From World War II to Vietnam:

Images of War in the Media

Katie Lane
May 1, 1998

Over the course of the past half century media coverage of war has constantly been scrutinized by the government, the public and academics alike. As technology has advanced, the styles of media coverage have evolved from a sole emphasis on print to more complex concentrations on photography and eventually the video dominance of modern times. With this evolution comes a changing perception of the ideas of war in the modern public. We believe war coverage is the most dynamic example of how technology has effected the power of the media and, in turn, has affected the public perception.

In World War II most Americans received their information about the war from newspaper reports and radio broadcasts. They were allowed to form their image of war in their own minds. They were not confronted with the actual vivid imagery of battle and carnage of the conflict. For the most part the war was portrayed by the media in a positive and heroic manner in the print. We believe this helped to create consensus in the American public in support of the war.

While there was substantial photography of the war, moving pictures had yet to become an active player in war coverage. The images that were issued were not often inflammatory -- they were relatively sterile portrayals of a war which was second only to the Civil War in casualties.

But with the increasing domination of television in media, war coverage brought the events closer to the American public. People were forced to confront often brutal images of human suffering, both on the American side and the Vietnamese homefront. The whole nature of television coverage revolutionized the way reporters, government officials, and audiences covered and reacted to the new era of journalism. What became known as "the Living Room War" would prove to be one of the defining factors in creating a negative public attitude toward the conflict.