uring the early years of Vietnam, television news functioned under the assumption of Cold War consensus. Cold War ideology was the dominant American political ideology throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, and television journalism reflected this. It is difficult to determine the exact influence of the television media during the Vietnam War, but it is clear that, even as they challenged Cold War ideology after the Tet offensive, the media continued to sustain hegemony. Television news merely followed the lead of legitimate domestic actors who were beginning to express doubt about Cold War paradigms. This essentially allowed the media to present the war in a marginally more controversial tone without overtly challenging the "common sense" of the public. In fact, television never became anti-war; it just functioned within a slightly modified and updated hegemonic ideology. This was not a consciously malicious choice. There was no intentional manipulation or deceit. But it does underscore the media's role in maintaining and reproducing cultural hegemony.
Hall notes that an "event must become a 'story' before it can become a communicative event."59 In other words, a "raw" historical event cannot be communicated as such; it first requires designation as a "story," after which it is "subject to all the complex formal 'rules' by which language signifies." The simple act of communicating requires that the event be represented to the viewer in such a way that the viewer can understand what is being communicated--through the rules of discourse, through symbolism, and through cultural narratives. Television journalism does this; it creates communicative events out of historical events, and these are by their very nature communicated within a controlling ideology.
Television presented a picture of war that was anything but coherent and multi-dimensional. Arlen put it this way:
"I do know, though, that the cumulative effect of all these three- and five-minute film clips, with their almost unvarying implicit deference to the importance of purely military solutions (despite a few commentators' disclaimers to the contrary), and with their catering (in part unavoidably) to a popular democracy's insistent desire to view even as unbelievably complicated a war as this one in emotional terms (our guys against their guys), is surely wide of the mark, and is bound to provide these millions of people with an excessively simple, emotional, and military-oriented view of what is, at best, a mighty unsimple situation."60
There is a sense that Vietnam changed America forever, but the current political and ideological climates render that assertion doubtful. The situation in Iraq is, in many ways, reminiscent of Vietnam, even down to the pretexts for engaging in conflict (note the parallel between the Tonkin Gulf incident and the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction). Once again, America is fighting a war of attrition in a strange land, and once again, the justification is ideological--that ostensible duty to spread freedom and democracy. The same cultural symbols resonate, and those durable cultural myths continue to reassure us.