By doing this he captures the evolution of the coverage from print to predominately television. The book closely examines the actual events and juxtaposes them against the reporting of the time. He follows the coverage through three presidents and offers insight on their desire to manage the press while showing us a new press, uncensored and unmanageable. The press had become complicated. On the one hand it was simply the messenger press bringing images into our home that we may or may not favor. Yet, as Hallin is quick to add, "[...] journalists do not like to think [...] of their role as purely passive".1
The book analyzes the change that the media coverage of war went through from the Korean conflict to the end of Vietnam. There had been control of the press in Korea, as Hallin reports, where journalists were initially subject to court-martial for "unwarranted criticism" and later censored.2 Television was in its infancy then and government control of communications availed the news to government control. Thus, the book gives us a look at Vietnam as a new media experience. It shows the difficulty Kennedy had in wanting to censor the press while denying there were combat troops on the ground. It shows a government attempting to operate and control a press in the face of new technology and ideals.
An intricate part of the book's theme is how the press did not lead ...
Even with the introduction of television into the zone of combat, with the front-line view of the violence and gore, Hallin contends that it did not overtly lead public opinion. As he states, "[...] it was not until the collapse of consensus was well under way that television's coverage began to turn around; and when it did, it only turned so far".3 The book takes scenarios one at a time from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the end of the war to make the case that the media did not play patsy for the government or crusader for public opinion.
Another noteworthy observation made by Hallin is the effect that television had not only on the war, but also on the media itself. He describes the period of 1963-1965 as a time when the press covered the war from a distance. They relied on government communiqus and military briefings for their information. Television news was a fifteen-minute spot and considered a secondary source by most Americans. During this time, television equipment was made available on the battlefield and reporters were able to get instant moving images into the homes of America. The evening news went to a 30-minute nightly event. This changed the way the media covered the event as well as the dynamics of war. As Hallin observes, "[...] television has decisively changed the political dynamics of war so that no 'televised war' can long retain political support".4 Though Hallin does point out the incidents where the media outwardly criticized the government's handling of situations such as the Buddhist crises, the Tet offensive, and the Pentagon Paper incident, he maintains that the media had simply changed into a more