The gambit worked, but there were repercussions. Minow recalled, "When it was all over, the stations came to me and said, 'You know, we took all the commercials off during that time. We're out of revenue. How are we going to get paid?' I called Pierre, and he said, 'We haven't got any money for that.' . . .I went to see the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner, Mortimer Caplan. We asked if they could at least give the stations a tax deduction for their contributions of free time. He said 'no'." Instead, the station owners settled for a White House luncheon with Kennedy. Still, several months later, the manager of a New Orleans station that carried the Voice of America to Cuba came to see Minow. The manager was a priest, and Minow recalled, "He said, 'You know, we have a little problem here with the FCC on another unrelated matter with our television station. In view of what we did for our nation, don't you think perhaps you could take that into account?' And I did. I called the staff and said, 'Drop the case with the television station.' That's the way life was done in the sixties. I don't think you could do it today."20
Johnson's comments summarize what has come to be the conventional wisdom on television and Vietnam -- in its simplest form, that film of the carnage of battle, night after night on the evening news programs, caused Americans to lose their stomach for the war. This "lesson" was cited by President Ronald Reagan and his advisers when they sought to ensure that U.S. military action in Grenada and Libya was as brief and bloodless (on the American side) as possible, and by George Bush and his aides when they did the same thing in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Somalia.
In fact, the notion that television ended American involvement in the Indochina
conflict does not bear up under serious scrutiny. As Peter Braestrup has shown
in his comprehensive study of the media during the Tet Offensive,support for the war as to assume that it generated opposition. Seeing
fellow Americans fighting and dying might have kindled patriotic sentiments,
and inspired in the television audience the determination to see the war
through to a successful conclusion, in order to give meaning to those
sacrifices."New Yorker noted that the constant, mind-numbing exposure to the war,
alongside "The Brady Bunch" and Ivory soap commercials, may actually have
inured Americans to the bloodshed on the other side of the world.25 Determined not to "bug out" of
Vietnam, President Richard Nixon was probably aided by his shift in emphasis
from the bloody (and photogenic) ground war in Indochina to the more
abstract-looking air war, pictures of which were less emotionally provocative.
The effect of the distinction between the two sets of images was not lost on
the military planners under Ronald Reagan or George Bush.