For many Americans during the Vietnam era, the war on the home front seemed nearly as wrenching and hardfought as the one in Southeast Asia. Its primary battlefield was the news media, its primary casualty the truth. But as William Hammond reveals, animosity between government and media wasn't always the rule; what happened between the two during the Vietnam War was symptomatic of the nation's experiences in general. As the "light at the end of the tunnel" dimmed, relations between them grew ever darker.
Reporting Vietnam is an abridgement and updating of Hammond's massive two-volume work issued by the Government Printing Office. Based on classified and recently declassified government documents-including Nixon's national security files-as well as on extensive interviews and surveys of press war coverage, it tells how government and media first shared a common vision of American involvement in Vietnam. It then reveals how, as the war dragged on, upbeat government press releases were consistently challenged by journalists' reports from the field and finally how, as public sentiment shifted against the war, Presidents Johnson and Nixon each tried to manage the news media, sparking a heated exchange of recriminations.
Hammond strongly challenges the assertions of many military leaders that the media lost the war by swaying public opinion. He takes readers through the twists and turns of official public affairs policy as it tries to respond to a worsening domestic political environment and recurring adverse "media episodes." Along the way, he makes important observations about the penchant of American officials for placing appearance ahead of substance and about policy making in general.
Although Richard Nixon once said of the Vietnam war, "Our worst enemy seems to be the press," Hammond clearly shows that his real enemies were the contradictions and flawed assumptions that he and LBJ had created. Reporting Vietnam brings a critical study to a wider audience and is both a major contribution to an ongoing debate and a cautionary guide for future conflicts.
"Few issues have aroused more controversy than the role of the news media during the Vietnam War. Hammond demystifies the subject in a book that is scrupulously researched, authoritative, and, above all, readable."--Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History
"By far the best study of the press and armed services yet written."--Stephen E. Ambrose, author of Citizen Soldiers
"Hammond succeeds in puncturing much of the mythology about the media--and doing so in a readable and thorough fashion."--Washington Post Book World
"Hammond depicts the tension between the armed services and the media as a game of strategy, one-upmanship, and high-stakes jockeying. Drawing on a thorough examination of military documents and newspaper and broadcast reports, he explains how the press allowed the military to bring back tear gas for use in the war, how various news organizations contradicted themselves and one another in describing the war's unfolding, and how much of the American public came to feel that the war was a hopeless effort."--Publishers Weekly
"Reporting Vietnam is a classic journalism history and an essential work in helping understand America's most controversial foreign conflict. It is not only the definitive account of Vietnam war reporting, but also an engrossing read."--Peter Arnett, CNN correspondent and author of Live from the Battlefield
WILLIAM M. HAMMOND is a senior historian with the U.S.
Army's Center of Military History and lecturer in university
honors at the University of Maryland.