Did the news media, led by Walter Cronkite, lose the war in Vietnam?

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam to provide viewers with an assessment of the war’s progress. His one-hour special report aired on Feb. 27, 1968.

“Until 1968, Walter Cronkite believed what his government told him about the Vietnam War. He was an old-school journalist, a patriot, a man who came of age covering World War II as a wire-service reporter and then taking over as the anchor of ‘The CBS Evening News’ at the height of the Cold War. Like most journalists of his generation, he embraced the fight against communism and understood why the United States had intervened in the war raging in Vietnam. When he’d visited Vietnam on a reporting trip early in the war, he’d been annoyed by the attitude of the young reporters who seemed to be ‘engaged in a contest among themselves to determine who was the most cynical,’ he wrote in his autobiography. Cronkite’s nightly newscasts helped shape public opinion about Vietnam, which became known as ‘the living-room war,’ in the words of Michael Arlen of the New Yorker. Until 1968, network news operations tended to edit out the blood and gore and avoid direct criticism of military operations while American lives were on the line. There was no government censorship, but negative news reports infuriated President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he didn’t hesitate to let the networks know it. That had been the case in August 1965. CBS News correspondent Morley Safer and his colleagues had followed Marines into a hamlet named Cam Ne, which was allegedly infested with the communist guerrilla fighters known as the Viet Cong. The Marines briefly encountered sporadic gunfire, which Safer later described as friendly fire. The Marines found no Viet Cong or firearms. Following orders, they burned down the hamlet. Safer’s report showed Marines using flamethrowers and Zippo lighters to ignite the thatching on the huts amid wails of despair from Vietnamese women and children. The day after the report aired on the CBS Evening News, President Johnson called network executive Frank Stanton, according to a book Safer wrote many years later. …”
Washington Post (Video)

Cronkite’s untouchable aura of authority led droves of viewers to change their opinions on Vietnam (above, Hue, Vietnam, 1968).

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Cronkite, Henry Kissinger, John Kennedy, Lyn. Johnson, Nixon, R. McNamara, Tet 1968, Viet Cong, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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