The Role of the Press in War

Historian Arthur Herman revisits the Tet Offensive in January 1968, and its role in shaping the media coverage of the Vietnam War. Although the Offensive proved to be a crushing military defeat for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, it ultimately led to the undoing of the U.S. presence in Vietnam, due primarily to the deeply negative reporting that dominated the American media during that period. We are still paying a price for that campaign of misinformation.

Media misreporting of Tet passed into our collective memory. That picture gave antiwar activism an unwarranted credibility that persists today in Congress, and in the media reaction to the war in Iraq. The Tet experience provides a narrative model for those who wish to see all U.S. military successes — such as the Petraeus surge — minimized and glossed over.

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