How did media coverage of the Tet Offensive impact American policy concerning the Vietnam War?
Part A: Plan of Investigation
The investigation assesses the media coverage of the Tet Offensive and its impact on American policy concerning the Vietnam War from 1968 until 1969. The investigation evaluates the contrast between media broadcasts and government reports of the war, the effect of the media on the American public, and the effect of American public opinion on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s course of action. Two of the sources, Vietnam and America: A Documented History by Marvin E. Gettleman, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young, and H. Bruce Franklin, and The “Uncensored War”: The Media and Vietnam by Daniel C. Hallin are examined.
Part B: Summary of Evidence:
The Vietnam War was the first war that entered the living rooms of Americans. From 1965 until 1968, eighty-six percent of the CBS and NBC nightly news programs covered the Vietnam War. This coverage was generally supportive of United States involvement as the media portrayed the conflict as “good guys fighting Communism,” fitting into the ongoing story of the Cold War. The “Five O’clock Follies,” daily press briefings in Saigon, gave a strong sense of progress and American bravery. During this time period, the number of troops stationed in Vietnam steadily increased without major concern, but when the number of Americans killed in action rose from a monthly average of 172 during 1965 to 770 in l967, criticism of the Johnson administration grew.
Therefore, in November 1967, the Administration launched a “public relations” campaign designed to guide the press to show “light at the end of the tunnel” in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland, commander of American Forces in Vietnam, came to Washington, where he reported that victory “lies within our grasp.” Following this effort, public support of Lyndon Johnson rose. He wanted to use this support to be reelected in 1968 and to resolve problems with the Soviets at a summit conference.
Then, on January 31, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army, supported by the Vietcong, launched the Tet Offensive, a series of surprise attacks on cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. Militarily, American forces repelled the attacks and retook the cities initially occupied by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. However, television portrayed the attack as an appalling defeat for the United States. In addition, the Tet Offensive made the brutality of the war very visible to Americans as the viewing public watched graphic footage of a prisoner being shot through the head by a South Vietnamese general.
In the two months after Tet, television stories in which journalists editorialized news rose 14.1 percent. The most significant statement came from Walter Cronkite who concluded, ”that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” After Cronkite’s statement, coverage of American involvement in the war became...