Uses of Propaganda
Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John, Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq (Hodder Headline, Australia, 2003)
For those of you Chomsky-haters, do not be deterred by his praise for Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber’s bold work, ‘Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq’. This is a refreshing eye-opener into the Bush administration’s ‘public relations’ campaign following the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing War on Terror, particularly the US invasion of Iraq 2003. I have already used a couple of the scandalous propaganda stories to spice up a few lagging dinner conversations over the holidays.
The authors collect convincing evidence to answer questions surrounding notorious war reporting that has been suspected of US propaganda. The first chapter conjures up the vivid scene of Kuwaitis waving US flags after their ‘liberation’ that dominated the US press in 1991, and quickly moves on to point out that US soldiers handed out these flags, effectively staging the famous photographs. Similarly, the authors question the objectivity of the widely circulated images of Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein – only around 200 people took part and Reuters long shot images show that the rest of the square was empty. So much for the Washington Post’s headline, “Iraqis Celebrate in Baghdad.”
The book’s strongest selling point is how it details the corporate edge to the administrations PR campaign post-9/11; blaming this business-like approach for losing the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ in the War on Terror. Charlotte Beers, former executive for a corporate advertising firm was appointed undersecretary for state for public diplomacy. The book paints a good picture of the disconnected attempts to ‘sell’ the US to the Middle Eastern ‘consumers’. It is doubtful that US officials trying to persuade local editors in the Middle East to publish positive stories would ever soothe anti-US sentiment or that simply dropping leaflets would divide the Taliban. Unsurprisingly, promoting the message of US freedom clashed with previous US policies of support for repressive regimes, such as Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Interestingly, the Iraq Public Diplomacy Group (set up by the US) coached anti-Saddam Iraqis to look good on talk shows and write opinion pieces as early as 2002. Fabricated stories were also used, such as when a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl falsely told of the story of Iraqi solders pulling hundreds of premature Kuwaiti babes from their incubators. This was published in a press release by Hill & Knowlton (then the world’s largest PR firm) in their ‘Citizens for a Free Kuwait’ campaign.