The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam

The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam

The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam

The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam


Vietnam was America's most divisive and unsuccessful foreign war. It was also the first to be televised and the first of the modern era fought without military censorship. From the earliest days of the Kennedy-Johnson escalation right up to the American withdrawal, and even today, the media's role in Vietnam has continued to be intensely controversial. The "Uncensored War" gives a richly detailed account of what Americans read and watched about Vietnam. Hallin draws on the complete body of the New York Times coverage from 1961 to 1965, a sample of hundreds of television reports from 1965-73, including television coverage filmed by the Defense Department in the early years of the war, and interviews with many of the journalists who reported it, to give a powerful critique of the conventional wisdom, both conservative and liberal, about the media and Vietnam. Far from being a consistent adversary of government policy in Vietnam, Hallin shows, the media were closely tied to official perspectives throughout the war, though divisions in the government itself and contradictions in its public relations policies caused every administration, at certain times, to lose its ability to "manage" the news effectively. As for television, it neither showed the "literal horror of war," nor did it play a leading role in the collapse of support: it presented a highly idealized picture of the war in the early years, and shifted toward a more critical view only after public unhappiness and elite divisions over the war were well advanced. The "Uncensored War" is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Vietnam war or the role of the media in contemporary American politics.

A groundbreaking study of the media's influence on the Vietnam War

.Overturns the conventional notions about the media's role in the war

.Draws directly on a huge body of newspaper and TV coverage"


This book was finished in the tenth year after the end of the Vietnam War. The year 1985 was also the year of Rambo, and of a number of other celebrations of the Vietnam War in popular culture. It was the year Congress cut off aid to the “Contras” in Nicaragua, and then abruptly reversed itself and approved “humanitarian” aid to support the guerrilla war in that country. The “Vietnam Syndrome” showed signs of giving way to the “Grenada Syndrome”: the fear of repeating the Vietnam experience showed signs of giving way to a desire to relive it in an idealized form. The nation seemed deeply confused about its identity as an actor in world politics, and thus particularly vulnerable to appealing myths. So it is a good time to take a sober look back at the nation’s consciousness during the Vietnam War itself—which as we shall see, despite the popular image of an independent media demolishing the nation’s illusions, was also governed by a powerful mythology, born in part out of the traumas of earlier wars.

But first, acknowledgments are due. This book began as my dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley. My committee there was headed by Jack Citrin, who was my advisor and teacher at Berkeley for ten years, through both my undergraduate and graduate years. Also advising me were Todd Gitlin—whose continuing friendship and whose own work on the media have been extremely important to me—Michael Rogin, and J. Merrill Shanks.

A number of others have also read and commented on portions of the manuscript in one phase or another, including Charles Nathanson, Hanna Pitkin, Samuel Fopkin—who has also shared his exceptional knowledge of the Vietnam conflict—Michael Schudson, and especially Michael MacDonald, who has been a part of this project since its beginning. Lawrence W. Lichty has also been an invaluable advisor, sharing what he has learned through many years of studying television coverage of Vietnam.

Thanks are also due to the many people who agreed to be inter-

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