When the United States first sent their troops to Vietnam on March 8, 1965, many Americans supported that military effort. 61 percent of Americans said no when asked if the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam was a mistake. However, as the war dragged on, the public support began to drop while the number of skepticism started to rise. During the time, the term “Credibility Gap” was widely used by skeptics to question the truthfulness of Johnson administration’s policies and statements about the war in Vietnam.
Although the term came into use in as early as the end of 1962, “credibility gap” did not associate with the Vietnam war until its first appearance in a New York Herald Tribune article written by David Wise on March 23, 1965. It was used to describe Johnson’s handling of the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. On December 5, 1965, the term was amplified and popularized by Murray Marder in an article in Washington Post. The discussion about the “Credibility Gap” was rising during 1966 and 1967.
Throughout 1967, Johnson administration began to propagate an optimistic picture about the U.S. situation in Vietnam. In late 1967, General William Westmoreland, the head commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), returned to the United States to give an upbeat assessment of the American War in Vietnam. In the speech before the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on November 21, Westmoreland announced the U.S. “had turned the corner in the war” and that the end of the war in Vietnam “began to come into view”. Together with Westmoreland, many government officials such as Walt W. Rostow, National Security Advisor, also spoke confident words about Vietnam. Rostow claimed he “see the light at the end of the tunnel”.
However, the Tet Offensive in 1968, and later the Pentagon Papers discovered and leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, were irrefutable evidences that Johnson administration had deceived not only the public but also the Congress. Those events helped to prove public suspicion that there was a significant “gap” between the administration’s declarations and reality.
The “Credibility gap” escalated again during the years of President Nixon Administration. In March 1969, Nixon ordered secret bombings of Vietcong’s sanctuary in Cambodia. Nonetheless, Nixon repeatedly denied when asked by the press if such bombings were occurring. In April 1970, after the invasion of Cambodia and revelations about the bombing, Nixon’s credibility was critically damaged.
Nowadays, “Credibility gap” is normally used to describe the “gaps” between what politicians and the government say and what actually happens in reality.
Fun Facts: The term “Credibility gap” was also taken as the name of a comedy team formed up in 1968, including Harry Shearer, Richard Beebe, David L. Lander and Michael McKean. They also released their first satirical album “An Album Of Political Pornography” in that year.