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Most serious scholars who discuss the matter present at least a fairly realistic picture of the way the American media reacted to the Tet Offensive, and many explicitly reject the notion that the media turned the American public against the war,1 but fewer explicitly reject the much more speci fic myth that the media portrayed Tet as a Communist military victory and an American military defeat.2 The notion that the American media treated Tet as a Communist military victory has remained widespread >˜`ʈ˜yÕi˜Ìˆ>Ê>“œ˜}ʘœ˜>V>`i“ˆVÊ>˜`ÊiÛi˜ÊܓiÊ>V>`i“ˆVÊ>ÕÌ œÀð CJCS Wheeler wrote, “Those newspapers . . . said it was the worst calamity since Bull Run.” Political scientist Anthony James Joes wrote, “On the whole, the media, especially television, presented the Tet Offensive as an unprecedented catastrophe for U.S. forces, a totally unexpected, nearly complete and probably irredeemable breakdown of security all over South Viet Nam.” Colonel Harry Summers wrote, “Initial media reports stated that U.S. and South Vietnamese Army forces had been surprised and defeated.” A recent volume of the US Army’s official history of the war stated, “The more than 600 reporters in South Vietnam, and their editors in the United States and around the world, generally portrayed the offensive as a disastrous allied defeat. Their stories emphasized the death, destruction, horror, and confusion of the post-Tet fighting; their commentaries presented the setback as probably irreversible and the war as unwinnable by the United States.”3 But those making such statements seldom back them up with actual quotes from the media. If they cite a source, it usually is journalist Peter Braestrup’s massive study, Big Story, of the way the media covered the Tet Offensive. Unfortunately, of all the stories a journalist can write, the one most likely to be heavily biased is C H A P T E R EIGHT 8 THE MYTHICAL MYTH: SUPPOSED MEDIA PORTRAYALS OF TET THE MYTHICAL MYTH 179 the one in which the journalist denounces what he or she sees as the bias of other journalists. Braestrup’s bias is an extraordinary example of this phenomenon. Braestrup made some spectacular generalizations about the media’s reaction to the Tet Offensive. He wrote that during the offensive, the media quickly developed a mind-set that “Tet was a disaster . . . for the allied armies.”4 By March 1, it would have been possible to observe and to report that: (1) enemy military pressure had slackened, except at Khe Sanh; (2) the fighting was shifting back to the countryside; . . . it was a mixed picture, but clearly neither a military nor a psychological “disaster.” (pp. 715–716) At Tet, the press shouted that the patient was dying, then weeks later began to whisper that he somehow seemed to be recovering— whispers apparently not heard amid the clamorous domestic reaction to the initial shouts. (p. 714) George Herring, citing Braestrup, wrote, “Early reports of a smashing enemy victory went largely uncorrected. The fact that the United States and South Vietnam had hurled back the attacks and quickly stabilized their position was lost in the image of chaos and defeat.”5 Braestrup’s conclusions were not supported by his actual research. Most crucial was the evidence presented in Chapter 4, “Military Victory or Defeat for Hanoi?” This chapter was filled with extended quotations from both print and broadcast media. It is unmistakable, both from the lack of quotes stating that Tet was a Communist military victory and from the quotes specifically stating that it was not, that there was nothing remotely resembling a media consensus depicting the offensive as a Communist military victory. Among those who were most clear about military victory and defeat was Walter Cronkite, anchor of the CBS Evening News, who said in a broadcast on February 14, “First, and simplest, the Vietcong suffered a military defeat.”6 Howard Tuckner of NBC News, in an hour-long special broadcast on March 10, said that in the battle of Saigon, “Militarily the allies won” (p. 159). William Rademaekers, Time magazine’s Saigon bureau chief, wrote on February 8, “If the events of the last week could 180 CHAPTER EIGHT be measured on a military ruler, there is little doubt that the allies would be considered the victors” (p. 164). Even Joseph Kraft, a columnist in the Washington Post who considered the Vietnam War unwinnable and wanted the US government to open negotiations to end it, wrote a week into the Tet offensive that the pattern of...


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