We are told by careful pollsters that half of the American people believe that American troops should be brought home from Iraq immediately. This news discourages supporters of our efforts there. Not me, though: I am relieved. Given press coverage of our efforts in Iraq, I am surprised that 90% of the public do not want us out right now.
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2005, nearly 1,400 stories appeared on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news. More than half focused on the costs and problems of the war, four times as many as those that discussed the successes. About 40% of the stories reported terrorist attacks; scarcely any reported the triumphs of American soldiers and Marines. The few positive stories about progress in Iraq were just a small fraction of all the broadcasts.
Obviously from that, you know where he's going with this. But this isn't another superficial 750 word "media bias" article. Wilson spends a few more words and goes to much more depth than is usual for these types of opinion pieces. And he throws some interesting numbers at you immediately which certainly grab your attention:
When the Center for Media and Public Affairs made a nonpartisan evaluation of network news broadcasts, it found that during the active war against Saddam Hussein, 51% of the reports about the conflict were negative. Six months after the land battle ended, 77% were negative; in the 2004 general election, 89% were negative; by the spring of 2006, 94% were negative. This decline in media support was much faster than during Korea or Vietnam.
What I found especially interesting about the numbers quoted was the fact that even in the beginning, by a slim majority, most of the stories were considered negative. Even with the embeds. Now obviously, with a majority that slim, an argument could be made that some of the coverage was mischaracterized as negative when at worst they were neutral or, perhaps, positive. But having been a proponent of this war and having read about it daily since 2003, overall I agree with the assessment.
Wilson does a comparison about war coverage today by using WWII as the stage and then covering that war as the media have covered Iraq. The point is well made. So what has fomented this change? In a word, Vietnam:
What caused this profound change? Like many liberals and conservatives, I believe that our Vietnam experience created new media attitudes that have continued down to the present. During that war, some reporters began their coverage supportive of the struggle, but that view did not last long. Many people will recall the CBS television program, narrated by Morley Safer, about U.S. Marines using cigarette lighters to torch huts in Cam Ne in 1965. Many will remember the picture of a South Vietnamese officer shooting a captured Viet Cong through the head. Hardly anyone can forget the My Lai story that ran for about a year after a journalist reported that American troops had killed many residents of that village.
Undoubtedly, similar events occurred in World War II, but the press didn't cover them. In Vietnam, however, key reporters thought that the Cam Ne story was splendid. David Halberstam said that it "legitimized pessimistic reporting" and would show that "there was something terribly wrong going on out there." The film, he wrote, shattered American "innocence" and raised questions about "who we were."
The changes came to a head in January 1968, when Communist forces during the Tet holiday launched a major attack on South Vietnamese cities. According to virtually every competent observer, these forces met a sharp defeat, but American press accounts described Tet instead as a major communist victory. Washington Post reporter Peter Braestrup later published a book in which he explained the failure of the press to report the Tet offensive accurately. His summary: "Rarely has contemporary crisis-journalism turned out, in retrospect, to have veered so widely from reality."
Even as the facts became clearer, the press did not correct its false report that the North Vietnamese had won. When NBC News producer Robert Northshield was asked at the end of 1968 whether the network should put on a news show indicating that American and South Vietnamese troops had won, he rejected the idea, because Tet was already "established in the public's mind as a defeat, and therefore it was an American defeat."
In the opinion of Mr. Braestrup, the news failure resulted not from ideology but from economic and managerial constraints on the press—and in his view it had no material effect on American public opinion.
But didn't it? I certainly remember vividly the barrage of nightly Vietnam news, specials, news reports about protests, you name it. As Wilson points out, 100 generals who served in Vietnam said that the vast majority of television coverage "on balance lacked context and was sensational or counterproductive.
A more objective analysis seemed to back their claim:
An analysis of CBS's Vietnam coverage in 1972 and 1973 supports their views. The Institute for American Strategy found that, of about 800 references to American policy and behavior, 81% were critical. Of 164 references to North Vietnamese policy and behavior, 57% were supportive. Another study, by a scholar skeptical about the extent of media influence, showed that televised editorial comments before Tet were favorable to our presence by a ratio of 4 to 1; after Tet, they were 2 to 1 against the American government's policy.
And using Tet as the turning point in the war, how did these ratios of coverage effect the readership and viewership?
Opinion polls taken in 1968 suggest that before the press reports on the Tet offensive, 28% of the public identified themselves as doves; by March, after the offensive was over, 42% said they were doves.
Sociologist James D. Wright directly measured the impact of press coverage by comparing the support for the war among white people of various social classes who read newspapers and news magazines with the support found among those who did not look at these periodicals very much. By 1968, when most newsmagazines and newspapers had changed from supporting the war to opposing it, backing for the war collapsed among upper-middle-class readers of news stories, from about two-thirds who supported it in 1964 to about one-third who supported it in 1968. Strikingly, opinion did not shift much among working-class voters, no matter whether they read these press accounts or not. Affluent people who read the press apparently have more changeable opinions than ordinary folks. Public opinion may not have changed much, but elite opinion changed greatly.
Some interesting correlation, certainly. And it is hard, really, to dispute it had an effect given the swing in public opinion from for to against the war coinciding so well with that of the media.
Wilson covers three of the favorite myths which have come to be blamed for the change in the attitudes of the media and eventually the public. The first myth that media technology had changed to such a degree that for the first time a mass audience could watch a war. He finds that argument fairly shallow and points to the fact that prior to Tet, even with the technology, public support for the war had increased.
Secondly was the myth that Vietnam was a war conducted without censorship so audiences saw the raw war instead of the more sanitized version. Again, not persuasive.
Thirdly, the context and sensationalism of which the generals complained were due to the fact that few if any journalists had any military training. But S.L.A. Marshall, one of the few veteran correspondents from WWII noted a completely different reason:
One veteran reporter, S.L.A. Marshall, put the real difference this way: once upon a time, "the American correspondent . . . was an American first, a correspondent second." But in Vietnam, that attitude shifted. An older journalist in Vietnam, who had covered the Second World War, lamented the bitter divisions among the reporters in Saigon, where there were "two camps": "those who wanted to win the war and those who wanted to lose it." The new reporters filed exciting, irreverent copy, which made it to the front pages; the veteran reporters' copy ended up buried way in back.
That became the big difference then, and it is Wilson's premise that remains one of the primary differences now. And before anyone goes off on a "patriotism" jag, that isn't his point. It's a difference in priorities. And those priorities shape how correspondents see and relate the news. I don't necessarily agree with Marshall's claim that one side wanted the US to lose, but winning wasn't as big a priority to them as was the story.
Wilson, after entertaining those three myths then turns to what he characterizes as three "more plausible explanation's:"
The first is the weak and ambivalent political leadership that American presidents brought to Vietnam; the second is the existence in the country of a vocal radical movement; and the third is the change that has occurred in the control of media organizations.
First, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson both wanted to avoid losing Vietnam without waging a major war in Asia. Kennedy tried to deny that Americans were fighting. A cable that his administration sent in 1962 instructed diplomats and soldiers never to imply to reporters any "all-out U.S. involvement." Other messages stressed that "this is not a U.S. war." When David Halberstam of the New York Times wrote stories criticizing the South Vietnamese government, Kennedy tried to have him fired because he was calling attention to a war that we did not want to admit we were fighting.
Johnson was willing to say that we were fighting, but without any cost and with rosy prospects for an early victory. He sought to avoid losing by contradictory efforts to appease doves (by bombing halts and peace feelers), satisfy hawks (with more troops and more bombing), and control the tactical details of the war from the Oval Office. After the Cam Ne report from Morley Safer, Johnson called the head of CBS and berated him in language I will not repeat here.
When Richard Nixon became president, he wanted to end the war by pulling out American troops, and he did so. None of the three presidents wanted to win, but all wanted to report "progress." All three administrations instructed military commanders always to report gains and rely on suspect body counts as a way of measuring progress. The press quickly understood that they could not trust politicians and high-level military officers.
Second, unlike either World War II or the Korean conflict, there was a radical peace movement in America, much of it growing out of the New Left. There has been domestic opposition to most of our wars (Karlyn Bowman and I have estimated the size of the "peace party" to be about one-fifth of the electorate), but to this latent public resistance was added a broad critique of American society that opposed the war as not only wrong as policy but immoral and genocidal—and, to college students, a threat to their exemption from the draft. Famous opponents of the war traveled to Hanoi to report on North Vietnam. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said that there was neither crime nor internal conflict there. Father Daniel Berrigan described the North Vietnamese people as having a "naive faith in human goodness." Author Mary McCarthy said these folks had "grace" because they lacked any sense of "alienation."
I repeated for the Iraq War the analysis that Professor Wright had done of the impact of the media on public opinion during the Vietnam War. Using 2004 poll data, I found a similar effect: Americans who rarely watched television news about the 2004 political campaign were much more supportive of the war in Iraq than were those who watched a great deal of TV news. And the falloff in support was greatest for those with a college education.
Third, control of the press had shifted away from owners and publishers to editors and reporters. During the Spanish-American War, the sensationalist press, led by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, and Joseph Medill's Chicago Tribune all actively supported the war. Hearst felt, perhaps accurately, that he had helped cause it. His New York paper printed this headline: "How Do You Like the Journal's War?" Even the New York Times supported the Spanish-American War, editorializing that the Anti-Imperialist League was treasonable and later that the Filipinos "have chosen a bloody way to demonstrate their incapacity for self-government."
Today, strong owners are almost all gone. When Henry Luce died, Time magazine's support for an assertive American foreign policy died with him. William Paley had worked hard to make CBS a supporter of the Vietnam War, but he could not prevent Walter Cronkite from making his famous statement, on the evening news show of Feb. 19, 1968, that the war had become a "stalemate" that had to be ended, and so we must "negotiate." On hearing these remarks, President Johnson decided that the country would no longer support the war and that he should not run for reelection. Over three decades later, Mr. Cronkite made the same mistake: We must, he said, get out of Iraq now.
In other words, Wilson is saying a unique set of circumstances joined to make coverage in Vietnam different than any other war in which we'd engaged. Journalists and reporters surveyed a different landscape and adapted. That adaptation created different priorities and eventually different attitudes, which, it appears, still exist today. Time moves forward, not backward, and the old vets of today covered Vietnam, not WWII. As Wilson points out:
These three factors worked in concert and have carried down to the present. The ambivalent political leadership of three presidents during Vietnam made the press distrust American leaders, even when, as during the Iraq War, political leadership has been strong. The New Left movement in the 1960s and 1970s slowly abandoned many of its slogans but left its legacy in much of the press and Democratic Party elites. The emergence of journalism as a craft independent of corporate owners reinforced these trends. As one journalist wrote, reporters "had come to reject the idea that they were in any sense part of the American 'team.' " This development happened slowly in Vietnam. Journalists reported most events favorably for the American side from August 1965 to January 1968, but that attitude began shifting with press coverage of Sen. J. William Fulbright's hostile Senate hearings and climaxed with the Tet offensive in January 1968. Thereafter, reporters and editors increasingly shared a distrust of government officials, an inclination to look for coverups, and a willingness to believe that the government acted out of bad motives.
The rejection of that idea by journalists was reinforced by the increasing rejection of journalists by the military of Vietnam. Their distrust of government was returned by government as a distrust of journalists. A distinct and distrustful adversarial relationship grew from that.
But what about today? Is there a difference?
Wilson makes the argument that yes there is a difference, and that difference is that bias, which was previously tempered because the nature of the media of the day required it appeal to a broad or mass audience, that constraint is rapidly disappearing given the nature of news reporting today:
Reporters and editors today are overwhelmingly liberal politically, as studies of the attitudes of key members of the press have repeatedly shown. Should you doubt these findings, recall the statement of Daniel Okrent, then the public editor at the New York Times. Under the headline, "Is the New York times a Liberal Newspaper?," Mr. Okrent's first sentence was, "Of course it is."
What has been at issue is whether media politics affects media writing. Certainly, that began to happen noticeably in the Vietnam years. And thereafter, the press could still support an American war waged by a Democratic president. In 1992, for example, newspapers denounced President George H.W. Bush for having ignored the creation of concentration camps in Bosnia, and they later supported President Clinton when he ordered bombing raids there and in Kosovo. When one strike killed some innocent refugees, the New York Times said that it would be a "tragedy" to "slacken the bombardment." These air attacks violated what passes for international law (under the U.N. Charter, people can only go to war for immediate self-defense or under U.N. authorization). But these supposedly "illegal" air raids did not prevent Times support. Today, by contrast, the Times criticizes our Guantanamo Bay detention camp for being in violation of "international law."
But in the Vietnam era, an important restraint on sectarian partisanship still operated: the mass media catered to a mass audience and hence had an economic interest in appealing to as broad a public as possible. Today, however, we are in the midst of a fierce competition among media outlets, with newspapers trying, not very successfully, to survive against 24/7 TV and radio news coverage and the Internet. As a consequence of this struggle, radio, magazines, and newspapers are engaged in niche marketing, seeking to mobilize not a broad market but a specialized one, either liberal or conservative.
He wraps this up by saying:
Most of what I have said here is common knowledge. But it is common knowledge about a new period in American journalistic history. Once, powerful press owners dictated what their papers would print, sometimes irresponsibly. But that era of partisan and circulation-building distortions was not replaced by a commitment to objective journalism; it was replaced by a deep suspicion of the American government. That suspicion, fueled in part by the Vietnam and Watergate controversies, means that the government, especially if it is a conservative one, is surrounded by journalists who doubt almost all it says. One obvious result is that since World War II there have been few reports of military heroes; indeed, there have been scarcely any reports of military victories.
We now come to the importance that the changes in journalism Wilson outlines have for the future. They change much of the paradigm that existed before since instead of an interested spectator, journalism and reporting in general have become a possible target of our enemies:
This change in the media is not a transitory one that will give way to a return to the support of our military when it fights. Journalism, like so much scholarship, now dwells in a postmodern age in which truth is hard to find and statements merely serve someones interests.
The mainstream media's adversarial stance, both here and abroad, means that whenever a foreign enemy challenges us, he will know that his objective will be to win the battle not on some faraway bit of land but among the people who determine what we read and watch. We won the Second World War in Europe and Japan, but we lost in Vietnam and are in danger of losing in Iraq and Lebanon in the newspapers, magazines and television programs we enjoy.
Like I said, and interesting take and one well worth thinking about. If he's right, the implications are pretty disturbing for any future conflict and how the media will (and in some case "must") be viewed by the government and military.
1) the media will be too lenient on the government during the countdown to the launching of military force. The media LOVES to run scare headlines and overdramatize things. When there is no fight, they’ll make the potential military target look scarier than they are, and when there’s a war they’ll make it look as dramatic as possible;
2) the media will treat the initial phases as "we now bring you some cool footage of a bunch of stuff getting blown up;" and
3) the military and government will lie their asses off regarding the war. If things are going very badly, they’ll never admit it.
"Media Bias" has been whined about to no end making it a dirty word in a sense. Doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
But what is described is beyond bias. Bias indicates some coloring of events unintentionally. Bias is too benign a word to describe what takes place today. This is conscious manipulation of the public.
The ambivalent political leadership of three presidents during Vietnam made the press distrust American leaders, even when, as during the Iraq War, political leadership has been strong.
They let Al Qaeda/Baathists infiltrate from Syria and WMD exfiltrate to Syria, without ever acting against Syria. They let IEDs in from Iran and Sadrists out to training with Iran, without ever acting against Iran. Now there is a conflict in place between Al Qaeda/Baathists and the Mahdi army. I do not understand how it is strong to let Syria and Iran determine the rate of killing in Iraq. To me it seems that the administration is ambivalent to the actions of Syria and Iran.
If you command the greatest of military hyper-powers and cannot defeat 2 third world countries perhaps your actions may find less favor in the press than those of a commander who defeated 2 military giants simultaneously simply due to your actions being less worthy. It is not biased to denigrate America’s failure to defeat the Sunni and Shia militia inside of three years, especially not in comparison to America defeating Imperial Japan and the Third Reich in an identical length of time.
Hopefully, our leaders will recognize what the American people and the American military has believed all along... War is a bad idea, in very way that something can be a bad idea, and you don’t do it unless you have to.
You get attacked, you attack back, hard.
Otherwise, diplomacy, and maybe an occasional bombing raid or cruise missile.
The doctrine of pre-emption should be put on the ash heap of history as one of the worst ideas among some extraordinarily bad ideas.
If there are any honest war supporters out there, they would have to admit that the people who brought us this war believed that it was going to be a political winner. They may or may not have had honest opinions about the benefits that a stable democracy in Iraq could have been to America, but there can be no doubt that they thought this was going to make them popular.
"You don’t roll out a new product before Labor Day."
Cos hurting those poor, misguided enemy combatants is so unhumanitarian y’know. Let’s just fight a war where we all just wait for them to stop attacking us, sure if we stay the course and wait for long enough it’s bound to happen - right?
The obvious implications seem to be that the West can no longer win extended military conflicts. Which means: A) We lose overall; or B) military force will now have to be applied so quickly and with such devestating force that military objectives will be met before the press has time to react and change public opinion and by extension military tactics. Instead of taking 6 months or a year to establish law and order or clean out some village, you level the place with less discrimination as quickly as possible. You meet your goals and take the lumps in the press afterwards. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to meet necessary objectives.
Oy vey, I didn’t think I needed to be this specific. I’ll restate my previous point for those that ignore the obvious.
You get attacked, you attack back, hard, just make sure to attack the people who ATTACKED YOU
And you notice that the war in the home of the actual attackers is NOT the subject of the current debate. It should be, but it’s not. And the current debate should be about doing MORE to prevent Afghanistan from CONTINUING TO BE A FAILED STATE.
With 20/20 hindsight, Iraq looks fairly unnecessary (except what would happen if sanctions had been dropped, etc. etc.) but that’s easy to decide on Monday morning. Keep in mind, TONY BLAIR was a big supporter, and I don’t think it was for electoral reasons. 2002 is very different from 2006.
Imagine if we had not taken out Saddam and had about 5 major attacks in the USA each year since. Even with 0 evidence of any link to Iraq, I bet the Democrats would be screaming about incompetent Bush not taking out Iraq. (see their arguments about Iran and North Korea.)
Also, I think no matter how many men, material, and money we pour into Afghanistan, you will not change the Pashtun culture anytime soon. We’re pretty much should be planning to be there for a long time just as a terror fire brigade.
Right, because bombing raids and cruise missiles aren’t acts of war.
Well, no, when you whack some tents and camels and an aspirin factory in countries that can’t possibly respond to the attack, it’s not an act of war. Just like when a bully pushes over a kid in a wheelchair we don’t call it a fight.
Those are only acts of war if you do them to people with armies that can strike back. Isn’t it great that Sudan didn’t have a defensive alliance with someone big? And they sure were effective weren’t they! That aspirin factory was never able to plan or launch another terrorist attack on us, we showed that plant manager, but good. And those camels, well, they sure were thinking twice before plotting an embassy bombing or attacking a US war ship. Those attacks made us look strong, determined and in charge, not large, lumbering, foolish and ineffective.
I think you have me confused with someone who is morally opposed to war or acts of war. I’m not.
No, I haven’t. But you seem to be confused over what you believe. I’ll put a finer point on it for you.
War is a bad idea, in very way that something can be a bad idea, and you don’t do it unless you have to.
You get attacked, you attack back, hard.
Otherwise, diplomacy, and maybe an occasional bombing raid or cruise missile.
The doctrine of pre-emption should be put on the ash heap of history as one of the worst ideas among some extraordinarily bad ideas.
I was merely pointint out that bombing a country or launching cruise missiles into it are acts of war...but you just said that war is a very bad thing, and you should go all once in it. Why pussyfoot around with a remote bombing raid?
Secondly, bombing a nation or launching cruise missiles into it are certainly acts of pre-emption.
So, you are advocating a country should go all-out in war — unless it just wants to lob a few missiles — and that attacking first to reduce your enemy’s ability to attack you is a very bad thing — unless, of course, you just want to lob a few missiles.
This exchange skipped over the primary question: what is the role of the press ?
This post presents a goal-oriented analysis of the role of the press: Since we want to win a war, the media should not do anything that might impede that drive. That smacks too much of reporting by propoganda. In fact, the press should report what it sees: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Keep in mind that when the press reports bad news more than good news, it’s just in the nature of news reporting. It’s impossible to report on car accidents that DIDN’T happen.
Also, there is plenty of ’good news’ reporting that isn’t counted in these anayses. See the parades with flags waving and crowds cheering; see the President’s speeches; see the timely reports by administration officials, etc.
In war or in peace, the administration presents its case for a policy decision. Since it’s goal is to ’sell’ the riegteousness of their decisions, the administration is not going to lay out the negative or contradictory aspects in any detail, if at all. We have to rely on the media to check out the administration’s claims. My instinct tells me that the more secretive, obfuscating, and controlling the administration is, the more bias in the press it creates, as they uncover the gaps between government claims and contradictiony evidence. Secrecy breeds suspicion: what are they hiding?
A sceptical press is necessary to unravel what our government is up to. ’My country right or worng’ allows for no course correction when the country is dead set on the wrong choice. History past and current is riddled with horrors that happen when the media can’t report the bad news.
Railing against the media is useless. even dangerous. A free press is a necessary cog in the messiness that is democracy. It’s amazing how no one ever screams about ’media bias’ when that bias bends their way.
It’s amazing how no one ever screams about ’media bias’ when that bias bends their way.
Oh, trust me, if the media were spinning propaganda like Baghdad Bob spewed during the attack on Iraq you’d hear from me.
You have to ask yourself if we can ever conduct a prolonged war without the media being in lock step with the administration. If they’re not, you ARE going to get the relentless drumbeats well past the point at which the drum was needed. Take the NYT and Abu Gharib - it was ALL Abu Gharib, ALL the time, for quite a long time past the point where it was necessary. Is Iraq all roses and cheery smiles and did the Administration go a long way towards screwing the pooch? NO, and YES. Should we be concerned that we properly dealt with Abu Gharib - yes we should. Should it have been all the news, all the time? - no.
On the flip side Are they helping the terrorists/jihadi’s/insurgents? Yes. Those messages are coming across loud and clear, resistance isn’t futile, resistance is successful, keep at it, you’re wearing us down. Published daily in large papers across the country.
Can you even begin to imagine the media reporting on Okinawa, Tarawa, Quadacanal, or the Ardenne in 1944 today? Please. The Russians would have had to finish off the Germans without us, and the Japanese could probably have sued for peace as Imperial Japan. It’s not just the effect on the people at home you have to count, it’s the boost the enemy gets from OUR papers too.
There collosal disasters in WWII that make anything we’ve experienced in Iraq look like kindergarten picnics. The Philippines? Corregidor? Anzio? Market Garden? Dieppe? Kasserine?
Can you imagine these being reported by the current media? Hitler and Tojo would have had a field day.
LOOKER: "Can you imagine these being reported by the current media? Hitler and Tojo would have had a field day."
I agree. But in this day of IPods and phone cameras, there is no way to control what becomes known in the public sphere. You would have to shut down the world’s communications possibilites. This aspect played a definite role in the recent war in Lebanon and the rush to get a cease-fire, no matter what the final UN resolution looked like.
So there we are. It’s a fact of life. We can debate the positibe vs. the negative aspects all day long, but we can’t make it go away. It seems only reasonable to accept what is inevitable: annoying ’reporting’ will occur, and it will impact on public opinion.
This is why I’m sceptical of historic wars as a guidelone for today’s battles. It just can not happen in the same circumspect way.
PS Would we really be better off not knowing about Hisoshima’s victims?
looker: "Are they helping the terrorists/jihadi’s/insurgents"
It seems to me, that one way to circumvent the Negative impact of scoops like Abu-Graib, is fo confront them head on. A major address by the President on the subject would have helped. A trip to Baghdad by Rumsfeld to put a stop to abuses would have helped. An immediate investigation of how this happened would have helped. The press would have reported on these efforts to balance the positive/negative news. Trying to sweep it under the rug, only raised the world-wide frenzy to uncover more dirt.
Agree or disagree with the conclusions, it’s an intelligent article, but there’s a lot of anecdotal and opinion in with the stats.
A change in media coverage eroded public support for the Vietnam war.. by providing information about real events, information that was often being misrepesented by the government and military.
Furthermore, looking at "negative vs. positive" reports assigns reporters a job that isn’t their job. Does anyone think that major reports about Reagan’s invasion of Grenada were majority-negative? Of course not, because the war was a cakewalk. Either you think that reporting should be "balanced" - which I assume means 50% positive and 50% negative stories at all times - which would require, frankly, regulation - or else war coverage will swing based on *what’s happening in the war*, and especially how it tracks with what is expected to happen.
The first several years of reporting on Vietnam were as arguably excessively optimistic as the later years were arguably (for the sake of argument) excessively negative.
It is absolutely true that the court of public opinion has come to refrain the behavior of first-world states. What people tend to not appreciate is that it restrains the behavior of even tyrannies and dictatorships, to a greater degree than appreciated. The problem is that restraint is relative. Nevertheless, the net effect is a less violent world where consistent violence will quite often get you in some form of trouble.
Reporters who saw it as a patriotic duty to slant reports of violence positively would largely abrogate the restraining effect, as it is abrogated in totalitarian countries that enforce positive press coverage.