You are on page 1of 18

The impact of the media on US

public perceptions about the

Vietnam War
From a journalist’s
perspective, the war in
Vietnam was unique. With
virtually unrestricted
access to the battle fields
many photographers and
camera operators came
to depict war in a way
never seen before or
AP photographer Huynh Thanh My
covers a Vietnamese battalion pinned
down in a Mekong Delta rice paddy
about a month before he was killed in
combat on 10 October 1965.
Despite the technology,
this was a guerrilla war
with much of the fighting
at close quarters,
allowing intense
moments to be recorded
on film.
What impact did the proximity of journalists to the
US Army have on the way the war was reported?
But it was also a war where images changed public opinion -
images such as this by Nic Ut of nine-year-old Kim Phuc. On 8
June 1972 a South Vietnamese aircraft accidentally dropped its
napalm payload on the village of Trang Bang.
With her clothes on fire, Kim Phuc ran out of the village with her
family to be airlifted to hospital
Perhaps the most
recognised picture from
the war is this by Eddie
Adams. It shows the
South Vietnamese
General Nguyen Ngoc
Loan executing a Viet
Cong officer with a
single shot to the head.

Does the context of an image change our perception?

The prisoner had just killed at least eight people, which is

what led General Loan to carry out the execution.
Close up the "glamour" of war is stripped away. A wounded
paratrooper of the 101st Airborne guides a medical
evacuation helicopter through the jungle foliage to pick up
casualties during a five-day patrol of Hue, South Vietnam, in
In this picture
by Huynh
Thanh My, a
Viet Cong
by South
soldiers in the
Mekong Delta.
Many US viewers became tired of the images of constant
destruction. The Vietnam War became ‘old’ news.
As the war drew to an end, the US public became more
distressed by the images of fighting and the consequences of
A US soldier poses with
a dead Vietnamese

Many Americans began

to question a war that
made U.S. soldiers
behave in this way.
There seemed to be little ‘good’ news from Vietnam. This
1973 picture shows former Prisoner of War Lieutenant
Colonel Stirm being welcomed home.
The North Vietnamese carefully controlled media
access to their fighters. As a result, their image as
a heroic peasant army defending their homeland
was successfully portrayed. VC brutality was
rarely reported – because the media wasn’t there.
Some of the world’s most
famous photo journalists
worked during the Vietnam

Philip Jones Griffiths

News weeklies like
Life magazine
featured the work of
Larry Burrows. Life
graphically portrayed
the war in Vietnam.
Food supplies being destroyed at My Lai
The massacre at My Lai
was revealed to the US
public in November 1969.
The event had taken place
in March 1968. The world
was horrified by the events
that had taken place there.

In the US, the details of the

massacre made headline
news. It changed many
peoples’ opinions about the
Vietnam War. Some people
even doubted what
happened because it was
so appalling.