Military Censorship of Journalism: World War II — Present

Vietnam War

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By the 1960s, “officials [had] become tighter-lipped, embassies harder to access, and correspondents more skeptical” (Dell’Orto, 266)1. However, some of the press still had moderate freedom to report. Reports from journalists on their ability to publish their stories during the Vietnam War vary significantly from reporter to reporter. “One AP journalist was invited by MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) to go on a mission against the Viet Cong – and when he wrote the story that the targeted village turned out to have none of them [the Viet Cong], the military promptly, but futilely, banned the press from similar trips (AP Oral History, Essoyan 1997, 49–50)” (269). Walter Cronkite, perhaps the most famous news American correspondent of the Vietnam War, tells a different story. Cronkite was interviewed by PBS in 2003 about his and his fellow journalists’ experiences reporting on the Vietnam War.3 The military, Cronkite says in the interview, didn’t monitor the reporters’ interviews with the soldiers. Cronkite explains that the reporters returned to the press camp at the end of the day, and submitted whatever stories they had written to their assigned intelligence officer, who sometimes altered them. The stories were then returned to the reporters to see if the new version of the story was accurate enough for their satisfaction. “If we didn’t want to transmit it that way,” Cronkite says, “we could argue about it. Sometimes we won and sometimes we lost.” Detailed reports on casualties, troop movements, and the equipment and positions of the American forces were still prohibited, but vague reports on these aspects of the war were allowed to be released to the public. Sometimes intelligence officers would hold the report for several days until it was safe to be released, but Cronkite insists that they did eventually release all the reports. Cronkite’s comparatively free reporting in Vietnam allowed him to make significant statements against the war upon his return to the states. More restricted reporters — those who called Vietnam a “turning point in press hostility” (269) — hypothesized that the basis of this hostility on the part of military censors stemmed from the the army’s frustration at the effects the journalists’ limited war footage was having at home. This graphic footage, accompanied by statement’s like Cronkite’s, played a significant role in turning public opinion against the war.8Video

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