An excellent analysis of President Bush’s comment on the Tet analogy.
Tet, however, was not a military disaster for the United States. Quite to the contrary, history has revealed that the Tet offensive was in fact a crushing defeat for the Viet Cong, and effectively required that the Communists conquer the South by invasion from the North, rather than by civil insurgency. The Viet Cong were only able to turn a military disaster into strategic victory by persuading the American media that the United States was mired in stalement. With the domestic political support for the war fading fast, the United States decided to withdraw from Indochina, even though it would take Nixon and Kissinger another four years to accomplish it.
If journalism were a profession, Peter Braestrup’s 1977 book Big Story would be required reading in every journalism school. Braestrup’s long subtitle is a little dry: “How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington.” But his analysis was memorable. Braestrup showed that the press blew the story of the Tet offensive, portraying a major American battlefield victory as a disaster.
Scott includes a very useful comment by reader Mario Fante, which references the Robert Elegant essay “How to Lose a War – The Press and Vietnam”
I once spoke with Peter Braestrup years ago back when he was at the Library of Congress. He helped me with my Master’s policy paper on military-media relations by recommending a couple of sources that I found very useful – one of which he strongly endorsed, and which your readers may find haunting for its prescience of current media distortions of the war on terror and in Iraq.
…This article is required reading alongside Big Story, and makes much the same argument, but has the virtue of being much shorter, and a faster, more compelling read.
My advisor (a friend of Braestrup’s who set up the call), knew Elegant, and told me how much writing this piece cost him among “the brotherhood” of the media, who shunned him, and damaged his career (he’d since recovered).
I’ve just read the Elegant essay — it is now in my archives for future reference — recommended.