TV and media coverage of the war, from the Gulf of Tonkin to the evacuation of Saigon
Early coverage of the Vietnam war tended to be quite supportive of the cause and portrayed the soldiers as heroes. For example one colonel was interviewed whilst in hospital to have a leg amputated, his words were:
“I said hell, they can’t be right around in there. So I didn’t call bombs and napalm on these people. But that’s where they were. I’m sure that’s where they were. God damn it. I hate to put napalm on these women and children. I just didn’t do it. I said, they can’t be there.” Marine Colonel Yunck.
Interviews such as this one presented the conflict in a positive light with admirable aims and brave, caring soldiers.
As the war continued the coverage shanged. More grusesome images were shown and despite military success against the Tet Offensive, the media coverage began to suggest that the war was unwinnable.
“‘To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.to say that we are mired in a bloody stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion.” TV anchorman Walter Cronkite, CBS News.
The Tet Offensive changed the way that the war was reported. Research shows us that:
“Before Tet, journalists described 62 percent of their stories as victories for the United States, 28 percent as defeats, and 2 percent as inconclusive. After Tet, 44 percent of the battles were deemed victories, 32 percent defeats, and 24 percent inconclusive.” (Hallin, 1986, p.161-162)
Alongside this was an increase in the amount of coverage given to images of injured and dead civilians and statistics relating to US casualties. These contributed to a changing national opinion about the war.
The My Lai massacre and the subsequent investigation and trial of Lt Calley was subject to intense TV scrutiny.
Following the election of Richard Nixon the TV coverage shifted from combat related stories to the anti-war movement and the political scenario. From 1970 unless US withdrawal only 14% of stories about the war related to combat.