A living room war is a term that refers to the reporting of a war on television and other media, and how that reporting shapes public perception of that war. The term came to be during the Vietnam War, which was the first war in the United States that was televised and showed clips of what was happening in Vietnam, essentially bringing the war into American living rooms. Previous wars took place before television, so broadcasts of war stories took place either on radio or in print, which did not give the same views of real war. The living room war was, for many, the first real insight as to what real war was like.
Critics of the war coverage contended that television news reporting turned the American public against the war effort, further compounding the difficulties the U.S. was already facing during that era. Many researchers, however, discovered that the reporting done during that era was rarely based on opinion, with news reporters sticking to traditional reporting techniques employed during World War II. Much of the criticism of the war came from coverage of politicians, and some from public opinion pieces focusing on everyday Americans.
Until the mid- to later part of the Vietnam war, the living room war coverage did not include much actual live fighting. This was due to a few important factors: first, much of the fighting in Vietnam was done in remote parts of the country, making it difficult for film crews to be close to the battles. Second, network executives had little desire to show fighting, and especially casualties, fearing such footage would be too graphic for the average viewer, thus resulting in a decline in ratings.
The idea of a living room war persists even today, as current wars around the world are covered more thoroughly and with more scrutinizing eyes. Critics argue that such inundation of war coverage desensitizes the average viewer to the reality of war and encourages the notion that the war is simply a television spot rather than reality. Others criticize the media for not being thorough enough, citing the lack of actual battle footage and reporting on casualties. Either way, the living room war mentality has changed the way the public perceives war, the justifications for war, and the means by which wars are fought. This is due to both the accessibility of information as well as the constant barrage of both objective reporting and opinion pieces being presented on television daily.