The NVA and VC had counted on a "People's Uprising" to carry them to victory, however there was no such uprising. They did exactly what the American military wanted them to do. They massed in large formations that were incredibly vulnerable to the awesome fire support the U.S. Military was able to bring to bear on them in a coordinated and devastating manner.
The NVA and VC attacked only ARVN installations with the exception of the US Embassy in Saigon. Despite reports to the contrary by all major television news networks and the print media, the VC sapper team of 15 men never entered the chancery building and all 15 VC were dead within 6 hours of the attack. They caused no damage to any property and managed to kill 4 US Army MPs, and one Marine guard. The South Vietnamese Police tasked with guarding the Embassy fled at the first sound of gunfire.
The NVA/VC launched major attacks on Saigon, Hue, Quang Tri City, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Kontum City, Ban Me Thout, My Tho, Can Tho, and Ben Tre. With the exception of the old imperial city of Hue, the NVA/VC were forced to retreat within 24 hours of the beginning of the offensive. In the process they suffered devastating losses among the southern VC cadres. Using the southern VC as the spearhead of these attacks was an intentional device on the part of the North Vietnamese politcal leadership. They did not want to share power with the southerners after the war, so they sent them out to what was inevitable slaughter. The NVA mainforce battalions were held in "reserve" according to Vo Nguyen Giap, in order to "exploit any breakthroughs".
In the first week of the attack the NVA/VC lost 32,204 confirmed killed, and 5,803 captured. US losses were 1,015 KHA, while ARVN losses were 2,819 killed. ARVN losses were higher because the NVA/VC, reluctant to enter into a set-piece battle with US forces, attacked targets defended almost exclusively by South Vietnamese troops.
Casualties among the people whom the NVA/VC claimed to be "liberating" were in excess of 7,000, with an additional 5,000 tortured and murdered by the NVA/VC in Hue and elsewhere. In Hue alone, allied forces discovered over 2,800 burial sites containing the mutilated bodies of local Vietnamese teachers, doctors, and political leaders.
Only the news media seemed to believe that in some way the Communists had achieved a "victory". To put this in perspective, the news media would have reported the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last ditch attempt to stop the allied forces in Europe, as a "disaster" for the Allies. They would have said that "despite Allied efforts, the enemy still has the means to mount a major offensive, and therefore the war in Europe is unwinable". Sound goofy? Well, that is exactly what Walter Cronkite said on national TV after the 1968 Tet offensive. He did not say this in WWII, mostly because the news media operated under strict war time secrecy laws that discouraged any negative reporting. For example, in WWII it was expressly forbidden to show the bodies of dead American soldiers in any newsreel footage or photograph. Any photos or film that did so were simply confiscated by military censors. When was the last time you saw a history book that had photos of dead GIs? Find a newspaper photo in the New York Times morgue that depicts a dead American soldier in WWII. Would there have been pressure on the home front to end our involvement in WWII had the media been permitted to show live pictures of GIs who had lost both legs to a German mine? Or photos of the thousands of Marines who were dying to capture islands no one could even find on a map? Islands which we gave back after the war.
In Vietnam however the media operated under no such restrictions and were free to go wherever they wanted and film and photograph whatever they wanted. Despite this the overwhelming majority of the media never left the comfort of Saigon. The film clips of Morley Safer, Charles Kuralt, and others which seem to depict raging firefights in the background are very likely staged events. If you look closely at these film clips you will notice that the people in the background are acting rather nonchalant for people in a firefight. Only the reporter seems to be crouching low to avoid being "hit". Keep in mind that by carefully composing a scene, a camerman can make a small crowd of people look like a mob of thousands. So too can a couple of people firing M-16s be made to appear as if a firefight is in progress.