Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq

Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq

by Sheldon Rampton, John Stauber

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Weapons of Mass Deception reveals:

  • How the Iraq war was sold to the American public through professional P.R. strategies.

  • "The First Casualty": Lies that were told related to the Iraq war.

  • Euphemisms and jargon related to the Iraq war, e.g. "shock and awe," "Operation Iraqi Freedom," "axis of evil," "coalition of the willing," etc.

  • "War as Opportunity": How the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq have been used as marketing hooks to sell products and policies that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

  • "Brand America": The efforts of Charlotte Beers and other U.S. propaganda campaigns designed to win hearts overseas.

  • "The Mass Media as Propaganda Vehicle": How news coverage followed Washington's lead and language.

The book includes a glossary — "Propaganda: A User's Guide" — and resources to help Americans sort through the deceptions to see the strings behind Washington's campaign to sell the Iraq war to the public.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101215883
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/2003
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 322 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber are the bestselling authors of Weapons of Mass Deception, Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!, Banana Republicans, and Trust Us, We're Experts! Stauber is the founder and director of the Center for Media&Democracy. He and Rampton write and edit the quarterly PR Watch.
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber are the bestselling authors of Weapons of Mass Deception, Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!, Banana Republicans, and Trust Us, We're Experts! Stauber is the founder and director of the Center for Media&Democracy. He and Rampton write and edit the quarterly PR Watch.

Table of Contents


INTRODUCTION: Liberation Day

CHAPTER 1: Branding America

CHAPTER 2: War Is Sell

CHAPTER 3: True Lies

CHAPTER 4: Doublespeak

CHAPTER 5: The Uses of Fear

CHAPTER 6: The Air War

CHAPTER 7: As Others See Us


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The authors brilliantly expose an interconnected web linking some of the country's largest public relations and advertising firms, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House." —San Francisco Chronicle


An Interview with Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber

Barnes & Noble.com: Your book is titled Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush¹s War on Iraq. Is it fair to say that the two of you opposed the American invasion of Iraq?

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber: Yes, we opposed it. We are not absolute pacifists, but as we state at the end of this book, we believe that this war has been fought in the wrong place, using the wrong weapons. Rather than reducing the threat of terrorism, it has made the problem worse. It has fanned the flames of resentment toward the United States in Arab and Muslim nations, and it has also provided the enemies of the United States with a target-rich environment. The 150,000 soldiers currently stationed in Iraq might as well have bull's-eyes painted on their backs. They are surrounded by an increasingly hostile population and are becoming mired in what even the U.S. military is now calling a guerrilla war.

B&N.com: Were Americans sold a bill of goods during the lead-up to the war?

SR/JS: The Bush administration made three major claims in its sales pitch for war:

(1) Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda and was in some way responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

(2) Iraq possessed large stores of weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, and was on the brink of developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, administration officials claimed that we knew where these alleged weapons were being kept inside Iraq.

(3) U.S. troops would be welcomed as liberators.

It should be clear by now to most people that the first two of these claims were misleading, and the war of attrition that the people of Iraq are now waging against U.S. soldiers demonstrates that the third claim was misleading as well.

B&N.com: There's been plenty of controversy regarding Bush's use of faulty intelligence about the Niger uranium sale in this year's State of the Union address. Does this indicate that the use of propaganda is not working as well as it had been?

SR/JS: Yes and no. On the one hand, it is certainly a step in the right direction to see that particular claim debunked. However, I think the media is focusing much too narrowly on those 16 words. In Weapons of Mass Deception we have a fairly long chapter titled "True Lies," in which we examine the Bush administration's misrepresentations. There is a section in that chapter that looks specifically at the administration's claims about Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons, in which we list half a dozen false and misleading statements made by President Bush and other top administration officials.

In September of last year, for example, Bush cited a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that he said proved that the Iraqis were on the brink of developing nuclear weapons. Actually, no such report existed. The IAEA did issue a report in 1998, but actually it stated that the IAEA found "no indication" of Iraq producing nuclear weapons or "having retained a physical capability" with which to do so.

And that's just for starters. In addition to the issue of nuclear weapons specifically, there are similar long lists of misrepresentations with respect to the alleged Al Qaeda link to Iraq, and so forth. Uranium in Niger is a significant falsehood, but it's only one among many, and the media continues to ignore many of the other deceptions carried out by the Bush administration.

B&N.com: How has the administration handled the post-Saddam era, thus far?

SR/JS: They seem to have been surprised by the difficulties that they are now facing. This is precisely what critics of the war, like ourselves, predicted before we went to war. Toppling Saddam Hussein was the easy part. Militarily, we had the wherewithal to launch more missiles in a single day of the war than Iraq's army possessed in its entirety. What we lacked was a plan for stabilizing the country and getting out after Saddam was toppled.

B&N.com: What¹s your take on the Jessica Lynch "rescue" story? Did the Pentagon use Lynch to ratchet up popular support of the war?

SR/JS: Jessica Lynch was clearly adopted as a mascot for the war. She was photogenic, personable, and injured, all of which made her a perfect symbol for the heroism, courage, and idealism of "our side." As we explain in our book, her rescue was filmed, not by independent journalists, but by a Pentagon camera crew called "Combat Camera." Her Iraqi physicians claim that the rescue was overdramatized and are rather angry that the media's coverage left the impression that she had been mistreated while in their care.

B&N.com: How complicit has the mainstream news media been in buying into the Bush administration¹s use of propaganda? Is the media getting back to doing its normal "watchdog" duty?

SR/JS: We spend a fair amount of time comparing the news coverage that appears in various countries, and to some degree it is probably fair to say that the news media in all countries tend to echo the point of view of their own governments, especially with regard to foreign policy. This happens in different countries for different reasons. Sometimes, outright censorship occurs, and in other places such as the U.S. it happens due to commercial pressures or pressure from spin doctors like the ones we write about.

If the media function as a "watchdog," it is rather tame and barkless. Since September 11th, the American media in particular has behaved more like a lapdog. As the mess in Iraq continues to get messier, space for criticism is beginning to open up, but we're still a long way away from seeing the aggressive, independent reporting that the American people have a right to expect from journalists.

B&N.com: With the recent release of the Congressional report on the September 11th attacks, more attention is being paid to Saudi Arabia¹s role in fostering terrorism, despite its official "ally" status. Is there a Saudi link to 9/11 that¹s being covered up by the government?

SR/JS: The situation with Saudi Arabia is complex, but there is clearly a link. This was noted in a report on terrorist financing that was issued last year by the Council on Foreign Relations. One of the most striking links to the Saudis came to light in November 2002 when the FBI investigated charitable payments by Haifa Al-Faisal, the wife of Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Beginning in early 2000, $3,500 a month flowed from Al-Faisal to two Saudi students in the United States who provided assistance to some of the 9/11 hijackers. One of the students who received the money threw a welcoming party for the hijackers upon their arrival in San Diego, paid their rent, and guaranteed their lease on an apartment next door to his own. The other student, a known Al Qaeda sympathizer, also befriended the hijackers prior to their awful deed. At a party after the attacks, he "celebrated the heroes of September 11th," openly talking about ³what a wonderful, glorious day it had been." Princess Haifa¹s money did not flow directly from her to the hijackers, and there is no evidence that she had any prior knowledge of their plans.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration's willingness to accept her explanations at face value contrasts strikingly with the enthusiasm with which the Bush administration pursued every slim thread that might connect Iraq to Al Qaeda. It handled the news about Haifa Al-Faisal's payments by urging people not to jump to conclusions. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer responded to the news by saying, "Saudi Arabia is a good partner in the war against terrorism but can do more."

B&N.com: President Bush recently made a statement that implied that he launched the invasion because Saddam was not allowing arms inspectors to enter. Was this statement intended to mislead, or was it simply a mistake? Is such a statement, in fact, a "lie"?

SR/JS: The interesting thing about President Bush is that it is actually difficult to tell sometimes whether he is lying or merely unaware of the difference between the truth and a convenient myth. Bush made the statement to which you refer on July 14th, when he said, "We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." Of course, everyone in the world knows that this is false. Hans Blix and the UNMOVIC weapons inspectors were in Iraq up until just before the invasion began.

I can't believe that Bush or his advisers thought that this statement would fool anyone, so I'm more inclined to regard it as a mistake than as a deliberate lie, but it is certainly scary to think that the president of the United States is so confused about reality that he would say something this ridiculous. It is also scary to realize that he can get away with saying something like this. Why haven't commentators swarmed all over this?

B&N.com: One of the book¹s chapters is titled "The Uses of Fear." Is the administration using fear as a prime political weapon?

SR/JS: Fear is such a primal and powerful emotion that propagandists use it frequently. Osama Bin Laden uses it, of course. That's why he is called a terrorist. In "The Uses of Fear" we show how fear has also been used as a marketing hook by a number of other players, ranging from commercial marketers to the Bush administration.

The Bush administration has been successful at persuading Americans that an aggressive, hostile foreign policy will make them safer, even though the evidence so far suggests that it is doing the opposite. Fear also tends to make people crave certainty and stability, so that they become more accepting of their leaders and less tolerant of dissent and independent thinking. All of these factors have helped make the Bush administration more popular than it would be otherwise.

B&N.com: Was the decision to "embed" members of the news media during the Iraqi war a success for the administration? Was the American public well served by this kind of coverage?

SR/JS: Overt censorship played a relatively minor role in shaping the content of reports from the field. Far more important was the way embedding encouraged reporters to identify with the soldiers they were covering. Part of the "point of view" to any journalistic account depends on the actual physical location from which reporters witness events. Since much of modern warfare involves the use of air power or long-range artillery, the journalists embedded with troops witnessed weapons being fired but rarely saw what happened at the receiving end. At the same time that hundreds of reporters were traveling with American and British troops, there was almost no journalistic presence in Iraqi cities. Prior to the launch of war, in fact, Defense Department officials warned reporters to clear out of Baghdad, saying the war would be far more intense than the 1991 war. Although some print journalists remained in Baghdad, almost all of the television networks took the Pentagon's advice and pulled out in the days immediately preceding the start of fighting.

Embedding also encouraged emotional bonding between reporters and soldiers, which accounts in part for the friendly coverage. The problem with embedding is that reporters identified so closely with soldiers and with U.S. policy that they lost their independence. In the final chapter of our book, titled "As Others See Us," we try to show what was missing from their coverage -- in particular, the ways that U.S. coverage differed strikingly from the way it was experienced and perceived by the people of Iraq, as well as by Europe, Arab, and Muslim countries, and the rest of the world.

B&N.com: Since Bush¹s dramatic aircraft carrier "Mission Accomplished" speech in May, declaring an end to combat in Iraq, we've lost quite a few soldiers. Was this carefully choreographed photo op, in hindsight, a mistake?

SR/JS: Propaganda frequently backfires against the propagandists who try to use it, and in the United States there is a long tradition of the public reacting negatively to discoveries that they have been manipulated.

We see two problems with Bush's speech aboard that aircraft carrier. The first is that he sent a signal that the war was effectively over, when in reality it had barely begun. People who took him at his word are now feeling a lot of frustration and resentment and are starting to feel betrayed. The second problem is that people who live outside the borders of the United States are unlikely to be pleased at seeing the president of the United States piloting a warplane and making speeches surrounded by bristling, massive displays of military hardware. To people outside the United States, Bush's speech conveyed the idea that America has become an aggressive, militaristic society.

B&N.com: What do you think the next year will bring, in terms of political propaganda?

SR/JS: It's usually a mistake to predict the future, but as writers who specialize in examining propaganda, we feel optimistic that the coming year will provide plenty of material for us to write about.

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