The Tet Offensive and the Media
Read and compare the two different perspectives on the impact of the media's coverage of the Tet Offensive. Evaluate each scholar's perspective and make a case for who offered a more persuasive argument about whether media coverage of the offensive had a decisive impact on support for the Vietnam War.
- What was the Tet Offensive?
- How did the U.S. military perceive the Tet Offensive?
- How did Americans respond to media coverage of the Tet Offensive?
- Vietnam War: a conflict between South Vietnam, which was supported by the United States, and the communist forces of North Vietnam; U.S. leaders saw involvement in the war as an effort to halt the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
- Tet Offensive: a series of surprise military attacks launched against South Vietnam by the communist Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces in 1968; although U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were victorious, the offensive convinced many in the U.S. that increased intervention would not break the will of the communists.
- North and South Vietnam: the two opposing sides in the Vietnam War; the U.S. supported South Vietnam against the communist North Vietnam.
- public opinion: the collective attitudes of a group of people; public opinion on a particular situation, such as a war, can have significant influence on how the government handles the situation.
Prior to the 1968 Tet Offensive, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Gen. William C. Westmoreland claimed that U.S. forces had made major progress in the Vietnam War and that victory was near. When North Vietnam launched its massive offensive against South Vietnamese and U.S. forces, the latter retook every major North Vietnamese objective and killed thousands of enemy troops in what the U.S. Army considered a clear military victory. However, what Americans saw in media coverage of the offensive shocked them and convinced many that the war was not going well. Many have argued that, despite the military victory, the Tet Offensive delivered a blow to U.S. public opinion on the Vietnam War from which there was no turning back—that, after Tet, U.S. leaders had to find a path to withdrawal from Vietnam rather than a path to victory in the war. Others, however, believe that even though the bloody fighting Americans saw on the news during the offensive was shocking, anti-war sentiment had already built past the point where such a shock would make a substantial impact on public opinion.