Three Mississippi Newspapers: From Tonkin to Tet
In November 1982, the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger published an article that looked
back at Americas involvement in the Vietnam War. Veterans from Mississippi provided
the perspective for the piece. The reporter asked the veterans their take on the negative
stereotypes that came out of the war. These stereotypes included soldiers on drugs and
random and unnecessary violence against Vietnamese civilians. Frank Godwin, executive
secretary of the Mississippi Vietnam Affairs Board, commented that he was not bitter about
the stereotypes. Yet he did believe that television contributed to the negative images.
Godwin blamed television coverage for bringing the war to American living rooms night
after night. Godwin said, Because it was on television every night in living color,
we had to fight with high morals. Thus, any military mistakes or any necessary
brutality shown on the nightly news reflected badly on the soldiers.
Around the same time, the Hattiesburg American ran an article that also recorded
veterans recollections on their service in Vietnam. Many of these veterans held
different perspectives than Godwins. Bennie Brown came back home to Mississippi in
1970 carrying a bullet and shrapnel scars. When asked if the war protests or negative
publicity affected him while in Vietnam, he stated that he thought little about the
rightness of the war while fighting in 1968 and 1969. He said personal
survival ranked as the order of the day. Asked if anyone called him names like
baby killer upon his return home, Brown offered that those kinds of epithets
came from hard-core protesters. People down here are more conservative. People are
more sympathetic around here. Veteran Bill Lorch responded in the interview that his
problem with the war did not center on public reaction but with the way the politicians
ran the war. He opined, It was a war they wanted us to fight but wouldnt let
These three perspectives mark the boundaries concerning the realities and myths
concerning the national and local press coverage of the Vietnam War. This tragic and
divisive conflict became the first American war to be broadcast nightly into American
living rooms. Commentators dubbed the Vietnam conflict the first television
war. An accepted maxim of the Vietnam War revolves around the perception that early
on the media (television, newspapers, magazines) opposed President Lyndon B.
Johnsons running of the war and eventually turned popular opinion against the war.
The constant harangue of popular journalists, along with searing images on television,
eroded the publics confidence in Johnsons goals and his successful prosecution
of the war.
Contrary to veteran Frank Godwins (and many others) assumption, the most recent
historiography has done much to dispel the false assumptions about the media and the war.
Historians like Daniel Hallin and William M. Hammond have shown that the U.S. press corps
took their cues from the official sources for much of the war. Going into the war, the
majority of the media held similar assumptions to the government concerning the
containment of Communism and the importance of addressing its spread in Vietnam. Between
1962 and 1967, the vast majority of print and television journalists supported the war.
Journalists occasionally questioned Johnson and the militarys running of the war,
but they did not question the importance of the war itself. Journalists did not challenge
the war en masse until after elite and public sentiment began to turn against the war.
Other historians like Oscar Patterson III have shown that the major media outlets like the
New York Times, Newsweek, and NBC News did not constantly barrage their
audience with images of carnage. While media outlets published and showed some alarming
images, they still supported the soldiers and the goals of the war. Patterson argued that
many people today remember certain vivid images from the war, and now believe that the
entire coverage of the war mirrored those stark pictures. 
What is remembered is not necessarily what happened. Here lies the significance of this
subject. The most recent historiography has shown that many elite (educators, college
students, celebrities, politicians) and a majority of the public turned against the war
because of President Johnsons contradictory motives and policies. The media only
followed and reported the sentiment of the public, not the other way around. As the body
count rose and Johnsons policies seemed confused and ineffective, the public
aversion to the war grew. The media simply reflected this sentiment. The significance of
this subject also lies in its revelation of the press as being more the protectors of
cultural assumptions than being the objective watchdogs they are commonly thought to be.
What about the press in Mississippi? Did state papers follow the pattern that
historians have noted in the national media? This paper looks at three of the biggest
Mississippi newspapers, the Greenville Delta-Democrat Times, the Tupelo Daily
Journal, and the state capital's afternoon paper, the Jackson Daily News. The
scope of this work focuses on how the papers coverage of selected military and
domestic events during the Vietnam War, starting with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in
August 1964, and ending with the Tet offensive in January-February 1968. This essay argues
that these newspapers serve as a microcosm of the larger study performed by scholars such
as Daniel Hallin and William Hammond. All three newspapers vigorously supported the war
and its aims in 1964. As events unfolded in 1965 and 1966, these local papers used press
service reports (such as United Press International) of the war. These press services
gathered most of their information from official military spokesmen. The local papers,
like the national media, did not question the need for the war, but at times did question
the policies and tactics of Johnson and his administration. Like the national media, early
on these local papers did not think highly of war protesters. While including some graphic
pictures from the war, these papers still supported the troops and the wars mission.
Only after the national and state mood shifted did these local papers begin to question
the war itself. As will be shone, the Jackson Daily News, and to a lesser degree
the Tupelo Daily Journal, supported the war longer than the Greenville Delta-Democrat
Times. None of these papers sought to rally its readers against the war; they only
took small steps of protest in what was obviously becoming a losing cause. The comment
Bennie Brown made about Mississippians also fits these papers, People down here are
more conservative. People are more sympathetic around here.
As we look at these papers and their coverage of the war, we need to understand that
attitudes help comprise worldviews, or the way we look at the world. One must keep in mind
that even news editors worldviews affect how they shaped the news their papers
presented. In the last two decades, historians have come to realize the importance of
analyzing mind-set in order to understand the kind of language a subject might use.
Critical theory can help the historian understand, in regards to a written
document or the spoken word, that language shapes meaning as it is conveying
meaning. An example of what we are meaning will be seen in the description of war
protesters. Early on in the war some of the editors used words like kooky or
traitors to characterize war protesters. The historian needs to understand
that the majority of Mississippi editors were conservative, which reflected the
state and communities they served. Many in Mississippi valued the martial tradition.
Thus, war protest served as a threat to the social order. These newspapers used language
to affirm the social order while identifying those who threatened it. This becomes evident
in regards to language used to describe the war: proponents and dissenters.
In regards to Vietnam, the United States had been funneling money and supplies and
small numbers of military personnel into the country since 1956. For most Americans, the
conflict stayed on backburner for almost a decade. In Mississippi, the civil rights
movement served as the major issue of concern. During the summer of 1964, Mississippi
roiled under the influx of northern white and black college students intent on aiding
local blacks gain the right to franchise. Mississippi spilled across the front pages with
the murder of Medger Evers, the state secretary of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Later that summer, the state reeled under national
scrutiny over the murder of three college age civil rights activists, Michael Schwerner,
James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman., in the small town of Philadelphia. Many in the state
rejected the idea of racial equality and the integration of public schools.
Mississippians, including newspaper editors, bristled at the negative images that arose
from the states civil rights resistance. By and large, most Mississippi journalists
fell out of step with the nation in regards to civil rights in the 1960s. Yet in regards to the Vietnam War, the papers coverage
followed national media attitudes.
While the state dealt with civil rights agitation in the state, Vietnam became a major
issue of concern in August of 1964. On August 2, three North Vietnamese PT boats unleashed
a torpedo attack on the USS Maddox. The attack took place in international waters in the
Gulf of Tonkin, thirty miles off the coast of North Vietnam. On August 7, Congress passed
the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave President Johnson the power to do all
necessary measures to repel any armed attack from the North Vietnamese. This meant
that Johnson could send in combat troops without a Congressional declaration of war. All
three papers splashed the crisis across their front pages for several days. All three
relied on the accounts supplied by United Press International. Once off the front pages,
the editorial sections and local columns revealed each papers viewpoint. On August
6, 1964, the JDN reported that Mississippi Senator John Stennis, a member of the
Armed Services Committee, strongly urged the United States to do whatever is
necessary to protect our forces, to maintain our position and to demand respect for our
rights as well as your flag. The paper agreed. Bob Howie, the JDN editorial
cartoonist, drew an August 6 cartoon showing an angry Uncle Sam standing in the midst of a
copy of the Tonkin resolution. In the cartoon, Uncle Sam rolls up shirt sleeve and
clenches his fist, preparing to fight. In an August 10 cartoon, Howie shows the legs of
Uncle Sam straddling the globe. The word Democrats rests on his right leg and
Republicans on his left. At his feet on the globe lies a sheet of paper
entitled Our position on Viet Nam. The caption United We Stand
lies below the drawing. The JDN wanted its readers to know that the United States
stood justified in intensifying its presence and might in Southeast Asia.
On August 2, the GDDT published a cartoon from the Baltimore Sun showing
Lyndon Johnson seated at a black tie dinner. The implication of the cartoon is that
everything is going well. A placard on the table shows the price of the Democratic dinner
has been raised from $100 to $1,000 a plate. Before Johnson lie two platters, one entitled
Legislative Victories, while the other read Domestic Prosperity.
As Johnson is about to dine, a waiter appears and says, I hate to spoil your
banquet, Sir, but you have an urgent call from Vietnam. Vietnam would eventually
split the Congress and split the nation. Few readers realized how prescient this cartoon
actually was. No one owned a crystal ball, and no one in 1964 knew the future outcome of
the war. The DDT praised Johnsons firmness of resolve in its August 6
editorial. The editorial said Johnson showed to the North Vietnamese and its supporter,
China, that the United States was no paper tiger. The editorial said the
conflict between democracy and Communism proved inevitable, if not in Vietnam, it
would have been somewhere else. The paper printed a King World Syndicate cartoon on
August 12 that revealed the necessity of the conflict. In the sketch, U.S. fighter planes
take off from the deck of an air craft carrier. The ships radio blares shoot
to destroy. The caption below the cartoon reads, The Only Possible
A month previous to the Tonkin crisis, the TDJ opined that South Vietnam could
become the death bed of communism as we know it if the U.S. prevailed. After
the Tonkin crisis flared up, the paper printed an editorial calling for the state and
nation to resolve to stand up against Communism. While acknowledging the cost of foreign
aid, the paper warned against ultra-conservatives who would pull all U.S. troops and
monies home, thus allowing Red China or Russia a free reign in Africa, Asia, and Latin
America. The editorial said the United States could make the world a better place if it
did not let the dollar sign completely seal over our love of freedom, both for
ourselves and others. At the outset of a much greater military commitment in
Vietnam, these papers supported Johnson and his response to the Tonkin attack.
Yet by 1965, some began to protest the direction of the war. The months of October and
November of 1965 saw the first large protests of the war and the first major land battle
between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars. The battle occurred in the
Ia Drang Valley in South Vietnams central highlands. Using heavy artillery as well
as B-52 bombers, U.S. ground forces drove back the NVA regulars into the jungle during the
November 14-16 battle. During this battle and the following days, both sides suffered a
great number of casualties. Besides publishing reports on the specifics of this battle,
all three papers published a variety of Vietnam related articles in the weeks before and
In regards to the war, the GDDT sought to set the context in Southeast Asia,
along with U.S. justification for being there. The paper editorialized that the Chinese,
the supporters of North Vietnam, sought to influence the entire region. The Chinese
fostered hatred of the white race, hated capitalism, and held a great
contempt for Christianity. All of these attitudes contradicted American values.
Coexistence in 1965 seemed impossible. The GDDT stressed that Americas only
resource in the region was our own strength. In a November 28 editorial
cartoon, the paper showed President Johnson seated before a chess board labeled Vietnam.
No one else is seated directly across from him. Instead, a long reed extending from the
board a long distance into the forest makes counter moves. Partially hidden behind one of
the trees, moving the reed, is a crouching Mao Zedong, leader of Communist China. The
cartoon is labeled, The Non-Player. In the same issue, the GDDT warned
its readers the war would be a long fight and last several years, but
given the will of our soldiers and the support of our home folks, we will succeed.
The next day, the paper reminded its readers that the war meant large expenditures of
money, supplies, and most importantly, lives. In all this, the paper thought that the
country was acting correctly. Sprinkled among the news accounts and editorials
about the war, the paper also included personal stories about local junior college
students running a soap collection drive to send to the needy South Vietnamese. Another
piece reported on a student referendum on the war at Delta State College in the nearby
town of Cleveland. Ninety percent of those who voted supported the war. In a December 3
editorial, the paper defended Johnsons strategy of a limited war. It reminded its
readers that the U.S. was not trying to fight a bloody and senseless war, and the country
was not trying to conquer North Vietnam. Instead, U.S. goals focused on securing peace and
democracy for the South Vietnamese. In the reporting of the battles, the editorials, and
personal pieces, the GDDT demonstrated its support for the war, mirroring the
sentiments of most of its readers.
The TDJ and the JDN covered the Ia Drang battle and ran similar articles
and editorials on the war effort. Both echoed the GDDTs sentiment that the
war would be bloody and protracted, but worth it. The war could be won, but it would take
sound policy and concentrated effort. The TDJ ran an October 8 UPI interview with a
South Vietnamese Army captain who urged the U.S. to realize that guns alone would not win
the war. The U.S. had to win the hearts and minds of the people, and convince them that
their best future lay with cooperation with the Americans, not the North Vietnamese. On
October 13, the paper ran an article on Senator John Stennis view of the war. In the
article, Stennis warned the state that the U.S. would be entrenched in Vietnam for up to
fifteen years, even if the shooting war ended before that. Stennis warned that the
United States alone could not continue to fight Communism alone. The TDJ
ran an editorial on November 16, U.S. Buildup No Assurance of Short War which
commented on the buildup of U.S. forces in Vietnam. The paper chastised Johnson and
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara for predicting how soon the war would end. The editorial
warned the worst and biggest involvement in the Vietnamese war is yet to come,
yet it noted that the U.S. had the power to contain the forces of Red China if she
chooses to do so. While urging American resolve over the war, the TDJ did not
shy away from criticizing the administration of the war or showing its bloody cost. On
October 31, the paper ran a front page article recording that U.S. artillery accidentally
fired on its own paratroopers, killing six and wounding three others.
Much more than the other two, the JDN ran daily wire service photographs of the
war. Readers could see pictures of wounded American troops, a dead American female
journalist lying face down in the grass, killed by a sniper. They also could see
baby-faced U.S. soldiers scouring for snipers in six foot high grass and others wading
across a river in neck-high water. None of the photographs of the wounded or dead showed
blood and gore, but they did show the personal cost of the war. The paper countered these
with editorials saluting the valor of the fighting man and personal pieces about a Vietnam
War blood drive at the University of Mississippi, 649 Pints of Blood Given for
Patriotism. On November 25, the paper published a piece entitled Referendum
Proves Girls Support the War, recording the vote on the war held at the Mississippi
State College for Women. In just over 1400 votes cast, 1368 girls voted to support
American forces in Viet Nam and their concerted efforts to combat communist
aggression. The JDN also published a story on November 14 on the horrors
suffered by the South Vietnamese people at the hands of North Vietnamese guerillas. The
paper also included stories of young soldiers who died in the line of duty. One young man
from the south Mississippi town of Forest wrote a letter to his cousin predicting his
death which came in battle on November 8. Like the GDDT and TDJ, the Jackson
paper published articles detailing the rising body counts of U.S. troops and articles
questioning the administration and pace of the war. Yet the paper did not question the war
itself. The JDNs support for the war ran consistent with the countrys
and the states. On November 21, the paper reported the latest Gallup Poll findings
that said 64% of the nation favored Americas involvement in Vietnam, up from 52% in
May. If these Mississippi newspapers accurately gauged public opinion in their
communities, and it appears they did, then these numbers would have been higher in
Jackson, Greenville, and Tupelo. The papers conservatism matched that of its
In 1965, these Mississippi newspapers paralleled the national media in its negative
portrayal of war protesters. As scholar Melvin Small has pointed out, the national press
contributed to the development of popular attitudes about antiwar activities.
His study revealed that the national press held mainstream moderate values and
thus reacted negatively to the prospect of disorder and to political rhetoric that
took the debate beyond the wings of either political party. His research rejected
the notion of a dovish press pushing the country out of Vietnam. The Mississippi papers
coverage of war protesters in 1965 echo Smalls arguments.
On November 1, the JDN printed an Associated Press article, Man in Viet
Nam Wants to Leave Too; but After the Job is Done. The articled commended those who
served in the muck, sweat, and blood of Vietnam, while hating everything about it. The
article served as a rebuke to those who resisted the draft. All three papers reported the
60 city wide protest in October, but dismissed the protestors through cartoons and
In his personal column, Covering the Crossroads JDN editor Jimmy
Ward called the war protestors kooky. On November 21, the JDN
editorialized about war protesters and draft card burners, saying they served no purpose
except to gain publicity and undermine the war effort. After a protest in Washington, D.C.
on November 24, the next days JDN revealed the papers views. The
headline called the protesters Vietniks and the counter protesters
Patriots. and Boosters of the U.S.
The TDJ argued that while people may disagree about the war, draft protesters
were too serious to ignore. The editorial argued that the protest involved
an international conspiracy to weaken the U.S. and needed to be prosecuted.
The GDDT reminded its readers that most soldiers in Vietnam didnt want to be
there, but they went and performed their duty. Avoiding the draft served as a
blatant disservice and disrespect to the United States. On October 19, the
paper editorialized that the most recent public opinion polls showed a greater desire to
pursue the war and that war demonstrators were actually giving more incentive to Communist
forces to fight than protect U.S. forces as the protesters claimed. On October 25, the GDDT
published an editorial cartoon by famous war cartoonist Bill Maudlin. The picture showed a
long haired war protester at a gas station. On the front his cars were the words
Dodge the Draft. He had embossed Peace on the door and Get out of
Vietnam signs stuck out of his back seat. While the protester dug in his pocket for
some money, two mechanics worked on his engine. One mechanic said to the other, He
says he must have burned his credit card by mistake. In response to the draft
protesters, the paper published an editorial praising the men who served in Vietnam. In an
October 26 editorial, the paper suggested that war protesters belonged spank in the
middle of a Viet Cong ambush to learn what the war was about. It suggested that
courses needed to be taught to young people instructing them what the country and the
fighting was about. The editorial said, An hour a day might help . . .
semi-traitors. Its worth a try.
These papers all agreed in 1965 that war protesters were dangerous and needed to repent
and support the country.
As the war moved into 1966, more questions arose about the war and a portion of the
countrys elites began to voice dissatisfaction with the wars effectiveness.
Mississippi papers, like the national media, reported this. In February 1966, the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Arkansas Senator William J. Fulbright, began to
hold public televised hearings on the war. On February 5, the TDJ published a
report on the hearings and Defense Secretary Robert McNamaras refusal to testify.
The report noted that several Senators rebuked him for his reticence and desire for
secrecy. The paper balanced this kind of reporting with a piece on B52 bomber pilot Nails
Floren and his squadrons desire to increase the bombing of North Vietnam. On
February 9, the paper printed a UPI report of the hearings and retired General James M.
Gavins testimony that a massive involvement in Vietnam was a mistake. Gavin
testified that a full involvement meant inevitable nuclear war with China. Also, if the
U.S. sent 700,000 troops to Vietnam, he surmised that China would open another front in
Korea. Again, the paper balanced a story like this with a piece on American medics helping
Vietnamese civilians and the medics overcoming the initial Vietnamese belief that the
Americans were devil dogs from the sea. On February 11, the paper published an
article on the views of George Kennan, the architect of the U.S. cold war policy of
containment. The report recorded Kennans report to the Armed Services Committee
hearings. Kennan suggested that the U.S. get out of Vietnam as gracefully and
orderly as possible. Like Gavin, Kennan feared a bigger escalation in Vietnam would
lead to a bigger war with Communist China. On February 17, a TDJ editorial
cautioned against an escalated bombing strategy against the North Vietnamese capital of
Hanoi. The editorial noted that at the time, Communist China and Russia were at odds with
each other, and that an increased bombing strategy might backfire and unite these rivals. William M. Hammond and Daniel Hallins
research revealed that the national media began to look negatively at the war as elite and
public opinion changed. These three papers were not ready to challenge the war in 1966,
but they reported the challenges raised by the elite, and this heralded the change in the
coverage of the war.
While the most conservative of the three papers, the JDN still used images that
revealed uncertainty and horror of war. On February 9, the paper placed a gripping picture
on its front page entitled, This Weary, Weary War. Whether or not this was the
intended purpose, this picture symbolized the pain, the frustration, and the emotional
toil brought on by the war. The photograph recorded a scene in the aftermath of a battle
between American forces and North Vietnamese guerillas in the village of Bong Son, 290
miles north of Vietnam. In the caption, an American soldier buries his face in one hand
while clutching his rifle in the other. Seated beside him is an old Vietnamese woman
clutching her tattered straw hat, her face lined with wrinkles and filled with misery. The
snapshot showed the cost the war was inflicting on all sides. A week earlier on February
2, the paper used another photograph to show the brutal nature of the war. In a picture
entitled, A Buddy Mourns, an eighteen year old Marine artilleryman stares
dully into space, contemplating the death of his twenty-one year old buddy. In 1966, the JDN
still supported the war, but it began to show some ambivalence about the nature of the
The most moderate of the three papers, the GDDT still pushed for the wars
continuation. On February 3, the paper included a piece from Senator John Stennis. Stennis
said whether or not America should have entered the war was a mute point. While opposed to
U.S. involvement as far back as 1956, Stennis pointed out that indecision and doubting had
no place in American thinking. The country need to press for a military
victory or achieve an honorable diplomatic settlement. The U.S. could
not just pull out its troops, for this would bring dishonor to our national purpose
and our national image. Stennis rejected the Johnsons administrations
view of engaging in a limited war. Stennis warned that total victory, which meant
escalated and widespread attack, stood as the only solution. Stennis prophesied if the
country lacked the nerve, then they faced a prolonged conflict of up to fifteen years. The
GDDT agreed with Stennis conclusions. The paper stated that it took no
pleasure over a more intense war, or the fact that escalation might lead to conflict with
China, not to mention that innocent civilians would die under U.S. bombs. The paper stated
that until a tolerable and peaceful solution could be found, we see no
we must fight. All three papers, while expressing displeasure about
aspects about war, still remained hawkish on the war.
This hawkish attitude continued into the late summer of 1966. On June 29, 1966, U.S.
bombers began to rain destruction on North Vietnamese oil depots near Hanoi and Haiphong.
To avoid alarming China and Russia, the Johnson administration refrained from sending in a
ground invasion force. All three dailies praised even this limited action. The TDJ
published a July 1 editorial entitled More to Gain than Lose by Bomb Raids.
The paper argued that the destruction of oil supplies could possibly speed up the end
of the war. Against the charge that the bombing would draw Russia and China into open
conflict, the editorial countered that a prolonged conflict would certainly draw them in.
The daily pointed out that the body count was continuing to rise and so too was the amount
of funds needed to subsidize the war. A rise in taxes seemed imminent by 1967. Yet, the
TDJ pointed out that the threat of Chinese or Russian intervention had existed since
day one of the war. Possibly the bombing would prove a short cut to victory. The country
needed decisive and concentrated action. To cut and run meant losing face, and if the
country stayed in the fight, at least they would know that we tried to curb
Communist expansion, which is about as good a reason for being in a war as we know.
By July 18, the paper opined that it appeared that neither China nor Russia would directly
enter the war. The editorial warned that as unlikely as it seemed, the dirt poor North
Vietnamese would continue to fight. While it might take a few more years, the paper
surmised that the U.S. forces would accomplish victory.
The JDN also published an editorial that commended the commencement of the
bombings; in fact the paper said they should have occurred much earlier. The daily
rejected the dovish attitude of Senators like William Fulbright. Against criticism of the
war, the JDN countered, The Communist respect strength and the use of it.
Thats the time they retreat. Yet, the editorial staff understood that the war
lay before country like a pit of quicksand. On July 14, the paper published a piece by
syndicated columnist Sylvia Porter entitled Nam Plagues Forecasters. Porter
reported that she had queried several experts about the countrys financial future.
She received nothing but conflicting prognostications. All the answers kept coming back
If Viet Nam. Porter concluded that Vietnam hovered like a black cloud over
every aspect over American life. She wrote in conclusion, Vietnam is Hell.
The GDDT weighed in on the intensification of the war. In a July 12 editorial,
the paper said the United States never sought to be the worlds policeman, but the
country would continue to meet its obligations to battle Communism that went all the way
back to Korea. Other countries may pull up stakes and go home and abandon United Nation
peace keeping goals in places like Korea, but the United States would stay the course in
Asia; whether it was pleasant or not. Leadership came at a price. In an editorial
Reflection of a Decadent Society, the paper challenged the notion
propagated by Communists, and strangely enough, ultra-conservatives in America, that
American young men lacked the patriotism, the courage, and the commitment to persevere in
combat. The GDDT rebuffed this view and said that American young men reflected
credit upon themselves and upon their nation day after dirty day in the jungles and
rice paddies of Vietnam. The editorial also rejected white supremacist who claimed
blacks were inferior and could not be competent soldiers, as well as the New
Left which argued that no black American should put his life on the line
for the imperial white man. All three
papers admitted that the war was confusing, disgusting, aggravating, and incurring a great
cost of men and materials, but in 1966, doves found no rest in their hawkish roosts.
Conventional wisdom today says that the media led the nation by its nose in eventual
protest against Johnson and the war. These Mississippi newspapers reveal otherwise.
The worm turned for President Johnson in regards to war sentiment by the fall of 1967.
In October, massive anti-war, anti-draft protests roiled across the nation, culminating in
a protest of over 50,000 in the nations capital. Many in Congress began to publicly
oppose the war. Numerous state governors began to publicly blast President Johnsons
handling of the war. More and more educational elites, novelists, and prominent physicians
spoke out against the war. Some Mississippians active in the military only gave left
handed compliments to Johnson and the war. In other words, they agreed to serve and
perform their duty, but they admitted they had no idea where the war was headed and what,
if anything, it would accomplish. As war sentiment increasingly turned sour, Mississippi
and national newspapers reported this. As the protest moved more into the mainstream, this
allowed newspapers to be more critical of the war. The papers followed the public, not the
other way around.
All three Mississippi dailies plastered the October protests on their front pages. The
front page headline of the October 17 JDN read Anti-Draft Demonstrations Loom
from Coast to Coast. The paper also included photos of protester and police clashes.
While reporting the protests, this did not mean that the JDN approved. In his
column, Covering the Crossroads, Editor Jimmy Ward reported on the national
teenage Future Farmers of America convention held in Kansas City during the same week of
the protests. Ward quoted these young high school student delegates disparaging the
hippie protesters. Ward claimed the future of the country lay in the
hands of the intelligent, mannered youngsters
not in the ranks of the unwashed,
beatnik element that so often makes the headlines. After the massive protest around
the Pentagon in late October, the GDDT published an editorial entitled, The
Washington Peace Demonstration. The editorial affirmed the protesters right to
dissent, but it rejected their attempt to shut down the Pentagon. This rejection of
authority could lead to anarchy. Yet, the editorial also added that many of protesters
were not fools, communists or anarchists, but good Americans who are sick of the war
and think our policy there is totally wrong. Obviously, these papers were not
banging the drum for withdrawal of Vietnam, but they did report that the anti-war
sentiment that was growing exponentially. As protest became more conventional, newspapers
grew in their questioning of the war. Even the JDN admitted that war only grew more
dark and confusing for the nation. On October 17, the JDN published an editorial
cartoon showing a giant question mark, embossed with the phrase What to do about
Vietnam, pinning President Johnson to the ground. Below the cartoon read the phrase,
Heavier and Heavier.
The papers also reported more and more politicians coming out in protest against the
war, or at least, against Johnsons running of it. All three reported of a refusal by
Republican governors, Robert Romney of Michigan, Ronald Reagan of California, and Nelson
Rockefeller of New York, to sign a resolution supporting Johnsons war
administration. Not only were students protesting the war, now top echelon politicians
dissented against what appeared to be a confused and murky war strategy. All three papers
mirrored this dissatisfaction with Johnsons intransigence, his constant craving of
approval, and his limited war strategies which seemed to only cause more bloodshed and
little sign of victory. In an October 26 editorial, the JDN chastised Johnson and
asked why he needed to be affirmed by the governors for umpty-umpth time. The
editorial surmised this obsessive desire for approval made him look less and less
like the masterful politician he is thought to be. On October 28, the paper noted
that 71% of the U.S. people in the latest Gallup poll desired more military involvement
from the South Vietnamese. That meant less involvement, and thus less danger for U.S.
troops. The paper editorialized that Johnson did not see the growing discontent. It noted
that while Johnson and his administration continued to claim success, popular
disenchantment with the war was reaching unprecedented heights.
The TDJ also reported on the Republican governors refusal to publicly
support Johnson and the draft protests. The paper ran photographs of police beating war
protesters from different venues. It also included a report on Theodore Sorenson and his
calling for a major change in Vietnam policy. Once a key adviser in the John F. Kennedy
administration, Sorenson said the U.S. should stop the bombing of North Vietnam, get the
United Nations involved in negotiations, and pull the majority of U.S. troops out of
Vietnam. On October 17, the daily published an editorial entitled, Congressional
Sell-Out No Guide for War. It rebuked many in Congress who had suddenly come out
against the war. The editorial offered respect for those who had consistently opposed the
war from early on, but ridiculed the late comers to the anti-war ranks who
were banking on their opposition to garner votes in the upcoming 1968 elections. While
chastising these congressmen, the paper admitted, We feel that the war in Vietnam is
sufficiently shadowy in purpose and in evidence of progress to justify honest differences
There may come a time, we feel, when a definite change of U.S. policy in
Vietnam is not only justified but almost essential. The editorial went on to report
that even North Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, had admitted that U.S. bombing had brought
great damage. While ambivalent about the wars aims, the paper urged the government
and the armed forces to keep up the pressure until definite signs of progress became
evident. The editorial warned that the North Vietnamese would no doubt keep fighting as
long as they saw U.S. Congressmen abandoning the war . On October 27 the paper published
an editorial, Bigger Saigon Role Key to US staying which commended the Saigon
government for lowering the draft age and cutting down on draft deferments. The piece
noted that the U.S. was growing tired of the high number of American casualties and the
amount of troops engaged in combat. On the other hand, a large number of Vietnamese had
grown tired of the number of Americans in the country. The paper noted that Americans
would support the war for another year only if American casualties are reduced
greatly. The paper reminded its readers that every time the U.S. escalated its
presence, the South Vietnamese shrank more into the background. If the conflict remained a
guerilla war, then the fighting belonged to the South Vietnamese, not America. Once again, the papers
dissatisfaction with the war reflected the groundswell of public frustration. The paper
did not create the frustration, it only reported it.
The GDDT proved to be most stout critic of Johnson and the prosecution of the
war by October 1967. Like the JDN and the TDJ, the paper published reports
of the war protests, as well as reports concerning gubernatorial and congressional
frustration with the war. The paper also reported thousands across America who came out in
recognition of the militarys service in an October 23 article. Labeled,
Operation Gratitude, over 100,000 alone in New York and New Jersey marched in
honor of the young men and women serving in Vietnam. In the same edition, the paper
published an AP report on Johnsons anger over the war protests. The October 25
publication reported that 300 writers, editors wont pay war tax.
Novelist and World War II veteran Norman Mailer, along with famous baby doctor Benjamin
Spock joined other elites in their refusal to pay a proposed ten percent tax surcharge
that would go to Vietnam. The paper showed that many supported the troops, but a growing
number of Americans rejected the war. In an October 26 editorial, After the
Demonstration, More Escalation, the paper said that Johnson capitalized on the
excesses of war protesters to push the nation toward all out war. To the editorial staff,
this reeked of hubris and stupidity. The editorial asked what else beside population
centers and flood dikes did the North Vietnamese have to be bombed? More and more U.S.
troops were dying. The South Vietnamese administration appeared to be incompetent bunglers
who boasted of more direct involvement, but the paper mocked this assertion. The paper
thought Johnsons policies were hopeless and decided, There is apparently no
hope for any other kind of solution so long as this administration remains in power.
The article urged peace at home and peace abroad and hoped a Republican administration
could effect positive changes.
The GDDT also let Mississippi veterans express their frustration. In an October
26 article, the paper reported on a speech by Lieutenant Governor-elect Charles Sullivan.
Sullivan also served in the Mississippi Air National Guard. Sullivan served in Vietnam,
and flew dead soldiers back to the United States. What struck him the most were the stacks
of gray coffins that were filled with the countrys brightest. He said the war was
the countrys obligation, even if most the soldiers did not really know why they
fighting or what they were fighting for. Sullivan said that since Korea, the country had
developed the negative attitude that it would fight wars, but not to win. Regardless of
the rightness or wrongness of the war, the United States had to fulfill its commitments.
Obviously the paper admired the duty of one such as Sullivan, but from its editorials and
other articles, it became clear that the paper had come to see the war as a bloody
This is further seen in a veterans personal account published in the October 29
edition. In an article entitled, When GIs talk among GIs, the war
isnt worth dying in, a Greenville native and soldier told of his experiences
in Vietnam. Dial Parrottt, a 1962 graduate of Greenville High School and later Princeton
University, said a great disparity existed between American governments official
pronouncements and the reality for the troops on the ground. Parrott said U.S. troops
proved more than willing to fight for their country, but contrary to government
pronouncements, the random soldier was not fighting for the liberty of the Vietnamese.
Parrott bluntly stated that most American troops did not view the indigenous population as
Vietnamese but only as Gooks. To Parrott and his peers, the epithet
Gooks connoted backwardness, dirtiness, and general second-class status
in the human race. Parrott mocked the army of the South Vietnamese, pointing out
their impotence and unwillingness to fight. He said the average U.S. soldier suspected
almost every Vietnamese of being Charlie, code name for the enemy. He also
noted that most Gooks looked at all Americans with suspicion and envy. Despite
government claims of a partnership between U.S. and Vietnamese forces verses Communism,
Parrott thought that most Vietnamese did not give a damn about the war effort. These two Mississippians did not match the
kook description by JDN editor Jimmy Ward. One served as Lieutenant
Governor and the other graduated from an elite Ivy League school. The GDDT began to
question the war because Mississippians questioned or outright rejected the projections of
the official administration.
The North Vietnamese gave further evidence of their intransigence with a surprise
attack on January 30, 1968 during the Vietnamese holiday of Tet. Catching U.S. and South
Vietnamese forces totally off-guard, Viet Cong guerillas attacked several key cities and
provinces. Their attack in Saigon also stunned American forces. Yet, superiority in U.S.
firepower quickly turned the tide of battle and inflicted some major damage on the North
Vietnamese. By the fourth day of February, North Vietnamese forces suffered almost 13,000
dead and U.S. losses totaled over 300. Conventional wisdom points to Tet as a huge
momentum builder for the North Vietnamese and a major factor that turned Americans against
the war. However, we have seen that the anti-war sentiment across several fronts was
already growing before Tet. While the JDN reported the administration belief that
U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were crushing the surprise attack, the paper also
published an AP retrospective on the Vietnamese ousting of the French back in 1954. The
report said that Americans had to give grudging admiration to the Viet Cong, nick-named
Victor Charley. The article intimated that just as the French met an intractable foe in
1954, the U.S. was finding the North Vietnamese just as intractable in 1968.
After ten days of fighting, the JDN published an editorial cartoon with that
shows Uncle Sams head poked through a hole in a canvas target like at a county
fair. At his feet are three balls. Each had found their target. One gave Uncle Sam a black
eye labeled France. Two bumps stuck out on his head, one labeled North
Korea and the other Viet Cong. The caption at the bottom of the cartoon
read, How much more? On February 9 the paper published an interview with
pollster George Gallup. Gallup said his poll found Americans confused, disillusioned
and cynical and they wanted to desperately find a way to resolve international
problem without going to war. Gallup said only a handful of Americans wanted a
complete pullout from Vietnam or end the war by dropping nuclear bombs, yet seventy
percent wanted the South Vietnamese to increase their amount of soldiers. This in turn
would lead to the U.S. phasing out our own operations. Gallup said
Americans dissatisfaction stemmed from the belief that the country had inadequate
leadership; in other words, Johnson and his administration. Gallup and the survey of these
three dailys coverage of the war show that Americans turned against the war, not
because of a dovish press, but because of a flawed war strategy and a flawed president.
In the same vein, the TDJ and the GDDT ran daily front page stories on
the Tet offensive. The GDDT, now convinced that public opinion had turned against
the war, left no doubt about its views. A day after the Tet offensive occurred, the paper
ran an editorial entitled The Communist Offensive. While admitting the
immediate necessity of crushing the attack to have any chance for peace, the editorial
admitted, This is a war which increasingly we find abhorrent. By February 4,
the paper printed three syndicated columns with the titles, US Should Adjust to
Reality that Viet War is Unwinnable; The Reality of Vietnam Situation is that We
Cant Win: Period; US has been Involved in Vietnam for 18 Years; No End in
Sight. The paper left no doubt concerning its sentiment. In the one of the last
issues reviewed, the paper included a Bill Maudlin cartoon showing Johnson in military
fatigues, carrying an M16 rifle. Johnsons helmet jumps off in his surprise at a
voice behind him. The voice belongs to North Vietnames leader Ho Chi Minh dressed as a
Viet Cong guerilla. Ho Chi Minh says to the shocked Johnson, Come Let Us Reason
Together. Papers like the GDDT, the TDJ, and the JDN did not
turn its readers against the war. The American public, nationally and locally turned
against the war, and a press committed to mainstream thought followed their lead.
As veteran Bennie Brown mused, Mississippi stood as a bastion of conservatism in the
1960s. Mississippi newspapers mirrored the sentiments of their readers. Overwhelmingly
positive about the war in 1964, all three questioned the nature and direction of the war
in 1968. Yet these papers did not sway their readers, their readers and the nation swayed
 Vietnam War veterans remember
their own, Jackson Clarion Ledger 2 November 1982. During the 1960s, the Clarion
Ledger and Jackson Daily News were sister papers, owned by the same company. In
the 1980s, the Jackson Daily News merged with the Clarion Ledger.
 Anger fades: Vietnam vets relive
era, Hattiesburg American, 21 April 1985.
 Daniel Hallin, The Media, the War
in Vietnam, and Political Support: A Critique of the Thesis of an Oppositional
Media, Journal of Politics 46 (February 1984), 2-24, The Uncensored War:
The Media and Vietnam (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1989); William
C. Hammond, Public Affairs: The Military and the Media: 1962-1968 (Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1989), Public Affairs: The Military and the
Media: 1968-1973, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1996), Reporting
Vietnam: Media and Military at War (Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1998);
Oscar Peterson III, Televisions Living Room War in Print: Vietnam in News
Magazines, Journalism Quarterly 61 (1984), 35-39, 136; see also Melvin Small,
Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-War Movement (New Brunswick, New Jersey:
Rutgers University Press, 1994); James Landers, The Weekly War: Newsmagazines and Vietnam
(Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004).
 Vietnam War veterans remember
their own, Jackson Clarion Ledger 2 November 1982; For the rest of this work,
all three papers will be referred to with initials, GDDT for Greenville Delta-Democrat
Times, TDJ for Tupelo Daily Journal, and JDN for Jackson Daily News.
 Frank Constigliola, Reading for
Theory, Language, and Metaphor, Michael J. Hogan and Thomas G. Paterson, eds., Explaining
the History of American Foreign Relations, 2nd edition (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2004), 279-281; David R. Davies, Introduction in David R.
Davies, ed., The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement
(Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 11.
 Ibid, 13.
 "Should repel armed attack, Stennis
says" Bob Howie, Editorial cartoons, Jackson Daily News, 6, 10, 12 August 1964.
What actually happened was something quite different from what the media and much of
Congress was led to believe, See "The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 40 Years Later: Flawed
Intelligence and the Decision for War in Vietnam," National Security Archive.
 Greenville Delta-Democrat Times, 2, 6 August 1964.
 Tupelo Daily Journal, 5 August
 Greenville Delta Democrat-Times,
8 October, 25, 26, 28, 29 November, 3 December 1965.
 Tupelo Daily Journal 8, 13, 31
October, 16 November 1965.
 Jackson Daily News 4,5,8,10,
11, 14, 1965 (photos); 5, 14, 19, 25 November 1965(articles).
 Melvin Small, Covering Dissent:
The Media and the Anti-War Movement (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University
Press, 1994), 2, 167-168.
 Jackson Daily News, 1, 21, 25 November 1965.
 Tupelo Daily Journal, 21 October 1965; Greenville Delta Democrat-Times,
8, 19, 25 26 October, 17 November (editorial praising troops).
 Tupelo Daily Journal, 2,5, 10,
11, 17 February 1966; see also Jackson Daily News 8 February 1966 for Gavin
testimony and McNamaras refusal to testify during the Armed Services Comm. Hearings.
 Jackson Daily News 2, 9
 Greenville Delta Democrat-Times 3,
8 February 1966.
 Tupelo Daily Journal, 1, 18
 Jackson Daily News, 1, 14
 Greenville Delta Democrat-Times,
12, 25 1966.
 Jackson Daily News, 17, 22
1967; Greenville Delta Democrat-Times, 23 October 1967.
 Jackson Daily News, 17, 26, 28
 Tupelo Daily Journal, 16, 17,
20, 22, 27 October 1967.
 Greenville Delta Democrat-Times,
19, 23, 25, 26 October 1967.
 Ibid, 26 October 1967.
 Ibid, 29 October 1967.
 Jackson Daily News 2, 4 February 1968.
 Ibid, 8,9 February 1968. In the cartoon, North Korea refers to the North Korean
capture and imprisonment of men from the USS Pueblo
 Greenville Delta Democrat-Times, 31 January, 4, 6 February 1968.
Greenville Delta Democrat-Times, 1964-1968.
Hattiesburg American, 1985.
Jackson Clarion Ledger, 1983.
Jackson Daily News, 1964-1968
Tupelo Daily Journal, 1964-1968.
Davies, David R. Introduction, in David R. Davies, ed. The Press and
Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement. Jackson, Miss.: University Press
of Mississippi, 2001, 3-15.
Hallin, Daniel. The Media, the War in Vietnam, and Political Support: A Critique of
the Thesis of an Oppositional Media. Journal of Politics 46 (February 1984):
__________. The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. Berkley, Calif.: University
of California Press, 1989.
Hammond, William C. Public Affairs: The Military and the Media: 1962-1968.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1989.
__________. Public Affairs: The Military and the Media: 1968-1973. Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1996.
__________. Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War. Lawrence, Kan.:
University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Landers, James. The Weekly War: Newsmagazines and Vietnam. Columbia, Mo.: University of
Missouri Press, 2004.
Peterson, III, Oscar. Televisions Living Room War in Print: Vietnam in News
Magazines. Journalism Quarterly 61 (1984): 29-35, 136.
Small, Melvin. Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-War Movement. (New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994.