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The Media

Vietnam was the first “television war” in the United States. Though the press had covered wars before, the uncensored and intensive coverage of the war in Vietnam was new, and it had a significant impact on many Americans’ views of the conflict. Although some claim that unrestricted coverage of the war eroded public support, studies are inconclusive in this. Early coverage of the war was generally positive and upbeat, which reflected American opinion. Following the Tet Offensive, stories about the Vietnam conflict frequently became more negative; troops began to withdraw and public opinion dimmed as well. It is unclear whether the media was contributing to public opinion, or merely reflecting it.

Topic

The Media

Essential Question

Did the media shape American public opinion regarding the Vietnam War or was the media simply reflecting opinions that already existed?

Standards

  • 5.E.1.c. Objective: Evaluate the effectiveness of the media on shaping public opinion about the Vietnam War and the invasions of Cambodia and Laos.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1 : Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information. (Grades 9/10)
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2 : Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. (Grades 11/12)
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 : Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. (Grades 11/12)
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8 : Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information. (Grades 11/12)
  • D2.His.1.9-12: Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by the unique circumstances of the time and place, as well as by broader historical contexts.
  • D2.His.4.9-12: Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspective of people during different historical eras.
  • 8.1 The United States responded to an uncertain and unstable postwar world by asserting and working to maintain a position of global leadership, with far-reaching domestic and international consequences.
    1. United States policymakers engaged in the Cold War with the authoritarian Soviet Union, seeking to limit the growth of communist military power and ideological influence, create a free-market global economy, and build an international security system.
      1. Post-war decolonization and the emergence of a powerful nationalist movement in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East led both sides in the cold war to seek allies among new nations, many of which remained nonaligned.
    2. Cold War policies led to public debates over the power of the federal government and acceptable means of pursuing international and domestic goals while protecting civil liberties.
      1. Americans debated policies and methods designed to expose suspected communist within the United States even as both parties supported the broader strategy of containing communism.

Tips for using this module in your classroom

Resources

Documentary Clip

As students watch the film clip, have them collect evidence to answer the following questions:

  • What role did war correspondents play in shaping public opinion about the Vietnam War?
  • Did they think the coverage of the war was fair and accurate? Why or why not?

Interview transcripts: Lou Davis, Tom Shaner


Close Reading Primary Source Analysis

Examine the Gallup Public Opinion Polls on the Vietnam War and ask:
  • Overall, what trends can be found regarding public opinion on the Vietnam War?
  • When was there a notable shift in public opinion?
Conduct an analysis of media coverage of the Vietnam War by conducting a close read of the interview with Morley Safer regarding his 1965 CBS News story about the burning of Cam Ne, Vietnam . Ask:
  • Why would Safer’s story on Cam Ne be considered critical of the war in Vietnam? Cite specific evidence to from the text.
  • If media coverage in the early years of American troop involvement were generally positive, why might this story have upset the Johnson administration?
  • How did stories like this lead to a “credibility gap” over the Johnson administration’s assertions of progress in the war in Vietnam?

Students can also watch clips of the CBS News footage from Cam Ne as well as Safer’s reporting on the Battle of la Drang Valley in 1965 .

Examine Walter Cronkite’s Broadcast from February 27, 1968, following the Tet Offensive .
  • How does Cronkite view the Tet Offensive and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam?
  • How might Cronkite’s reputation as the “most trusted man in America” impact the opinion of viewers watching this broadcast?
Continue the analysis of media coverage of the Vietnam War by conducting a close read of the interview with an NBC war correspondent . Ask:
  • How does the reporter believe the Vietnam War was covered after the 1968 Tet Offensive?
  • How did covering the Vietnam War change the reporter? Cite 3 pieces of specific textual evidence.
  • How does the author believe media coverage impacted American perception of the war? Cite specific evidence.
Continue analysis of media coverage of the Vietnam War by examining the 1970 CBS broadcast . Ask:
  • How did media coverage bring the Vietnam War into the living rooms of Americans?
  • Is the coverage generally positive or negative? Give evidence to support your answer.?
  • How might this coverage impact public perception of the war?
Extend student learning by evaluating the impact of media photojournalism by examining significant war photography, such as “Burning Monk ,” “Saigon Execution ,” and “Napalm Girl .”
  • What is the historical context of the image?
  • Describe what is being documented by the photograph.
  • What impact may these images have had on American public perception of the Vietnam War?