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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Study on Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, and an Examination of whether it confirms the Mass Media Coverage of the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam War is considered to be one of the most controversial wars in American History. During the early 1960’s, a civil war emerged between North Vietnam and South Vietnam posing the threat of communism over the country. This was not acceptable to the United States government and thus felt it was its responsibility to interfere and bring peace to the Asian region. The war was widely criticized and the mass media hosted many debates for and against the war. Some of the difficult issues debated were: the cost of the war, United States’ right to get involved in foreign conflicts, death toll of Americans soldiers, and the amount of money that had been spent by US and its allies. The mass media’s primary function according to Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman is to increase the public support without being controlled by any elites while helping the government and private sectors to achieve their basic principles. Chomsky and Herman, the authors of Manufacturing Consent, explain how the mass media operate by defining a propaganda model. “The propaganda model is an analytic framework that attempts to explain the performance of the US media in terms of the basic institutional structure and relationship within which they operate” (2). Chomsky and Herman explain the propaganda model by dividing it into five filters. These five filters are ownership (profit oriented), funding (advertisement), sourcing (interviewing the elites), flak (criticism to pressure the mass media to change it coverage), and anti-communism. If the mass media introduces the government’s ideology, did the Vietnam War confirm with Chomsky’s Propaganda model?
The mass media as defined by Chomsky and Herman while working to achieve their own interest helps portray the governments' ideology and supports them as well. The mass media and the government do not portray the whole truth but instead promote news mixed with falsehood for their own agenda. They only say what people want to hear while gaining profit and reversing the roles of victims and criminals (Chomsky and Herman 1-2). This is all part of their Propaganda. The Propaganda Model according to Chomsky and Herman in this case basically explains the media’s behavior and performance. The Propaganda Model explains how the media promotes specific codes and values to the public that would incorporate them to a massive role in their society. It also explains how the mass media promotes these believes basically for money and power, and how they permit the government and elites to get their point across to the public (Chomsky and Herman 2). In addition to this, it should be known that the government and private sectors do NOT control the mass media and command them to promote their values; rather it is with their own free will. According to Chomsky and Herman, “the propaganda model focuses on the inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effects on mass media interests and choices” (Chomsky and Herman 2). The elite such as the government, with the mass media’s help use money and power to influence the mass media and convey their ideology to the public. According to Patterson III, the author of “Television's Living Room War in Print: Vietnam in the News Magazine”, the Mass media critics and historians concurred that the media played an important role in both how the war was won or lost, and on emphasizing the government’s decision in this period (1). Therefore, the mass media, not just the government, would take flak for their portrayal; since it helps the government promote their ideology about the Vietnam War, so that the government easily commits their crimes against Vietnamese. Also, the mass media does not report all the news that occurred at that time. Also, “ the same underlying power sources that own the mass media and funds them as advertisers, that produce flak and proper-thinking experts, also play a role in fixing basic principles” (Chomsky and Herman I). This explains how the mass media serves the interests of the elite while publicizing the information provided by the government. It also explains how the media increases the money by the elites, while trying to promote their ideology for their own advantage and changing the actual news.
Chomsky and Herman created a process called “filtering” where the real news is filtered or altered by the mass media. Filtering is basically a process that explains how the mass media focuses on news that benefits them and the governments as well. The mass media before broadcasting their news, they get a lot of information, and since it is impossible to broadcast all the information, they only pick what will promote them and increase their popularity (Chomsky and Herman 2). The mass media throughout the war represented the idea that many of the US soldiers died to “protect” Vietnam, to hide their crime and promote their popularity. Even though Vietnam in this case is the real victim, the Mass media still viewed and portrayed the US as the real victim (Anderson 48). The United States were the “real victims” because according to the mass media, the United States tried to help Vietnam with their conflict while they lost many soldiers and money. In more detail, “ Almost from the moment those soldiers started humping through the jungles of South Vietnam, journalists publicized their acts of bravery and cruelty, feelings of loneliness and comradeship and bitterness, and expressions of patriotism and manliness” (Huebner 10). The mass media portrayed the soldiers as saviors of the war, whereas the soldiers were distressed with the conditions and the death toll of their fellow soldiers. The mass media rarely stressed about the death toll of Vietnamese citizens. The mass media for many years showed the United States as the victim of the Vietnam War making hard to distinguish what is the real truth to the public. On the other hand, the Vietnamese were portrayed as immoral, but in reality the mass media suppressed the facts on the outcome of war and made the victims look evil while creating myths (Chomsky and Herman XXXIV). Soldiers were all being portrayed as heroic; however the argument remained whether the mass media showed too much or not enough.
The Vietnam War came when television was the primary source for news. “Never before in history has a nation allowed its citizens to view uncensored scenes of combat destruction and atrocities in their living rooms, in living color” (Chomsky and Herman 199). With television now, public were able to view what happening in Vietnam, such as mass destruction, that were not available to see in the past. Addition to that, with television, the mass media only showed positive aspects about the Vietnam War and approved of the United State involvement in the war (Anderson 52). Television also played a big role creating myths about American’s involvement in the war. The mass media could easily promote a false idea about the war through television and make it believable. Before 1968, “for example, of those military operations reported on television in which some conclusion was offered as to who won or lost, 62 percent were reported as victories for the U.S and its allies, 28 percents as defeats, 2 percents as stalemates” (Hallin 8). This means that the mass media ignored the defeat of US military and instead, most of the time, only showed the battles that the US won. When they expose US military losing a battle, it was only a small percentage, making the public believe that the US is winning. At that time, it was not easy to distinguish who won or lost, but the mass media made it believable that the US military is gaining a victory. The positive assessments of the overall military situation in Vietnam outnumbered negative assessments by ten to one in television coverage” (Hallin 8). Since positive assessment was ten to one, it was very hard for viewers to think about US military might lose, which mean that the mass media did contribute to fixing some basic myths about the Vietnam War that were not necessary true. Even though, there was broadcasting of villages being destroyed, and civilians killed, it did not promote public to oppose the war but instead promote US involvement in Vietnam’s conflict (Hallin 9). The mass media made it even more harder to consider US losing, by drawing the idea, that the US have powerful weapons and military, that it would be hard for the enemies to defeat them. “News reporting assumed that given the superiority of American weapons, a constant feature of coverage, the enemy would surely be defeated” (Anderson 50). Eventually, the mass media trick of portraying that the enemy will lose helped stop the public from opposing the war for a while but it did not last. In conclusion, television played a role, promoting US ‘victory and making public oppose the war at the end.
One of the large criticisms about the media is it constantly promoted US soldiers as “heroes” while covering up their lies as stated above. According to the article, “My Lai: The Struggle over Outrage”, by Truda Gray and Brian Martin, the mass media always portrayed the American soldiers as innocent of all their actions toward Vietnam no matter how guilty the soldiers were. The United States led a forged investigation to represent them as always being fair. The article classified these types of actions into five methods that the Commanders of United States and their allies used to compose the idea of the United States being a savior toward Vietnam. These methods were “covering up evidence; devaluing the victims; reinterpreting the episode as a military victory; setting up superficial investigations that gave the appearance of justice; and intimidating those who might speak out” (Gray and Martin 1). The mass media at the time of Vietnam War always covered up evidence that would reduce the support for the war. They also sometimes made up fake examinations that would portray the Vietnamese as the criminals and US soldiers as the saviors, even though that not the case. No matter how much crime the United States forces committed toward Vietnam, the mass media always tried to find a way to justify the US forces’ actions.
One image of a little Vietnamese girl expressed the horror of the Vietnam War proving that the war took many innocent civilians from Vietnam. This girl, named was Kim Phuc, signified the human cost in Vietnam. Her image showed how the US was after bombing Kim and her two cousins as well. Kim Phuc expressed guilt, sorrow, and pain when the US military announced this attack as “unintentional” (Anderson 58). If the attack was just an accident, then the government would try to support the US right to interfere with Vietnam’s conflict. In other words, any time the mass media portrayed the killing of Vietnamese as the accidental, it becomes acceptable, but as the war continues, and as we notice more “accidental” death, it cannot be comprehended that it is an error. In fact, “the years of U.S. military intervention witnessed the deaths of over 1.9 million Vietnamese, 200,000 Cambodians, and 100,000 Laotians” (Anderson 59). In addition to this witness of many “accidental” deaths, the fact that now people can witness an actual victim in pictures, an innocent girl, and knowing her actual name, it is realized even more that there is something wrong in this war. The picture makes the public realize that there isn’t justice in this war since there are innocent children such as Kim Phuc who had been killed and humiliated.
During the chaos of the Tet offensive, North Vietnam invaded every part of South Vietnam. A military campaign fought alongside with the allies against the National Liberation front and Peoples' Army of Vietnam with the intention to topple the Saigon government. The United States and South Vietnam were surprised when North Vietnam had the ability to attack them with strong military army. The United States was always portrayed as the strongest in the whole world to the public promoting the belief that there is no country that would be able to beat them or bypass their power. Eventually, the public were shocked when they found out that the communists were capable of starting such a huge effort against the US and its allies. This goes back to the propaganda model that the mass media use to portray the United State as capable of defeating anything that their enemies for sure would not be able to surpass them. Eventually, “the mass media coverage of the Tet offensive had been the centerpiece of the mass media for ‘losing the war’ by their incompetent reporting and their anti-government bias reflecting their passion for confronting authority” (Chomsky and Herman 211). The mass media portrayed the United States as powerful enough to defeat the communists and that it is their duty to get rid of the communist, to the public. The public eventually realized that the US made a mistake in launching the Vietnam War, which led to the defeat. The mass media was then blamed because it created myths about the Vietnam War and portrayed the United States as a winner, helping to the lost of the support in the war.
Eventually, the mass media not just the US military blamed for the consequences of the Tet Offensive. “The mass media turned the public against the war by leaving the impression that the Tet was a defeat for the American and South Vietnamese forces. But the Tet Offensive was not a victory for the North Vietnamese” (Anderson 53). The mass media persuaded again the victims were the American and the South Vietnamese forces after their loss and that the “criminals” North Vietnamese won. Even though the fact this is not entirely true, since the North Vietnam suffered more losses and more territories than the South and the Americans. “But with the public, against the war because of the press coverage, the military could no longer fight the victory and instead had to end the war in defeat” (Anderson 53). Since the public realized the war was injustice and since US with great surprise lost the fight, it was impossible to win it. Moreover, since the US was not a capable of launching a “total victory” in the mass media coverage of the Tet, it supported the claim that the mass media was disloyal during this war that was misrepresented from the beginning (Anderson 53).
The incident of My Lai (South Vietnam district of Son My) Massacre was one of the most important incidents in Vietnam War. 500 people died in this village in an operation conducted by the US Army in March 1968, of which the majority of victims were women, children, and elderly. At that time, “the news of the massacre at My Lai had taken twenty months to reach the American public”(Anderson 56). The mass media ignored the My Lai incident and decided not to mention it for a long time. Eventually, “there were many who accepted, rationalized, or fully justified the killings as being a normal part of war in which soldiers were doing their duty” (Gray and Martin 12). In addition, during this incident, when an officer was charged with mass murder, at the end the charge was dropped. Instead of investigating the situation of My Lai massacre, the lieutenant was then blamed such as an officer for everything. The mass media would never blame the soldiers since “the Supreme Court had ruled earlier that US soldiers could not be charged in civilian courts for crimes committed outside the country” (Gray and Martin 14). In the conclusion the audience thought that United States government was responsible for the tragedies but had only a diminished role in it as observed. This was all due to US government being responsible for this situation with the mass media helping them cover up all the criminal activities which led to My Lai. Additionally, “ My Lai did not prompt the mass media generally- there were some individual exceptions-to take a deeper look at the nature of the war, or to display an interest in reports of similar events in nearby areas that suggested its unexceptional character” (Chomsky and Herman 198). This meant that the My Lai massacre was less important in the mass media compared to other events such as the death toll of American Soldiers, how they struggled, and showing them as heroes and saviors, which eventually led to the anti-war.
The anti-war movements of the Vietnam War were one of the most important outcomes of the ongoing conflict between the relationship of the United States involvement in this war and the mass media. For the first time a war that was exposed and debated through the public of the United States. The anti-war movement was composed of independent interests such as journalists and labor unions who worked to mainly oppose the Vietnam War and the way the mass media covered this war. It was also composed of the coverage of anti-protesters that dominated television while the crime conducted by US soldiers was forgotten. The mass media focused instead on the anti-war protests that were against the United States because these protesters would reveal to the public what is really happening in Vietnam and the mass media wanted to stop this act. Focusing on these protesters or other subjects such as soldiers being “heroes”, would also take the American public mind away from focusing on the crime happening in Vietnam. Unfortunately, this plan did not last and the American public became against the Vietnam War believing it was a mistake. Chomsky and Herman examined “how as the war progressed, elite opinion gradually shifted to the belief that the U.S intervention was a “tragic mistake” that was proving too costly” (172). The elite expressed their idea of the Vietnam War that the United States should not have involved itself in a war that has nothing to do with them. It resulted in great expense since for example there were victims from both sides, the United States and Vietnam.
The cruelest critic about the mainstream mass media was that it portrayed the United States involvement in this war as a way of helping with the civil war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Although by 1969, it had become the most worlds and most Americans that the United States linking itself to the Vietnam War was a terrible misdeed (Chomsky and Herman 173). The mass media throughout the war portrayed that the US had the right to interfere with the Vietnamese to stop the civil war happening in that country. Even thought, when the war was coming to an end, “A war that had for years been characterized as “ winnable”, “clean”, and “just” had suddenly became brutal, messy, and costly” (Anderson 51). It is estimated that 223, 748 Vietnamese soldiers died compared to only 58,148 American soldiers, and the US spent 140 billion dollars over a war that could have been avoided. However, most of the Americans realized at the end that, the Vietnam War, “was a delusion to attempt to build a nation on the American model in South Vietnam” (Chomsky and Herman 173). Basically, the mass media and government made an illusion to defend entering the Vietnam War as necessary for defending South Vietnam from North Vietnam’s Communism. Although, the US was to create a nation that would confront with the American system in South Vietnam, it failed when the war finished. Even though, the mass media, most of the days, talked about how many enemies defeated and how the “war was winnable and progress was being made”, the public realized the illusions the mass media used eventually.
In conclusion, the mass media throughout the Vietnam War often used misinformation to fix their basic principles. The mass media is not controlled by the government, but it portrays by itself what they want the public to believe for their own advantage such as power. Chomsky and Herman discuss this in by describing the Propaganda Model according to their terms. The propaganda model helps us understand how the mass media conveyed the Vietnam War by examining it according to Chomsky and Herman, and by comparing it to other sources. It helps us understand how the mass media creates myths to make the enemy, “the saviors”, and the victims, “the criminals”. Unfortunately, even though the mass media succeeded at first in getting the support of the war but at the end the public realized what was happening, and began to withdraw from supporting this war. At the final stages, they witnessed how many innocent Vietnamese civilians died including innocent girls like Kim Phuc in a magazine. Unfortunately, the mass media until today still play some of the tricks seen in the Vietnam War.

writing by busygirl: sister thanks indeed

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