Media Bias During the Vietnam Era
During the 1960s and 1970s, while the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia, the news media in the United States experienced an extreme shift in both power and in how it reported the doings of the government. Gone were the days of complacent reporting, replaced instead with biting indictments of the government. But was this the case universally?
As in every other facet of American society, there were deep divides in the media when it came to the war in Vietnam. There existed a multitude of news orginizations that enthusiastically supported the efforts of the U.S. forces in Vietnam. Reporters vehemently defended the actions of the nation as anti-communist and the best course of action to take during the Cold War. However, the mainstream argument of growing media resentment toward U.S. behavior in Vietnam is the common view for a reason. Media agencies seemed to shift from a more detached view of simply reporting events to a much more intense view that depicts the United States in a... less than favorable light.
For the most part, newspapers in particular seem to be interested in reporting the facts without a lot of spin during the early part of the conflict, but the media companies all experience a growing cynicism and lack of respect for the United States' mission in Vietnam as the war drags on.
There are multiple events in the Vietnam conflict that media focuses in on. The Strategic Hamlet Program, The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, The Tet Offensive, The My Lai Massacre, and the release of the Pentagon Papers display the change of media reporting in the newspapers as time goes on, showcasing the media's growing contempt for United States administration and handling of the events in Vietnam.
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident highlights the media still believing the government about happenings in Vietnam. The reports in the newspapers are largely the same as the official story.
The Strategic Hamlet Program shows the media beginning to take more of an interest in Vietnam as the American government does the same. The stories published begin to talk about the general incompetence of the program's implementation, but avoid Americans as a topic of discussion.
The Tet Offensive is where media really begins to break with the government over Vietnam. It had become obvious by this time that hte government was not telling the whole truth at the very least, and the media had gottne sick of it. The stories run at the time reflect this ire.
The My Lai Massacre was the vindication of the reports of government mishandling of the situation in Vietnam. Reporters jumped on the opportunity to call out the men who had committed this vile act, as well as the people who had allowed it to occur at all.
Finally, the Pentagon Papers would pit the government against the media in a very public fashion, with the American people caught in the middle. The American media had finally gotten something concrete on the government and the utter debacle that was policy regarding South Vietnam.