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Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington Paperback – Abridged, January 1, 1983
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This isn't your usual focus on the events of Vietnam: rather, it's a refreshing examination of how the American press reported the Crisis of Tet in 1968, revealing the underlying politics influencing reporting styles and choices. This has been abridged and updated to appear in a new edition to reach new audiences, and is an excellent pick. -- Midwest Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I would dearly love to be able to say that author Peter Braestrup concurs with my long held conclusion that the American media were all left-wing, sympathetic to Communism and knowingly lied when they reported that the American and South Vietnamese military victory over the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in the 1968 Tet offensive was actually a disaster.
In fact, while Braestrup does meticulously report what many might consider the misdeeds of the press in their reporting on Vietnam, he concludes that it was a mixture of factors that led to media's ultimate reportorial failure. He is, of course, right. General William Westmoreland was not a paragon a virtue when it came to dispensing the facts. The military staff assigned to liase with the media, Braestrup demonstrates, was essentially inadequate in many, many ways. Then there was the dynamic duo of Lyndon Baines Johnson and Robert McNamara who believed they were military and political geniuses and were neither.
Though published decades ago, Braestrup informs the present day. American media has become more stridently left-wing and more intent on misleading and misinforming the public while pursuing their own political and ideological goals.
Baestrup tracks the trajectory of the competitive press corps in Vietnam, particularly the television people who were coming into their ascendancy. For the TV people, images mattered, not facts. They needed material to engage eyeballs, not minds. It was logical that the images be violent even though they didn't tell the true story. The news anchors weren't objective readers of facts: they were advocates of the America as the oppressor theory and they echoed the shouts of the people clogging the streets with their protests.
Braestrup concluded his analysis of the media's performance by calling it "an extreme case", but warned as well - and bear in mind this was in 1977 - that "unsatisfactory performance [of the media] in another surprise crisis or near-crisis appears likely". What Braestrup did not foresee was that the media, led by network television, would get into the business of manufacturing crises and that the media's tilt toward the left would become more pronounced. Peter Braestrup passed away in 1997. It is our loss that we did not have his insight on the performance of the media in Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. It undoubtedly would have been enlightening.
Written by a journalist, this book is critical but not ideological; the press is not "the bad guy" here. There is plenty of blame to go around. The military misrepresented the strength of the Viet Cong, for its own reasons, and the press went on to misrepresent the battle for its own reasons. The real heresy of this book is revealing how the ARVN and U.S. forces aquitted themselves exceedingly well on the battlefield. Was the war "winnable" on the ground? It certainly wasn't "winnable" politically, but credit should be given to the servicepeople on the ground (and in the air) who did in fact win the battle tactically and strategically.
The original edition was published by Westview Press in 1977; Yale University Press issued an abidged version in 1983 and 1986; another edition was published by Presidio Press in 1994.