Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement

Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement

Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement

Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement


"Small... finds, rather, that the media had a built-in bias against [Vietnam] protesters-in particular, the television reports sought out scenes of violence, and hence gave disproportionate emphasis to even the smallest counter-demonstration. Small is methodical, indeed, comparing carefully what was supposed to happen, what actually did happen, what the media said had happened about what had happened, and about what 'two thin-skinned presidents,' Johnson and Nixon, thought about what the media said.... This study... should be valuable to students of the media, or to those who believe that all questions are political and to be settled by counting heads."- Rapport

"Melvin Small's invaluable book persuasively analyzes media coverage of the antiwar movement and in doing so shatters the persistent and mischievous notion that the media lionized the antiwar movement and undermined support for the War."--George C. Herring, University of Kentucky

It is commonly believed that, during the Vietnam War, journalists relayed a favorable image of antiwar protesters. Melvin Small explodes that myth. Journalists may do their best to be fair, but even fair reporters learn to focus on the violent and bizarre activities that make for dramatic news. They may capture behavior on the fringes of a march, rather than the tone of the march as a whole. They may ignore the arguments of the movement's leaders, which seem boring in comparison to action shots.

Small's commentary effectively portrays the battle between activists and the media while painting a compelling picture of Americans' inclination to accept the media's caricaturing lens.


As I was working on Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves, a study of the impact of the antiwar movement on decisionmakers, I realized that one important part of the story that had not been told, which I simply could not incorporate in that book, concerned the relationship between the media and the movement. Indeed, that relationship was central to the question of how antiwarriors influenced policy because their effectiveness depended on the way the media brought their activities to the attention of the public and the people in power. After all, if no one had been impressed with their marches, rallies, and speeches, Presidents Johnson and Nixon would have enjoyed a much freer hand in Southeast Asia.

After completing Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves, I turned to this related study, on which I have worked off and on since 1988. I have received a good deal of essential assistance from many people and institutions over the past few years. Aside from series editor Barbara L. Tischler, who was one of the very helpful readers for Rutgers University Press, Natalie Atkin, Charles Chatfield, George Herring, Chris Johnson, Ralph Levering, and Lynn Parsons have commented on all or large portions of the manuscript.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation once again generously supported my work at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, where David Humphrey and Regina Greenwell guided me through the materials. Byron Parham was helpful during my visit to the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Materials Project in Alexandria, Virginia. Michael Gibson at Vanderbilt University's Television News Archive assisted in preparing taped materials used for the illustrations. Bill Klein of CBS helped me gain access to his company's news archives in New York City.

Wayne State University's Graduate School and History Department provided grants to help defray expenses for photographs and permissions and the university awarded me sabbaticals in 1988 and 1992 during which time I worked on this project. The photography unit at the university, under the able direction of Deborah Kingery, produced most of the photographs that illustrate the volume. Gerry Dervish, an old antiwarrior who now owns Troy Video, took some of the video shots, Judith Legosky of the Royal Oak Public Library permitted some of her valuable microfilm to leave the building, and the Wayne State History Department's excellent office staff of Ginny Corbin . . .

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