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The impact of media on the Vietnam Conflict

Updated on June 4, 2013

I wrote this essay in 2006 for a Grade 12 politics class. When writing an essay or an assignment for school the hardest part for me was figuring out where to start. I believe that getting a few ideas by seeing examples and reading other peoples essay's always helped me figure out how I would write my own essay and how to get started. That is why I decided to share my essay with all of you. Hope this helps!


“Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America—not on the battlefields of Vietnam”[1] The impact of the media on society had never been seen to the extent of its impact on the Vietnam conflict. The United States had fought many wars prior to Vietnam but this was the first war under the scrutinizing eyes of the American public. The Vietnam War was the first war reported by television with far less government interference in war reporting then today. The media played an important role in the anti-war movements. The media’s coverage of the Vietnam War lead public opinion, reflected public opinion and followed public opinion.

The media played a very important role during the Vietnam War in leading public opinion. The disturbing imagery of the Vietnam War was a strong advocate in leading public opinion against the war in Vietnam. Images of dead and wounded civilians, children, women, babies and the elderly lead many American’s to question the war in Vietnam. How is preventing a country in poverty 8,000 miles away from becoming communist threaten the America way of life? Day by day the justifications of the war in Vietnam became less justified. The trigger point for a vast majority of the American public to question the motives of their government was the exposure of the My Lai Massacre by the media in November 1969. The following month the draft lottery in America had been re-instituted outraging the American public. Protests of public figures and role models of America broadcasted through the media helped shape and form opinions of people in America. Adored boxing great Muhammad Ali was very opinionated and did not hold back on his thoughts on the Vietnam War, as he famously said "I ain't Got No Quarrel with the Vietcong... No Vietcong ever called me nigger"[2]. Ali was later drafted for the war and was convicted and was also stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing induction into the U.S. Army. Ali stayed in the public eye all over America thanks impart to television by giving anti-war speeches at rallies on college campuses all over America. Martin Luther King also declared his stance on the Vietnam War in 1967 publicly which lead the opinion of the African American minority. King stated “…it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and brothers and their husbands to fight and die …But, they asked, what about Vietnam…Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today-- my own government”[3] The anti-war stance of role models of American’s showcased through the media outlets helped lead the public opinions of America. Hostility towards the US government was increased further by newspaper publishing’s of “The Pentagon Papers”, contracted by Robert McNamara (the Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson). “The Pentagon Papers” were top-secret historical studies of Vietnam and pessimistic views of victory published in the New York Times and the Washington post. Imagery of the Vietnam War, media coverage of public figures stance on the war and “The Pentagon Papers” all helped lead public opinion on the Vietnam War.

Following the Tet Offensive, it became clear that the public opinions stance on the Vietnam War had taken a sudden change in direction. Up until the Tet Offensive, Americans believed that the Vietnam War was slowly coming to an end. The media reflected the publics opinion following the Tet Offensive through news reports broadcasted daily on television screens all over America. Anti-war protests hit a peak following the Tet Offensive. The media began to give what the people wanted to hear, articles and editorials began reflecting public opinion and the stance of reporters had coincided with the American public. Through articles, editorials and daily news reports on television the media was able to reflect the public opinion on the war.

The focus of the media began to shift to the reaction at home rather then the war abroad during the Vietnam conflict. The media began to follow public opinion on the war, which had never been herd of in the past. The U.S. anti-war protest took center stage to the conflict in Vietnam. Rallies at College campuses in the United States were closely covered by the media. One of the more closely followed anti-war campaigns took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The media was following what was happening outside of the Convention much closer then what was happening inside. Riots took over the city of Chicago in response to the refusal of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s permission to conduct rallies and marches in the streets of Chicago. Riots between Chicago police and the protesters were followed intensely by the American public. The better known protesters, the “Chicago Eight” were known for being charged with conspiracy in connection with the violent riots breaking out in Chicago, the Chicago Eight were later known as the Chicago Seven as only seven of the eight members were charged with conspiracy. The events of 1968 Democratic National Convention were an event that closely followed the public’s opinion on the war. The Kent State incident is also remembered for the media’s following of public opinion and as the dividing of political lines of the United States. The shooting over the four day period at Kent State made a great impact among youth of America which was closely followed by the media. Photos of the Kent State massacre are still imprinted in the memories of the American public.

The media played a vital role in the Vietnam Conflict in leading public opinion, reflect public opinion and follow public opinion. The media helped lead public opinion through imagery of the Vietnam War, media coverage of public figures stance on the war and “The Pentagon Papers”. The media also reflected public opinions of America through articles, editorials and news reports broadcasted on television for the first time. The media also followed the Vietnam war through its coverage of anti-war protests, the 1968 National Democratic Convention and the Kent State Incident. It is not known whether the media’s impact on the public prolonged the war; however pressure on government officials to end the Vietnam War helped bring the war to an end. On December 15, 1980 President Nixon announced his intention to withdraw 50,000 troops from Vietnam.


[1] Marshall McLuhan, 1975

[2] Muhammad Ali, 1966

[3]McMahon, Robert J. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War: Documents and Essays. 3d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.


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    • thriftykash profile image
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      thriftykash 4 years ago

      I'm glad to hear that.

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      Anonymous 4 years ago

      It helped me a lot thank you

      -8th grade student.