PAPERS SOLDIERS by Clarence R. Wyatt


The American Press and the Vietnam War
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 A tellingly detailed overview that casts a cold eye on the US media's vaunted role in the Vietnam War. While conventional wisdom holds that the press exerted substantive, even decisive, influence over home-front opinion and the course of the protracted conflict, Wyatt (History/Centre College) concludes that, on the whole, news coverage was neither actively adversarial nor remarkably antiestablishment. Without overstating the case, he draws on the public record and archival material to show that correspondents generally were singularly uncritical of the information they obtained from the American military and its civilian superiors. Only when official sources clammed up, lied, or were overtaken by events (as during the Tet Offensive) did the fourth estate's dispatches and broadcasts betray anything akin to skepticism. In fact, Wyatt notes, US news organizations tended to report the frequently unrealistic, party- line construals of cold warriors in Saigon, Washington, or elsewhere as fact even if their on-the-scene representatives urged caution. To a great extent, the author argues, American journalists were inclined to treat combat throughout Southeast Asia as a sort of police beat. At the tacit behest of their stateside editors, moreover, they largely ignored the tangled issues of Vietnamese politics, focusing instead on the short-run fates of US facilities and forces. Citing chapter and verse, the author documents how ethnocentricity remained a dominant theme of field coverage throughout the fighting. Not until full-scale troop withdrawals were under way during the early 1970's did the American people learn about three of the war's biggest stories--the My Lai massacre, the secret bombing of Cambodia, and the Pentagon Papers. Disclosure of these headline-making scandals, Wyatt observes, was attributable to tips checked out by US-based reporters, not to investigative digging by foreign correspondents. Revisionist perspectives that shed new light on an American institution unlikely to reappraise, let alone critique, its performance during a watershed era. (Maps--not seen.)

Pub Date: April 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03061-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993