Vietnam Public opinion and the media
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The role of public opinion and the media in the Vietnam war
Key words • The mass media are various media technologies that are intended to reach a large audience, such as TV, newspaper, radio, film, internet, etc.
Evolution of Mass Media over nearly 170 years • • • • • •
The age of Print The pre-Cinema Period 1839-1895 Arrival of Cinema 1895 Arrival of Radio 1901 Arrival of TV 1926 Arrival of Internet 1990
• Think about the inherent reliability of each of these types of sources of information.
Key words • Public opinion can be defined as the collection of opinions of many different people and the sum of all their views. It tends to represent the mainstream or the majority view.
Public Opinion • Remember: - “Public opinion” is just that, OPINION. - It is a “social fact”, not an “empirical fact” - It may not be based on hard data or be objectively true.
Public Opinion Public opinion is best thought of as: a. the will of the people b. a diversity of opinion within a particular population c. media reflection of public attitudes d. voter attitudes e. like shifting sands…subject to change.
Think: Can public opinion be measured?
Vietnam: A televised war • In 1950, only 9 percent of homes owned a television. By 1966, this figure rose to 93 percent. • A series of surveys conducted by the Roper Organization for the Television Information Office from 1964 until 1972 demonstrates the growing power of television. • With multiple answers allowed, respondents were asked from which medium they "got most of their news". In 1964, 58 percent said television; 56 percent, newspapers; 26 percent, radio; and 8 percent, magazines. • By 1972, 64 percent said television while the number of respondents who primarily relied on newspapers dropped to 50 percent (Hallin)
Vietnam: A televised war • By the fall of 1967, 90 percent of the evening news was devoted to the war and roughly 50 million people watched television news each night. • In a detailed study of the way the three major US TV networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) covered the war from 1965 to 1970, sociologist George Bayley found that almost half the coverage dealt with action by US ground troops or the US air force; about 12% consisted of direct quotes from government sources (Washington and Saigon). Only 3% recorded the "enemy" viewpoint - a graphic illustration of American television’s one-sided stance.
The debate over the role of the media in the Vietnam war • The “mirror theory” vs. the “elitist opinion theory” • The mirror theory suggests that the media reported the news accurately & objectively, including the disenchantment of officials. • The media did not create or script any events of the war. • Only when the elites began to question American strategy did news reports take on an anti-establishment/anti-gov’t slant
The mirror theory • According to Daniel Hallin of the University of California, elite consensus eroded before the media’s view did.
• Thus, to a certain degree, changes in public opinion influenced the media
Evidence drawn from Hallin • Floyd Kalber, NBC correspondent admits, “to the degree we in the media paid any attention at all to that small, dirty war in those years; we almost wholly reported the position of the government” (qtd. in Epstein 215).
Hallin • According to Daniel Hallin, the dramatic structure of the uncensored "living room war" as reported during 1965–1967 remained simple and traditional, "the forces of good were locked in battle once again with the forces of evil. What began to change in 1967...was the conviction that the forces of good would inevitably prevail."
Hallin • On those rare occasions when the underlying reasons for the American intervention were explicitly questioned, journalists continued to defend the honorableness of American motives.
The elitist opinion theory • Elites, such as General Westermoreland, President Johnson, and Nixon believed that the media was responsible for America’s devastating loss in Vietnam. • The elitist opinion theory claims that the media used its unrestricted access to present the facts in a negative light; therefore, forcing American disillusionment with the war effort. • The media failed to “rally around the flag”
The elitist opinion theory • Negative reporting such as at Cam Ne did nothing to help boost support for the war. • The key turning point however was after the Tet Offensive (Jan. 1968). Key issues include the Walter Cronkite editorial, the US embassy attack, the attack on Hué, and the battle of Khe Sanh. • Public opinion really turned against US involvement in Vietnam because of this negative reporting, and is hence a key cause of why the US “lost” in Vietnam.
The elitist opinion theory
Walter Cronkite reporting from Vietnam in Feb. 1968 See “We are Mired in Stalemate” editorial text.
When Pres. Johnson (LBJ) heard about Cronkite’s comment he said, “That’s it… I've lost middle America." LBJ withdrew from the Presidential race on March 31 and he would begin to pursue peace negotiations after the events of early 1968.
Key media moments during the Vietnam war • 1963 Thich Quang Due by David Halberstam • 1965 Morley Safer’s report for CBS on the burning of Cam Ne • 1968 Tet offenisve
• 1969 My Lai and Life magazine photos
Key media moments during the Vietnam war • 1972 Phan Thi Kim Phuc photo • This photo in particular shocked public opinion
Phan Thi Kim Phuc in a recent photo
Vietnam in film documentaries • In the year of the Pig, 1968 • Hearts and Minds, 1974 • Fog of war, 2003
Vietnam in film • How is the war to be remembered? • A heroic struggle against the evils of Communism? OR • An unjust and dishonourable war that should never have been fought?
Vietnam in film
• The Green Berets, 1968 • John Wayne was prompted by the anti-war atmosphere and social discontent in the U.S. to make this film.
Vietnam in film • Rambo: First Blood, 1982 • Missing in Action, 1984
Vietnam in film • Apocalypse Now, 1979 • Platoon, 1986 • Born on the Fourth of July, 1989 • Heaven and Earth, 1993 • The Oliver Stone Vietnam trilogy
Vietnam in film • Full Metal Jacket, 1987 • Good Morning Vietnam, 1987 • Hamburger Hill, 1987
Vietnam in film • Forrest Gump, 1992 • We Were Soldiers, 2002
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC
The Pentagon Papers • The Pentagon Papers were a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. • The papers were leaked to The New York Times in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg.
The Pentagon Papers • The Pentagon Papers, "demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance".
The Pentagon Papers • Undersecretary of State George W. Ball issued a scathing memorandum that stated, “no matter how many hundred thousand white troops the US deploys there is no assurance of success against the Vietcong” (Pentagon Papers July 1, 1965). Ball believed that negotiation, despite the risk it presented to American credibility, was the only solution to prevent a protracted war. Think: How might the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers have affected public opinion?
Tet Offensive • The Tet Offensive highlighted something new about warfare – Vietnam was the first televised war. Americans could see how the media coverage compared with what the administration said. • Before 1968, media coverage largely echoed what the administration claimed. But 1968 was the turning point in media coverage of the war. • By January 1968 the American press began to ask tough questions about the war. It was CBS’s Walter Cronkite (“the most trusted man in America”) who openly began to challenge the administration’s version of the war. Cronkite famously claimed in a Feb. 27, 1968 TV editorial that the war was headed for a stalemate. • Pres. Johnson and his generals were caught in a credibility gap – the reality of the situation contradicted their rosy characterization. He had lost the peoples’ trust.
Public opinion polls and the Vietnam war • Study the handouts that show public opinion trends and the Vietnam War. • Think: To what extent did the media, especially television, affect public opinion on the Vietnam War?