Vietnam and Photography - Emily Greenseth History of...

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Emily Greenseth History of Photography Research Paper The Political Importance of the Photograph: The Vietnam War By the end of the 1960s, Americans across the country became addicted to the latest fad: the television. Such an invention enabled the public to soak up information more readily and in greater volume, as visual documentation could now pour in from around the globe to the family living room almost instantly. In addition to televisions, people had their image-laden newspapers and magazines: photography was everywhere. The availability of photographic evidence to the public begged politicians to wonder: could a photograph alter the course of history, dictate the outcome of an event? Wars are remembered specifically by the way that they have been reported, and the lack of photographic censorship and broad coverage of the Vietnam War left the public with a disturbingly graphic understanding of the conflict. The power of the visual impacted the people to the extent that it effected political change. Such free reporting, compounded with the failures of Lyndon B. Johnson and the bias of the media, led to the upsurge of social discontent and ultimately the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. For the first time in history, “the outcome of a war was determined not on the battlefield, but on the television screen.” 1 The power of the media is overwhelming, especially in the United States where reporters have free reign to “fairly and impartially report events of the day” 2 with or 1 Brothers, Caroline: War and Photography: A Cultural History . (London and New York: Routledge, 1997). 205 2 Roselle, Laura: Media and the Politics of Failure: Great Powers, Communication Strategies, and Military Defeats . (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006). 15
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without the government’s endorsement. Local newspapers and television stations were receiving large volumes of images and video recordings from the vast numbers of people stationed in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was “a mecca for war reporters, both accredited journalists and maverick freelancers. The lack of strict US rules on censorship and access led to photographers having virtually free entry to all the major battle areas.” 3 These images made their way to the public through both printed and broadcasted media, and it was estimated that in the United States “during the late 1960s and early 1970s, 50 million people watched the nightly news on any given night.” 4 The public devoured the information presented to them on the screen, thus giving reporters enormous influence over the people. While Lyndon B. Johnson participated in the television craze as the public did by
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This note was uploaded on 09/01/2008 for the course ART 207 taught by Professor Semor during the Fall '07 term at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Vietnam and Photography - Emily Greenseth History of...

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