Media Effects of the Vietnam War
War is truly a horrific event that unfortunately occurs in our world frequently. There are a variety of ethical questions surrounding war, such as how much should citizens know about the fighting? When it comes to reporting the news, it is the goal of the network to report the news first. The benefit to this is people will turn to them first when it comes to breaking stories. However if the news is delivered based on speed and not accuracy this can be harmful to society. War is a very serious event and should not be taken lightly. Therefore, reporters must make sure facts are correct and unbiased. In both the Vietnam War
and our current war we see reporters going to extreme measures to be the first to report information that may have been inaccurate.
There was certainly not a lack of information to report when it came to the Vietnam War. Unfortunately some of this information was highly inaccurate. Such as the event that started the war. The battle of Tonkin was proved to have been false as reported by a Japanese Newswire in July 1984. In the bay it was reported outside Vietnam that the North Vietnamese had sunk a US ship killing just two soldiers. The American people heard this and became outraged, and the congress gave President Lyndon B. Johnson
a blank check to run the war. It was later discovered the tragedy never even occurred. The news networks reported this event and the American Government confirmed the false event and the war began, as the newswire reports. If this lie was never reported chances are the war would have never started. An Asian news source reported the Gulf of Tonkin as an illusion from the start (Japanese Newswire, Lexis Nexis), this proved to be true but what Americans at the time period would believe the Asian News Networks. This can easily be related to the current war in Iraq. In order to get the war underway the administration made claims of weapons of mass destruction
that could potentially harm us. If American media was not allowed into these war situations the government could simply make up another lie and point out old weapons found in Iraq and there would be no proof of proving these weapons old. Lies and corruption capture people. Therefore people will always pay attention to the stories about our government lying to us. These weapons have still not been found and this is extremely similar to how the ship may not have ever been shot down in Tonkin.
Despite numerous inaccurate reports there were attempts of trying to report the war accurately. However whenever a news channel would report Americans getting killed in Vietnam the government would work quickly to cover it up. President Nixon is quoted as saying "the press is our biggest enemy." This one phrase sums up the war. The press would try to report fairly to the American people, but the government would squash it and make the press look bad (Media Beat Vietnam War, Solomon and Cohen). Therefore the press would only report good things so that the government would look highly upon them and give them better seating in white house briefings. This highly affected the people working in Vietnam. They were forced to be there, and the stories they were trying to report were not even reported.
There are certainly a lot of examples of war reporting being inaccurate. When we read John Kerry's letters to his mother we realized what Kerry was telling his mother and what his mother was hearing on TV were two totally different stories. Kerry wrote to his mother about bloodshed, continuous fighting, and Americans losing
their lives daily (Brinkley, 3). While his mother watched the television and was learning how America was easily winning the war. Certainly the American Government wanted the news from Vietnam to be good. This would help their efforts in convincing Americans that the unpopular war was beneficial and worth while to fight. The American Government would set up propaganda that the North Vietnamese were being pushed back and they were not getting any further and that the Americans were taking many captives. However it was the Americans being pushed back and our soldiers like John McCain being captured, Americans were completely unaware of these events occurring. When it came time the 1964 and 1968 elections I believe Americans voted for politicians who favored the war thinking it was a great cause. Come to find out the cause was not worth it. What if a news circuit had reported that Americans where getting murdered everyday. Would the war of ended any earlier? I do believe so.
When we look at the current war in Iraq, often reports are given by embedded reporters. They are reporters following and working directly with the certain unit they are with. At the beginning of the war we saw a lot of approval by the American people because we watched on our television the tanks race into Baghdad. However now that we see dozens of Americans killed every week, questions about the benefits of the war are being raised. If Americans were allowed to see directly what was happening in Vietnam would the war be supported as long as it was? There is no doubt the War may have ended earlier if Americans knew exactly what was going on.
Reporting propaganda is beneficial to media circuits. If a major story is broken many people rush to their televisions to hear about it. Usually people flip through the channels to see the best coverage. When reporters are told in Vietnam that America has captured 300 North Vietnamese soldiers, every single American reporter will rush to the nearest telephone. In order to have there story be heard and to stand out on the news they have to make it sound interesting. This is where news stations may report that the number is higher than 300, just so more people pay attention to them thinking that they are getting the news faster than anyone else. Filling citizens with this false information is both wrong and unethical. American citizens based on the good news may begin to support the war. The same war that is killing thousands of troops a day and is not worth fight for, just so a news station can get a higher viewing rate. The higher a viewing rating on news channels the better the chances they have of receiving more commercial advertisement, and the more money they do receive. It is a very business like atmosphere. The news stations just tell the people what they want to hear so they continue to listen. Reading through various news reports during the war and various others after the war It is obvious news sources spiced up stories for attention.
Reporting news is a serious business. Of course people only want to hear great news; however the world is not perfect. News must be reported accurately and fairly. News delivered quickly and incorrectly can be harmful to society and allow things such as the Vietnam War to continue and spawn out of control. News delivered correctly and over time may keep people informed and help them make better decisions when electing officials. An American mother like John Kerry's should not hear on the television that the war is going great, but read first hand that many soldiers feel they are losing
the war and its not worth continuing. If one can not trust the news media or the government who should they believe? News reporters are obligated to report the news timely and accurately. News Circuits should not be concerned about money and potential advertisement purchases, they should be concerned about the safety and interests of the American people.
Brinkley, Douglas. Tour of Duty, John Kerry in Vietnam. The Atlantic Monthly, December 2003.
McCain, John. Faith of My Fathers. Random House. New York, 1999
"Japan Economic Newswire". July 16, 1984. Febraury 20, 2004. .
Solomon, Norman and Cohen, Jeff. "30-Year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War" Media Beat. July 27, 1994. February 29, 2004. < www.fair.org/media-beat >.