DBQ: How did the media influence public opinion during the Vietnam War?

Historical Question: How did the media influence public opinion during the Vietnam War?

Introduction: This DBQ will examine various types of media, and the public response, to the Vietnam War. Historical Thinking Skills include comparison, causation, periodization, continuity and change, context, and evidence. Literacy skills include analyzing and evaluating evidence, arguments, beliefs, and beliefs, and analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing social studies information to make inferences and draw conclusions.

This DBQ will examine songs, print media, as well as correspondence between Senator Ernest Hollings and his constituents that express different opinions of the war. The letters to Senator Hollings directly mentions two articles which are included in the Resources section. Students will have the opportunity to explore multiple perspectives on the continuation of the Vietnam War, role play a governmental agency informing US Senate Committee on Armed Forces on how the American citizens are viewing the progress of the war and recommendation for further action/inaction, and write a letter to Senator Hollings expressing their personal view as a citizen.

The purpose of this DBQ is for students to analyze various media sources, synthesize their points of view, and debate whether or not the Vietnam War was justified

Standards | Vocabulary | Context | QuestionsDoc #1 , #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8

Time Required:  Estimated time-frame – Three 45 minute classes

Click here to download the full DBQ with attached handouts. How did the media influence public opinion during the Vietnam War?, Standard 5 and Sources with Questions

South Carolina Standards (2020)
Targeted Standard: Standard 5: Demonstrate the impact of America’s global leadership on technological advancements, the transition to a post-industrial society, and ongoing debates over identity in the period 1945–present.

USHC.5.CE Assess the immediate and long-term causes and effects through significant turning points of the Cold War.


  • Hawk
  • Dove
  • Robert McNair (SC Governor)
  • Ernest Hollings (SC Senator)
  • Nixon’s Presidential Fact Finding Mission
  • Containment Policy
  • Domino Theory
  • US Senate Committee on Armed Forces


Historical Context and Background Information: The 1960’s were a time of clashing values- those from WWII who saw war as necessary and those Baby Boomers who grew tired of the war and were influenced by the various media outlets. News and print media are the first to influence public opinion; the music provides a general sentiment surrounding a culture at one given time.

Guiding Questions and Sources

Document 1: CBS Newscast Morely Safer, Cam Ne.

This is an excerpt from a CBS newscast that documents the 50th anniversary to Morely Safer’s report at Cam Ne, Vietnam. This is considered to be one of the greatest turning points in how the public perceived the Vietnam War.


      Guiding Questions:

  1. Before Aug. 5, 1965, who might have controlled the information the public received regarding warfare?
  2. How did Aug. 5, 1965 change that?
  3. What might be the reaction of Hawks? Doves?
  4. Would this change or reinforce people’s position on the war? Explain.
Citation: CBS News. (2015, August 5). In CBS News. New York, New York: CBS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0AmOw06lA0


Document 2: Heritage Poster.

This Navy recruitment poster is similar to the Ballad of the Green Beret in which it uses patriotism and duty to enlist in the military. The ship is from the 18th century and the sailor is dressed in the traditional enlisted men uniform, most famously from World War II.

    Guiding Questions:

  1. Who is this poster for?
  2. How does this poster reinforce the Hawk view of war?
  3. What would the reaction of Doves to this recruitment poster?
Citation: United States Navy. (1963). Heritage. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.







Document 3: Now, As I Was Saying Four Years Ago-

At the height of the war, and more awareness brought to light by the digital and print media, the amount of Americans dying overshadows anything politicians may say during reelection periods.

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What is Nixon attempting to hide from the American public?
  2. What role did CBS News, and other reports that followed, have in the publication of this cartoon?
  3. How is Nixon being portrayed in the cartoon?
  4. What would the response of a Hawk be to this cartoon?
  5. How would this reinforce the Dove perspective of the war?
Citation: Herbert, B. (1972, September 9). Now, as I was saying four years ago [Cartoon]. Washington Post. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hlb/item/00652238/







Document 4: ROTC Recruitment Numbers, 1963

This article was printed in the college newspaper, Gamecock, at the University of South Carolina announcing new recruitment for the Air Force ROTC.

“Air Force ROTC corp at USC has a record enrollment of 856 students according to Lt. Col. Cornelius M. Smith, Jr., professor of air science.

Lt. Col. Smith said the Cadet Corp is comprised of 64 seniors, 76 juniors, 272 sophomores, and 440 freshmen.”

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What does this say about the public opinion of Vietnam in the early 1960’s?
  2. What does the military get out of promoting record numbers of volunteers?
  3. How might this be more relevant to the college students rather than the general public?
  4. What might have been the information the public received in 1960-1963 to increase enrollment numbers so drastically?
Citation: AFROTC Cadets Grow To Record Numbers. (1963, September 27). The Gamecock, p. 1. http://historicnewspapers.sc.edu/lccn/2012218660/1963-09-27/ed-1/


Document 5: Vietnam Policy Dead End, 1967

This is a summary of a speech given to students at the University of South Carolina. Klein was a reporter in Vietnam and gave a first-hand account of the conditions, potential solutions, and dead-lock that was governmental policy

    Guiding Questions:

  1. How does Morely Safer and Edward Klein’s travels to Vietnam give their reports credibility?
  2. What is the biggest difference in how the print media and digital media report on the war?
  3. What does the reference about Hill 881, relate to? What image(s) flashed into the minds of the students at the University of South Carolina?
  4. How does his comments regarding the US government’s policy as “bankrupt” support college students’ view of the war already?
  5. How might a Hawk interpret the last line…”we must counteer the political threat from China with a political response?”
Citation: Caughman, D. (1967, December 1). Correspondent Says Viet Policy Dead End. The Gamecock, p. 3. http://historicnewspapers.sc.edu/lccn/2012218660/1967-12-01/ed-1/seq-3/#




Document 6: Letter to Governor McNair, Fact Finding Mission, 1970

This letter was written to Governor Robert McNair after he and others were sent to Vietnam on Nixon’s fact finding mission. He and House Armed Forces Chairman Mendal Rivers were both considered “hawks.” In the link provided in the Resources section, you can see the entirety of the letter, Gov. McNair’s response, and the political cartoon referenced in the first part of the letter.

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What type of people went on Nixon’s mission to Vietnam? How might this lead to further distrust between the government and public information?
  2. Which does the public trust more, by this time,- the government or media? Explain.
  3. What perspective is McCullum coming from?
  4. How does this background conflict with others who have received information from the media?
  5. What does she mean by “I am also aware that you gentlemen saw what the Pentagon and Mr. Nixon thought you should see?” And how does the media, post 1965, circumvent the report McNair helped create?Citation: McCallum, J. (1970, July 17). Nixon’s Fact Finding Mission [Letter to Governor Robert McNair]. Anderson, South Carolina. http://digital.tcl.sc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/mcnair/id/162/rec/1


Document 7: Letter to Senator Hollings, 1966

This letter is written to Senator Hollings (Senate Armed Forces Committee) regarding a public appearance on TV. The author has a very unique perspective on Southeast China.

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What background does Frederick Jewell and how is it similar to McCullum’s? Why does he seem to have more of a positive outlook on the war?
  2. How could Senator Hollings’ (Senate Armed Forces Committee) appearance on TV help fuel those with a Hawk mentality?
  3. Who, does Jewell, think should also contribute to the war? And how might these actions support those who believe the war is unjustified?
  4. What does “take some additional risk” imply regarding the course of the war?
  5. How has the war progressed from Dec. 1966 to Dec. 1, 1967 and how has the medial fueled this change in public perception?
Citation: Jewell, F. H. (1967, December 15). Today Show Appearance [Letter to Senator Ernest Hollings]. Cape Cod, MA.


Document 8: Letter to Senator Hollings, 1967

This letter references two different articles regarding information reported to the public that does not have anything to do with troop movements or combat in Vietnam.


    Guiding Questions:

  1. How has the media coverage of the military, from 1965 to 1967 changed?
  2. How might these stories, along with the Vietnam footage, add additional resistance to the war?
  3. What perspective is Ms. Colvin coming from? Explain?
  4. Prior to 1965, would these events have come to light? Explain.
Citation: Alcohol Among Troops [Letter to Senator Ernest Hollings]. (1967, August 21). Chester, SC.





Digital Collections Information                    

This DBQ is based on images and/or documents from several institutions including the University of South Carolina Libraries, The National Archives, and The Library of Congress. See individual images for institution information.

To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collection.

DBQ Prepared by Jeremy Lehman, 2018

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