Friday, February 28, 2014

How We Got the News about the Vietnam War

My niece Rachel Sanders asked this question:

7.  How did you receive most of your news about what was going on in the US and world during the time?

At the beginning of the Vietnam War, I heard some news on the nightly network news programs--CBS with Walter Cronkite, NBC with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, and less so, ABC. I also watched some of the Today show on NBC back then. There were 3 TV stations in those days--at least on my TV. All programs were broadcast, received over antennas. There was no cable TV and no internet. The internet was not even dreamed about. Of course there were no cell phones (though the Dick Tracy comic strip imagined such a thing).

I also read the Cleveland Plain Dealer (and delivered it!).

While a student at the University of Notre Dame, I saw almost no television until about 1969-70. Almost no students had televisions in their dorm rooms and even radio broadcasts were hard to pick up in the dorms. I often did see the South Bend Tribune and sometimes the Chicago Sun Times. At lunchtime we could sometimes hear the Paul Harvey's radio show broadcast over the PA system. For the most part these were very conservative sources of news, pro-war, super patriotic (in one sense of the word). To be against the war was to be both a traitor and a coward.

Gradually the reality of the war began to sink in, even to the point where Walter Cronkite could no longer echo the Pentagon line--and he started telling it the way it was.

One odd dimension of the news on Vietnam were the body count statistics. It was like keeping score. We heard of hundreds or thousands of Viet Cong deaths every week, and far fewer American deaths (though even these eventually added up to over 55,000--including my cousin (Tommy Fitzpatrick), my Notre Dame friend and classmate (Stephen Shields), and a St. William's classmate (Buddy Chasser).

Toward the end of the war there were many other sources of news--alternative newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and journals. The truth was getting out there, slowly but surely. I helped with one of these newsletters, The Peacemaker, published by Ernest and Marion Bromley, out of the village of Gano, north of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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