The Vietnam War was the first to be televised. In living rooms across the country, Americans regularly saw film of airplanes flying and dropping bombs, along with troops on patrol and in combat. Television changed the landscape of the war for a number of reasons we will explore in our presentation as war became not just a topic of conversation, but also a hotly contested political issue which could be fully experienced by the average American.
As we learned in our lectures, radio and newspapers were the primary source of news up until the 1960s. Specifically radio was important during World War 2 and the Korean war because it delivered the most instantaneous news, and consistently out “scooped” newspapers. Radio reporters accessed news the same way newspaper journalists did over the AP wire, but could transmit it within minutes as opposed to newspapers which required at least several hours. One of the most noteworthy moments in radio war broadcasting was when Edward R. Murrow broadcast the attack on London live from atop a building as German planes rained bombs down onto the city.
The Korean War was the last war to rely more heavily on printed and radio reporting than television. As satellite technology was not yet available, and television was still in its infancy, it made more sense for news agencies to retrieve their news over the wire and publish or broadcast it in a favorable yet highly censored manner. Although there were glimpses of the new dimension that television could and would bring to the broadcast forefront. in August 1950, a CBS television news announcer reported an infantry landing as it was in-progress, and the controversy caused by this possible security breach reflects conflicts that would long continue between military authorities waging war and television reporters covering that warfare.
To say the least, television changed the landscape of war reporting. No longer was it sufficient to simply present the facts to the American people, but now it was necessary to bring the excitement and roller-coaster emotions into American living rooms across the country. The “censorship of press coverage (that) had prevailed during World War II and in the Korean War” was in stark contrast to reports of “…no official control of the media occur(ing) at any point during the Vietnam War. With all of the technological advances of the 1960s, particularly television and satellites, military officials simply could not imagine censoring the news. General William Westmoreland, for example, believed the logistics of censorship were &quot;forbidding to contemplate”” (4). (Show Youtube Clip 3:30-4:58) In the mid-1960’s, news networks were able to maintain a favorable view on the war through images of “progress” and “heroism” against the communists. Although satellite broadcasting was available, due to cost restraints the vast majority of war footage was flown across the Atlantic to be broadcast in the U.S. which typically created a five day delay. This allowed the major networks to pick and choose images to show during the &quot;Five O'Clock Follies,“ which consisted of “a battlefield roundup, written from wire reports based on the daily press briefing in Saigon.” This nightly segment was then “read by the anchor who illustrated it with a battle map” (5). These reports were often noted as hap-hazard, and spins on the truth to present the war in a favorable light to the American public.
In 1968, camera television interviews required a camera operator carrying a heavy film camera and battery pack. Between he and the correspondent is the electrical cord connected from the camera to the microphone. Although some footage didn’t require audio, correspondents often interviewed soldiers, and would narrate what was going on around them, as we see in today’s live news broadcasts. However, the technology of the 1960’s didn’t make it easy to maneuver when shots were being fired, and bombs were exploding. Such was the case for NBC correspondent, Howard Tuckner. On February 9, 1968, Tuckner found out the hard way what the risks are of being a reporter in the field during the Vietnam War. While reporting during combat, his left leg became wounded by mortar fire. Attempting to master his pain, he continued narrating directly to the camera, first expressing surprise that he was wounded, then beginning to describe the sensations; “I’m ... I’m hit. It feels kind of wet.” Then, after using “mild profanity” he talks again to the camera, leaving his role as the TV reporter behind and says, “Anyone who tells you that they don’t think of these things is a damned liar.” All-in-all, dedication to television reporting and broadcasting was high during the war. The Saigon news bureau was NBCs 3 rd largest bureau behind New York and Washington during the war. By war’s end, nine network personnel had died and many more were wounded while filming the much sought after “bang-bang” footage.
The Vietnam War (Second Indochina War) began in late 1959 when the Vietcong and National Liberation Front (NLF) supported by North Vietnamese communist allies attacked South Vietnam. The U.S. entered the war on the side of South Vietnam to prevent a full communist takeover of the country (6). When the war began, the media had little difficulty gaining public support with rhetoric and images of anti-communist patriotism. As more images were shown on television by embedded journalists, the war began losing support around 1966
The Vietnam War was also the first one in which the United States suffered a clear defeat. An army of half a million Americans failed to crush the attempts of the National Liberation Front and North Vietnam to overthrow the government of South Vietnam. By 1973 the American troops had gone home. In 1975 the North Vietnamese army conquered the South. Some attribute the loss of public support and perhaps even the war itself to images of death count and body bags. Most attribute it to President Lyndon Johnson’s claims that America is engaged in an unwinnable war (1).
The Vietnam War was America’s first “living room war”. For the first time in history, a family could tune their TV to the latest news on the status of combat, happening on the other side of the planet. Because of the presence of cameras in Vietnam capturing the footage, citizens, not only in the United States, but around the world, were more aware of what was happening. People quickly learned what the word ‘war’ really meant.
While transmission of the footage by satellite was technically possible, it was very expensive. Instead, cans of film were shipped by air to New York. This meant that footage of the war was often shown a few days later. Seldom would breaking news be broadcast the same day, although during the Tet Offensive, much of the footage was flown to Tokyo and fed to New York by satellite. Therefore, most news Americans saw on their TV sets were of “apparently successful action that was not, however, tied to any particular event.” It was background footage, which gave citizens an optimistic view on the war and, in the beginning, galvanized their support for it.
In 1963, it was decided by the evening national news programs, CBS and NBC, that they would expand their nightly news time slot from fifteen minutes to thirty. Doing so increased their profits as these programs were distributed to affiliated stations around the country. Viewers wanted to see the dramatic and exciting combat scenes, and the news organizations were determined to give their audience what they wanted, so they encouraged their Saigon correspondents to shoot film of combat, especially before 1968. By 1965, each of the three main networks had correspondents in Vietnam, and with the extra time to devote to war coverage, more reporters were hired. However, it wasn’t until 1967 that ABC decided to follow in suit, and expand their program to thirty minutes, as well.
Production circumstances for news crews in Vietnam were dependent upon government and military access and sources. To be able to film, reporters had to have permission, and protection from their subjects. Sometimes, when reports were due and no recent combat footage had been captured, crews would ask soldiers to stage violence, and fire guns, for no other reason than to get it on tape. As there wasn’t much interest on part of the audience to see the Vietnamese soldiers, fake violence worked just as well as the real thing. Reporters were also unable to film at night, and had to travel to find the dramatic footage the audience wanted, so network crews depended on the military transportation.
Many of the correspondents and anchors during the Vietnam era gained invaluable experience, and went on to prominent careers, like Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, and Walter Cronkite, among many more. Throughout the development of the coverage of the war, the footage produced and narrated by these journalists shown in the living rooms of Americans around the country evolved according to the gatekeeping measures taken by the television networks, as well as the government itself.
Television networks were wary of broadcasting images that could have lead the audience to see the war in a negative light, in part because they were subject to the federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission. Also, members of the media were always subject to the orders of the military and administration representatives when it came to withholding news of troop movements and graphic depictions of the dead and wounded. Networks also had their own policies on releasing footage that might disturb their audience. Before 1968, only twenty-four percent of all footage from Southeast Asia showed images of dead or wounded bodies.
* However, sometimes graphic footage of the war in Vietnam did end up in the nightly broadcasts, and families of the soldiers fighting thousands of miles away would find themselves suddenly in the presence of such violence, as was the case for Mrs. Morrow. In an article from the Seattle Times dated May 11, 1967, Mrs. Morrow, mother of Albert Landon Morrow, 20, who was serving in the military, tuned her TV to the newscast one night to find her son on her TV screen. “I could almost touch him,” she said. She saw him step forward, and then there was an explosion. Afterward, the camera panned to a close-up of her son, taking away any doubt that her son had just been hurt in war. Albert had been wounded in his abdomen and both legs with metal fragments from a Viet-Cong booby trap. It wasn’t until 24 hours after she saw this footage that she received news from the military authorities that her son had been wounded, but was in no danger of losing his life.
Sadly, as the war continued, more images of soldiers, both American and Vietnamese, were broadcast, showing all of America, and the rest of the world, the horror of the war in Vietnam. Generic images of gallant American soldiers subsided, and footage showing injury, death, and moreover, hopelessness that the war could be won, was widely broadcast among the three networks. More correspondents produced footage and interviews that helped the public form the opinion that the efforts of the United States in Vietnam were for nothing. *One infamous broadcast came from NBC on February 2, 1968. During the Tet Offensive, a huge military operation launched by the Communist parties, South Vietnamese Chief of Police, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, shot a captured NLF officer in the head from point blank range. Narrated by Howard Tuckner, this video was broadcast into the homes of American citizens, changing how warfare and its consequences were understood.
*As Americans viewed this war in their living rooms, seeing murder and death, they also saw their soldiers and their sons breaking down from the everyday struggle of this never-ending war. In September of 1967, John Laurence of CBS went to Con Thien, a United States Marine Corps combat base, located about three kilometers from North Vietnam. In a site of fierce fighting that lasted for an entire year, Laurence interviewed soldiers to learn that morale was at an all-time low, and hopelessness had taken over.
Along with footage of exhausted American soldiers came footage of our troops engaging in activity that forced American civilians to rethink our purpose in this war. Morely Safer with CBS news, reported from Cam Ne the questionable operations by the American military. Soldiers were burning down homes, and killing civilians. The broadcast of Safer’s report caused President Johnson to accuse the CBS president, Frank Stanton, of impeding the progress of the war in Vietnam. The White House called for the replacement of Safer as a war correspondent, and he was banned from all Marine Corps areas by Major General Louis Walt.
Protests against the war became the norm as American citizens grew tired of hearing and seeing the images of violence broadcast on their televisions screens. Oftentimes these protests would be broadcast on TV, but sometimes TV stations took the liberty of withholding certain videos and images. From an article from Broadcasting Magazine, Feb 28, 1966, three New York TV stations turned down a documentary, “While Brave Men Die,” that depicted the actions of those who oppose U.S. intervention in Vietnam. They stated the 30-minute film, “would not be a significant addition to what has already been carried on newscasts about such protests.”
*After the Tet Offensive of 1968, some anchors became increasingly critical of the war. After visiting Vietnam once more during the battle for Hue in 1968, Walter Cronkite broadcast his editorial about his opinion on the status of the war. On February 27, he said, “It seems now more than certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” President Lyndon Johnson’s reaction to this broadcast was, “That’s it. If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” This signaled the end of the very first television war. It is argued whether the media showed too much, and if this effected the outcome of the war. However, one cannot debate the truth when it is broadcast vividly on the television screen.
Vietnam Grp P Point
Vietnam on Television A Precedence in War Broadcasting and Public Opinion Influence
War Broadcasting via Television <ul><li>Censorship prevalent in WWII and The Korean War was virtually non-existent in Vietnam. </li></ul><ul><li>With all the new technology, military officials could not imagine censoring the news </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJPZYfOOrb8 </li></ul>
Equipment, Guts, and Location <ul><li>The Saigon news bureau was 3 rd largest behind NY and Washington during most of the war </li></ul><ul><li>9 network personnel died and many more were wounded by the wars’ end filming the sought after “bang-bang” footage. </li></ul>
The War Itself <ul><li>U.S. Troops Committed in 1960 and Exponentially multiplied by 1962 </li></ul><ul><li>Attempt to prevent the Communist NLF and Viet-Cong takeover of South Vietnam </li></ul><ul><li>All Troops withdrawn by Johnson administration by 1975 </li></ul>
Transmission of Footage <ul><li>Satellite was possible, but too expensive </li></ul><ul><li>Cans of film were flown to New York </li></ul><ul><li>Footage was broadcast a few days later </li></ul><ul><li>Footage from Tet Offensive: flown to Tokyo, fed to NY by satellite </li></ul><ul><li>Action seen on TV was background footage, seemingly successful combat </li></ul>
Nightly News Expands <ul><li>1963: CBS & NBC expand evening time slot from 15 to 30 minutes </li></ul><ul><li>More profit </li></ul><ul><li>1965: more reporters working in Vietnam </li></ul><ul><li>1967: ABC follows suit, expands to 30 minutes </li></ul>
Production <ul><li>News crews dependent on government and military access and sources </li></ul><ul><li>Less action = staged violence for TV </li></ul><ul><li>Night filming impossible </li></ul><ul><li>Crews must travel for good footage, rely on military transportation </li></ul>
Famous Names <ul><li>Correspondents and anchors gain experience </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite </li></ul><ul><li>Footage produced and narrated evolved according to gatekeeping measures taken by networks and government </li></ul>
To Broadcast or Not to Broadcast? <ul><li>Networks wary of broadcasting negative images </li></ul><ul><li>Subject to FCC </li></ul><ul><li>Subject to military and administration representatives’ orders </li></ul><ul><li>Private policies on releasing certain footage </li></ul><ul><li>1968: 24% of all footage from Southeast Asia showed images of dead or wounded </li></ul>
Too Close for Comfort <ul><li>Seattle Times, May 11, 1967 </li></ul><ul><li>Mrs. Morrow watching TV, war footage </li></ul><ul><li>Sees son, Albert Landon Morrow </li></ul><ul><li>He steps forward, and *BOOM* , an explosion </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours later she receives the call from military authorities </li></ul>
More graphic footage <ul><li>Generic images of brave Americans subside </li></ul><ul><li>More injury, death, hopelessness broadcast </li></ul><ul><li>Efforts in Vietnam for nothing? </li></ul><ul><li>NBC: February 2, 1968: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tet Offensive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>South Vietnamese Chief of Police executes NLF officer . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Horror broadcast into the living rooms of American citizens. </li></ul></ul>
Hopelessness All Over TV <ul><li>CBS: September, 1967 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>John Laurence visits Con Thien, 3 kilometers from North Vietnam </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Site of fierce fighting for over a year </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Interviews soldiers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Morale at an all-time low (0:22-1:48) </li></ul></ul>
Broadcast of Questionable Activity <ul><li>CBS: Morely Safer, reporting from Cam Ne </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Soldiers filmed burning down homes, and killing civilians (4:58-6:35) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>President Johnson accuses CBS president, Frank Stanton, and Safer of impeding progress in Vietnam </li></ul><ul><li>White House to CBS: Replace Safer </li></ul><ul><li>Safer banned from all Marine Corps areas </li></ul>
Protests Are The Norm <ul><li>Often broadcast on TV, sometimes blocked </li></ul><ul><li>Broadcasting Magazine, Feb 28, 1966: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>3 New York TV stations turn down 30-minute documentary, “While Brave Men Die” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Depicted actions of protestors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Would not be a significant addition to what has already been carried on newscasts about such protests.” </li></ul></ul>
Critical Broadcasts = War’s End? <ul><li>After Tet Offensive, anchors increasingly critical of Vietnam War </li></ul><ul><li>Walter Cronkite editorial : (1:02-2:09) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>February 27, 1968 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ It seems now more than certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>President Johnson: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Broadcast TV showed too much? </li></ul>