Media Spins2008Media spin is usually used in a derogatory sense, meaning providing through the media a biased portrayal of an organization or an event in one’s favor. The spin is used as a public relations exercise most typically by governments, more often during times of war. The administration then attempts to focus on certain issues and highlight achievements in order to develop public opinion in its favor. The typical techniques that are used as media spin are deliberately choosing certain facts and quotes and denying others, often resorting to providing false statements or phrasing statements in euphemisms in order to hide statements or to propagate own agenda (wikipedia).
Media spin is most often used as a propaganda tool, as it was blatantly done during the World Wars, through censorship of news. Since the advent of television and the internet, media spin has become more difficult to engage in but at the same time, more sophisticated methods of spinning the media has also been used. In this paper, I will present two examples of media spin: one, that indulged in by the Nixon Administration during the Vietnam War, which failed as the media refused to toe the government line and the adverse public opinion forced the United States to withdraw its forces from the country, and two, by the Bush Administration that succeeded in mobilizing public opinion in its favor by justifying the attack on Iraq by the latter’s country’s supposed possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
The Vietnam War remains a critical juncture in the military and media history of the United States when the relations between the two got strained and the media became so powerful that it could bend public opinion to the extent of resulting in military withdrawal from Vietnam.
Till then, the public relations exercise of the Administration was strong enough to guide the media in its favor. During the World War I, for example, the Creele Committee churned out propaganda on German barbarity on a regular basis while also severely censoring the media. During the World War II, although the electronic media had come into the picture, the Administration continued to keep a hold on the media.
It was during the Vietnam War that this hold broke (Fehlman, 1992). Nixon, in his memoirs, described how important the media had become during the Vietnam War. He said, “American news media had come to dominate domestic opinion about its purpose and conduct…. In each night’s TV news and each morning’s paper the war was reported battle by battle, but little or no sense of the underlying purpose of the fighting was conveyed. Eventually this contributed to the impression that we were fighting in military and moral quicksand, rather than towards an important and worthwhile objective” (quoted in Fehlman, 1992).
Young (1991) argues that the war in Indochina disproved the naïve idea propagated by the administration’s spin doctors that US foreign policies always "meant well" and that Marxism was always "bad". Before the war, the Americans portrayed the Vietnamese as deceitful hordes, cruel, apathetic and unconcerned lots. Young thinks that the war proved it otherwise and shows that the turn of events that led to the war were actually America’s doings. After the signing of the Geneva treaty in 1954, Ho Chi Minh and his group had to move to North Vietnam while the French pawn government ruled that south.
The country was supposed to be reunified after the elections to be held in 1956. In the meantime, however, the American continued to provide arms to the French government in south Vietnam in order to resist any possible attack from the North. The U. S., Young points out, realized that the Viet Minh would succeed in any free and just election and that Ho Chi Minh was more of an autonomist than a communist.
Hence, it was needed to set up a stable separate nation in South Vietnam, under the absolute rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, who, on the other hand, unleashed a reign of terror against his rivals, leftist or else. Despite being regularly dribbled over as a great compassionate statesman in the U. S. media and among American moderates, conservatives in South Vietnam were starting to resist his rule, agonizing to U. S. officials about his government 's strength. Gradually, south Vietnamese rebels began to protest and finally, in 1963, Diem was killed.
Young (1991) cite documents from the Rand Corporation that describe the notorious "strategic hamlet" plan in the village of Duc Lap. The US backing of the huge “defoliation” agenda purportedly to refute food sources to the NLF and the significantly ravaged peasants added to the notion that the U. S were "at best minimally concerned with the peasant's welfare" (Young, 1991). Through the war, the Vietnamese rebels put up a strong resistance to the US bombing and military might. According to the New York Times columnist, James Reston, it was the media reports on American casualties in Vietnam that was decisive and actually ended the war (cited in Fehlman, 1992).