Media has always played an important role in disseminating information to masses of people, and its role in Americans history have been for the most part crucial especially in the Vietnam War. Vietnam War became a subject of news coverage in the United States only after significant numbers of US troop had been committed to the war. Before that, the number of journalists had been relatively small and mostly made briefing that successfully advanced the governments agendas. However, in the period of the Vietnam War, the role of the media was shifting from advancing government agenda to being the balance and check of the US government.
Initially, journalists supported the governments however as the war progressed, the journalist were the ones to expose flaws of the government by reporting the truth in the in the background of the war. The Vietnam War was mainly a “living-room war” since casualties and battles were aired on television. This intensified the reality of the Vietnam War. The rise of television was phenomenal at that time since it had capabilities of reaching masses whilst providing visual images that were nonexistent in previous years. The fact that violence was viewed right in many Americans homes made the events at the waterfront very surreal and personal.
The role the journalist played in Vietnam War is a subject of increasing controversy. Some argue that the journalist tendency to report negative events helped undermine the support of the US. Many defenders of US policies believe that journalist’s lack of censorship propagated the loss in Vietnam War. Even President Nixon in his memoir squarely blamed the loss of the war on the media. However, many scholars who have studied the role of journalist during the war in Vietnam have concluded that media reporting’s before February 1968 was supportive of the government war efforts in Vietnam.
However, the turning point occurred in the late January 1968 when contradicting stories were aired on the Tet Offensive. Television constantly portrayed the attack as a defeat on US while government reports portrayed otherwise. This in essence confirmed a growing perception that US was incapable of winning the war. A crucial event occurred on a television segment, when an assessment was carried out by Walter Cronkite who was at that time a well renowned news anchor. Lately, he had travelled to Vietnam and only remarked that it was impossible to win the Vietnam War. In his words he said that if peace were not to be achieved then the war would end in stalemate.
Walter Cronkite assessment was crucial in affecting opinions of the Americans specifically because Walter Cronkite was considered to be the “most trusted man in America.” After the above events, coverage of Americans involvement in the war was largely negative. Increasing skeptics and pessimism created similar feeling among the Americans. Americans largely depended on journalists to comprehend the war; the destruction and deaths they saw however appeared as irrational and futile.
After a while most Americans withdrew their support for the war. Anti-war movements and demonstrations were common phenomena in media. Massive loss in public support consequentially initiated politicians to debate on withdrawal policies. In any case, American pessimism with the war was as a result of many cases in which the media was part of them. What largely undermined support for the war were airings that allowed viewers to watch increasing number of American casualties and civilians as well as changes in social, cultural and political changes as well as the shrinking morale of the American soldier. With time, as the number of casualties increased the level of public support for the war also decreased.