“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies” ??? Winston Churchill. Ideally, the media has a responsibility of making sure that it does not happen. The media plays a crucial role in covering the war in the most objective, bias-free and truthful manner, even if negative stories have to be reported. In this essay, the comparison of media coverage between the Vietnam War and Gulf War II has four areas to cover, which are the freedom of correspondents, embedding, the reliability and quality of the coverage.
The media also plays the role of a “watchdog” in observing the government closely and reporting their actions. With the U. S. in Vietnam, the American people wanted to be kept up-to- date. They now had the opportunity to follow the war via newspaper, radio, magazine, and television. While many families heavily relied on the coverage to keep them informed, voters relied on this coverage to keep them posted on the progress of the war. However, this coverage was often very “deathly. On television, the press exercised their freedom by displaying photographs or film footage of dead and/or wounded soldiers and civilians on a regular basis, during their evening news. This scenario was commonly known as, “Steak and potatoes with body counts,” (Patterson, 1995). Photos shocked the nation, but became a common sight for the evening network news. Steven King summed up his description of Vietnam’s television coverage as, “Our daily dose of blood and gore. ” (Patterson, 1995). The Vietnam War was a two-part war, the one the U. S was fighting in the fields and the war the media was fighting as well.
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But, what could have happened if the Vietnam War was fought under the same censorship and stipulation that the Gulf War was? “What if? ” This is a question that many ask when it comes to the media’s coverage during the Vietnam War. What if the media were NOT granted absolute freedom? What if there was some means of regulation for the press during Vietnam, would that have made a difference? The big difference between the two wars is Vietnam contained no press censorship, where during the Gulf War the media had 12 rules they had to follow regarding all news coverage.
These 12 rules stated; The following should not be reported because its publication or broadcast could jeopardize operations and endanger lives: 1. For U. S. or coalition units, specific numerical information on troop strength, aircraft, weapons, systems, on-hand equipment, or supplies (e. g. , artillery, tanks, radar’s, missiles, trucks, water), including amounts of ammunition or fuel moved by or on hand in support of combat units. Unit size may be described in general terms such as ‘company size,’ ‘multibattalion,’ ‘multidivision,’ ‘naval task force,’ and ‘carrier battle group. Number or amount of equipment and supplies may be described in general terms such as ‘large,’ ‘small,’ ‘many. ‘ 2. Any information that reveals details of future plans, operations, or strikes including postponed or cancelled operations. 3. Information, photography, and imagery that would reveal the specific location of military forces or show the level of security at military installations or encampments. Locations may be described as follows: all Navy embark stories can identify the ship upon which embarked as a dateline and will state that the report is coming from the ‘Persian Gulf,’ ‘Red Sea,’ or ‘North Arabian Sea. Stories written in Saudi Arabia may be datelined ‘Eastern Saudi Arabia,’ ‘Near Kuwaiti border,’ etc. For specific countries outside Saudi Arabia, stories will state that the report is coming from the Persian Gulf region unless that country has acknowledged its participation. 4. Rules of engagement details. 5. Information on intelligence collection activities, including targets, methods, and results. 6. During an operation, specific information on friendly troop movements, tactical deployments, and depositions that would jeopardize operational security or lives.
This would include unit designations, names of operations, and size of friendly forces involved, until released by CENTCOM. 7. Identification of mission aircraft points of origin, other than as land- or carrier-based. 8. Information on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of enemy camouflage, cover, deception, targeting, direct and indirect fire, intelligence collection, or security measures. 9. Specific identifying information on missing or downed aircraft or ships while search and rescue operations are planned or underway. 10. Specific operations forces’ methods, unique equipment, or tactics. 1. Specific operating methods and tactics, (e. g. , air angles or attack or speed, or naval tactics and evasive maneuvers). General terms such as ‘low’ or ‘fast’ may be used. 12. Information on operational or support vulnerabilities that could be used against U. S. forces, such as details of major battle damage or major personnel losses of specific U. S. or coalition units, until such information no longer provides tactical advantage to the enemy or is released by CENTCOM. Damages and casualties may be described as “light,” “moderate” or “heavy. ” (Patterson 1995)
The media coverage portrayed the United States as losing the war, and made Johnson look like a liar. Once again, the media’s presence in Vietnam caused the public to have mixed feelings about the war. It was the media that had the people believing U. S. was doing well in Vietnam, but then it was the media that changed their opinions just as fast. Prior to the Tet Offensive the media portrayed the battle as “our war,” which quickly changed to “the war” as feelings became mixed (Hammond1988 ). The president said at his news conference last week that the only thing that had been settled when he came to office was the shape of the table.
Well, in the five months since then, they have used the table in the shape agreed on, settled nothing, and in Vietnam the war and the killing continues. Today in Saigon they announced the casualty figures for the week. And though they came in the form of numbers, each one of them was a man, most of them quite young, each with hopes he will never realize, each with families and friends who will never see him alive again. Anyway, these are the number (Hammond 1995). Many pictures that ran in the papers and magazines also supported the beliefs that the U. S. was losing the war.
In a book written by Oscar Patterson III, he states, “The impact of the media on the public’s opinion about the Vietnam war and the veteran was discussed by Wright (1972) with the conclusion that the media appears to have succeeded in effecting enormous opinion conversions among certain groups. What is most interesting, however, about Wright’s data and his interpretation of them is that he suggests that the media had a greater impact on the middle, upper-middle, and upper classes in regards to change in attitude toward the Vietnam War than it did on the lower classes. “
Patterson went on to write, “However, though there was a definite shift in editorial opinion in the media from pro-war to anti-war over the course of several years, the continuation of the war despite media editorial opposition indicates that the media elite apparently posses little power in affecting change in political policy or the system for policy making,” (Patterson, 23-4). Considering that the media had extreme freedom of the press, what exactly did the media show in their papers, magazines, and television broadcasts that would (or could) change the minds of so many U. S. people?
The print version of the media exercised their freedom quite the same as TV. Pictures such as the one seen below show a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl (Phan Thi Kim Phuc), burning from napalm, and screaming in agony as she frantically runs down the street of her small village, just north of Saigon. The heat and flames that burned away her clothing showed the rest of the world just how cruel war could be. Phuc was just one of many that suffered from these napalm attacks; however, papers and magazines around the world ran this photo, portraying the United States as ruthless and cruel.
Television news film showing burning Vietnamese villages raised questions about both the morality and win ability of the war. Accounts of American atrocities filtered into the mainstream U. S. media at about the same time coverage of North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive undermined the Johnson Administration’s confident pronouncements by giving the impression communists were scoring military victories. In the Vietnam War, the U. S. government gave war correspondents great freedom to move freely in combat zones, to report whatever they wanted.
This freedom resulted a vast magnitude of information including reports from the battlefield, gory pictures of civilian and military casualties, pictures of actual combat straight from the frontlines and first-hand accounts. This differs from that of the Gulf War II where reporters are embedded into military units. Embeds are journalists who sign up with the military and receive basic military training before being embedded into a military unit. The embedding system seems like a way for the government to control the media.
Furthermore, embeds would have a tendency to become too attached to their respective units which may impede their objective reporting and may be influenced in one way or another to report subjectively in support to their unit. However, there are a few freelance reporters reporting from Iraq. Moreover, the embeds’ movements are monitored and restricted. Although these reporters have greater freedom, they are in a riskier situation as they did not receive basic military training and they are not under the military’s protection.
The freedom of war correspondents in reporting can affect the media’s coverage on the war. Generally, the public was flooded with all sorts of news and pictures in both wars. However, there are differences in the types of reports and photographs. As stated above, there were many gory pictures during the Vietnam War whereas there are hardly any in Gulf War II. The way war is presented on television follows a script and formula. It was clear to the Bush administration that orchestrating a positive media spin for this conflict was extremely important. Schechter 2003) What’s more is that television coverage did not communicate the communist losses and only showed pictures of dead bodies, burning villages and chaos in Saigon. The media was also accused of ruining public morale with negative stories. In contrast, in Gulf War II, there were many positive reports as well as a fair amount of negative stories. This can be illustrated in numerous newspaper articles from Many different Newspapers. Another interesting point to note is the reliability of the coverage.
During the Vietnam War, there were many misleading pictures and stories like the `Napalm’ incident. As for Gulf War II, many of the information and statistics contradicted. Television was mostly routine glosses from Saigon that lacked commentary or analysis until the 1968 The Offensive. The coverage in Gulf War II was no more satisfactory. The information that the military spokespersons fed the reporters were mostly redundant except for maybe some statistics.
The purpose of this was to keep the reporters busy by feeding them practically useless information and telling them what they wanted to hear so that the reporters would not dig around for more. In summary, It must be remembered, the United States offers more freedom than any other country. Sometimes this freedom is taken for granted, which may have been the case in Vietnam. No one can definitely say what the outcome of the war would have been had the press not of had such a vast amount of freedom. However, one thing’s certain, the press did not help the war efforts in Vietnam.
This can be viewed from two aspects. One, that the North Vietnamese were able to watch the same news and see what was going on regarding the United States’ war efforts, or two, that the media played a huge role in lowering the moral of the soldiers and the support of the people back home. From a journalistic point of view, freedom of the press is an enormous constitutional right granted in the United States. But foremost, journalists must always look at the “whole picture” and the “full story” before just rattling off some figures and statistics. One never know who you’re gonna hurt.