U.S. Propaganda in the Vietnam War

JUSPAO and Barry Zorthian

In early 1960s, the United States also attempted to advise Saigon to control the media by using strict censor policies but, nonetheless, they ran into difficulties due to the lack of interest from Diem regime. As a result, bad news from the defeat at Ap Bac and the Buddhist Crisis adversely affected Diem regime’s image.

Therefore, when the first U.S. troops arrived in Vietnam early in 1965, the United States immediately established the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO), an organization which controlled all U.S. information and psychological operations in the South Vietnam9. From 1965 to 1968, under the direction of Barry Zorthian, an information czar in Saigon, JUSPAO did a fine job. Although Johnson administration and MACV preferred a system of press censorship, Zorthian thought that censorship was neither necessary nor workable. Instead, he established a large and effective information system which provided the American media what they wanted, especially hard news about military activities10. By late 1967, JUSPAO had become the main source of news for many of news media. The media was still under control by the government11. However, everything changed after the Tet Offensive.

Prior to the Tet Offensive, the press receiving information from JUSPAO usually took claims of impending victory. However, the confusion of the Tet Offensive nullified early optimistic descriptions of JUSPAO12. The provided soaring statistics on communist casualties could never overcome pessimistic reports and bloody images observed by reporters. As a consequence, although Tet ended as a totally defeat for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) with 40,000 of their best troops killed and 10,000 more wounded, major U.S. media represented it as a huge setback for their country instead. After Tet, the U.S. government quickly lost control over American media which eventually led to the loss of public support.

Since then, the U.S. propaganda system lost its effectiveness as the public hold a distrustful attitude toward the government. The situation became worse when the media continued to provide many unfavorable news to the public such as My Lai Massacre and the Pentagon Papers in 1969 and 1970 respectively. In June 1972, the Watergate scandal reached the peak leading to the resignation of Nixon – the first and only President ever resigned in U.S. history.  U.S. propaganda efforts were still paralyzed for many years later and  only recovered when the government decided to take back the control over the media. That became more visible during the first Gulf War as most of Gulf War recorded films could last for hours without showing a negative sign.


1.       Excerpt from Eisenhower’s press conference of April 7, 1954, Retrieved March 20, 2014 from


2.       Cull, N. J., Culbert, D. H., Welch D., Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present, p.421.

3.       Jacobs, S., Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, p.52.

4.       Jacobs, p.53.

5.       Jacobs, p.53.

6.       Koch J. A., “The Chieu Hoi Program in South Vietnam, 1963-1971”, p.218.

7.       Koch, p.83.

8.       Koch, p.11.

9.   Manning, M. J., Historical Dictionary of American Propaganda, p.303.

10.   Tucker, P. C., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, p.1363.

11.   Tucker, p.552.

12.   Tucker, p.553.

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