasting networks, the Vietnam War was a hot news topic during the 1960’s and the early 1970’s. With the advancement in film technology and “on location” footage, the press quickly reported all successes and failures resulting from the war. This allowed Americans to experience more combat reporting and news coverage than any previous American military action in our nation’s history. The American public forged strong opinions as a result.

Every evening during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Vietnam War was brought into the homes of millions worldwide. The press, in many ways portrayed the Vietnam War as polarized in both the military and political spheres. Reporters would ask questions to American soldiers concerning the legitimacy of the war, sometimes forcing the soldiers to make a political stand. This tactic could easily influence those viewing back home, forming opinions both positive and negative toward the war. The press easily influenced viewers through the expression of one’s emotions, namely the American soldier who was caught in the middle asked to make a choice during the heat of battle. The political motives behind the Vietnam War were constantly analyzed in the American press. The “Domino Theory” of Communist proliferation was the nucleus of political debate. The official government reasoning behind American military action in Vietnam was to prevent the spread of Communism throughout Southeast Asia. As the war stretched throughout a decade, many questions arose concerning the legitimacy of our military involvement in Vietnam. The loss of American lives was astounding, and caused many in the press to ask if the ends justified the means.  Although it would seem that this type of questioning by the American press was an organized plan to influence the American public, the networks were never so organized to hatch such a plan. Network reporters did much of the reporting from “the field” during the Vietnam War. These reporters had no time for network influence or political slant in their footage. Though their dialogue would sometimes seem anti-war in their reporting, there was too much detachment for organized media propaganda. Freelance reporters were the most independent, usually reporting for documentaries, they entered the Vietnam War and became entrenched with the soldiers in the bush, in their base-camps, and in the major cities. They reported exactly what they saw and usually excluded question that were leading or served an agenda politically. These were the reporters who faced the same risks as American solders in combat. The American public formulated its opinion from both sources as the Vietnam War went on.

The Vietnam War brought radical changes in the American public’s view of American soldiers in combat. It has remained so since; every conflict involving the use of American soldier, both men and women, since the Vietnam War has received the highest scrutiny. Would the American involvement in WW2 be different if Americans were able to view the battle of Iwo Jima on national TV? It is possible, as well as every American conflict prior to the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War ushered in a new age of journalism. The American public used the press as a basis for their opinions. This was not due to the press intentionally influencing the American public, but mainly because this was a new era in journalism that caused Americans to react in different ways. The American people formulated their own beliefs concerning the Vietnam War based on the reports they received from the press throughout the entire conflict. The negative reactions from the public concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam resulted from the United States government’s official policy concerning the spread of Communism through Southeast Asia. These reactions were not necessarily fueled by the press through influence or propaganda, but were the result of growing resentment by the American people concerning the staggering loss of American lives in the Vietnam War.

Written by: Jssescribe – Freelance Writer

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