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- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/461/media-reporting-journalism-and-propaganda.
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The war on Iraq, however swift in its short three week period, was accompanied by propaganda from many angles. From the ridiculous claims of the Iraqi information minister that the Americans will surrender or perish, or that they were nowhere near Baghdad (while coalition tanks could be heard just a mile from where he said that!) to the subtle propaganda of Coalition nations’ media, that at times minimized the civilian casualties, highlighted the awesome military force of the coalition, minimized geopolitical discussion and context, and often jumped at unconfirmed reports as confirmed news.
As the attack on Iraq commenced, there were numerous challenges for the media, while various forces also affected the media’s coverage and depth. It would be futile to list all the issues that unfolded during the short weeks of war time on this page and how the media covered it, so this page will mostly attempt to highlight other analysis and perspectives that we typically do not get on the mainstream and also look at some of the geopolitical fall outs from this war.
This web page has the following sub-sections:
Deep Dividein International Community
- War Reporting and Journalism
- Subtle Propaganda
- Civilian Casualties
- Narrow Range of Views and Topics
- Majority of Foreign Militants are Saudi, not Iranian
- Urging Support of Troops Regardless of Views on the War
- Captured Soldiers
- The "Rescue" of Private Jessica Lynch
- Sanitizing The Horrors of War
- Bombing the Media
- Fall of Saddam and Vindication of the War
- U.S. Army Sent Fake Iraq Letters To U.S. Media Outlets
- PR Firm, Hired By Pentagon, Pay Iraqi Newspapers to Plant Pro-American Articles, Secretly Written by US Military
- US Tenders New Contract For Monitoring Iraq War Coverage
- A Free and Uncensored Press in Iraq?
- Censorship in the Free World
- Torture Revelations
- Chalabi provides detailed insights into world propaganda campaign to gain support for a war against Iraq
- Propaganda and lobbying to convince a people to go to war
- U.S. Government funnelling lots of money to agitators
- Support in future Iraqi government
- U.S. Government out-sources creation of opposition
- Chalabi’s own agendas
- Pitting American Politicians and institutions against each other
- Iraq and September 11 link for Bush
“Failed” Diplomacy and “Deep Divide” in International Community
International diplomacy was said to have “failed” and the United Nations could not prevent the United States and Britain leading a small coalition of nations to war against Iraq, even under a weak case.
Yet, as the previous link details, the case for war was hardly made to the international community, but the U.S. and U.K. were determined to go to war with or without U.N. backing, with or without international support. Noam Chomsky notes that this was not a failure in diplomacy, but “a failure of coercion” as the U.S. did not succeed in getting the international community to bend to its will. Side NoteYet as a sign of how effective propaganda was leading up to the war, consider how such a large portion of people polled in the U.S. believed that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and the September 11 attacks on the U.S., a link that even the CIA had questioned. Prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy highlighted that, “According to a New York Times/CBS News survey, 42 per cent of the American public believes that Saddam Hussein is directly responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And an ABC news poll says that 55 per cent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein directly supports al-Qaida.” (Conversely, it could be said that the propaganda only got as far as roughly half those polled.)
The “deep divide” or “split” described by some mainstream media amounted to massive international opposition against the war. The media of the U.S. and U.K. had furiously been reporting the diplomatic goings on, but with little context, allowing questionable claims by Bush, Blair, Powell, Straw and others to go relatively unchallenged. Side NoteIt is common to read summaries in papers, that in the build-up to war against Iraq, the British and American governments made desperate efforts to find diplomatic alternatives, but that these were thwarted by miscalculations, international tensions, French/German/Russian opposition (due to their interests in Iraq) etc, which ultimately led to the failure of those efforts. As mentioned above and detailed on the previous page, the determination to go to war at all costs is ignored, almost stricken from mainstream history as if it were.
Media and government tactics both unwittingly and intentionally allowed propaganda to go through, as also detailed in depth on the previous page on this site. Even the legality of the decision to go to war was controversial given that not only was it that UN Resolution 1441 did not explicitly authorize automatic war without further consultation with the UN Security Council, but that the U.S. and U.K. acknowledged this.
To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the resolution makes it clear that is not the case.
— Tony Blair, Tony Blair’s statement in response to the unanimous passing of UN resolution 1441, November 8, 2002. (You can see the full text at the Guardian newspaper web site, for example.)
[U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John] Negroponte (U.S.): As we have said on numerous occasions to Council members, this resolution contains no “hidden triggers” and no “automaticity” with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA or a Member State, the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12.
[U.K. ambassador to the U.N., Sir Jeremy] Greenstock (U.K.): We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about “automaticity” and “hidden triggers” — the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no “automaticity” in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.
— Security Council 4644th meeting, Speeches delivered after adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, United Nations document S/PV.4644, November 8, 2002 (Emphasis Added)
War Reporting and Journalism
During the campaign, Iraq had expelled journalists, staged events such as street dances of support for Saddam Hussein and more (perhaps the most incredulous was the Iraqi information minister, forever claiming that the coalition forces were nowhere near Baghdad, even when they were all around there, and that they would all perish). Much of this propaganda by the Iraqi regime is covered well by Western mainstream media outlets, and was further shown to be ridiculous and crude as the war itself unfolded, so is not necessary to detail further here. But another aspect worth highlighting is the media reporting from journalists of the mainstream/Coalition nations.
It is well known and an accepted part of war that Iraq had attempted to control media reports, monitor foreign journalists, and even expel them (including CNN and even Al Jazeera for a while). Occassionally reporters point out the same thing on the other side, with coalition forces. “Embedded” reporters travelling with Coalition forces sometimes highlighted in television reports that they were under strict control and unable to say some things as well. This control is an understandable and even desirable aspect from a military perspective.
A BBC Radio 5 broadcast on the morning of April 9, 2003 also highlighted that many embedded journalists developed a sympathetic viewpoint for the Coalition perspective by being with them so much, which, as the radio program also suggested, was what the Coalition would want. Even though embedding was a somewhat new technique seen in this war, the theme of sympathy is also highlighted more generally by Phillip Knightley as being a common theme in war reporting throughout various conflicts in the past decades, in his book, The First Casualty, (Prion Books, 1975, 2000 revised edition). So too is the desire to be able to manage media reporting. In the past, for example, in Vietnam, the press was not looked on favorably. In the Gulf War and Kosovo conflict for example, the media was managed using pools that could be fed official information from press briefings and a media version of a tour guide to managed areas of the conflict.
The idea of embedding reporters and managing them in this way comes from the public relations industry:
Embedding reporters within U.S. and British combat units is a “brilliant strategy” because “it’s all about relationships,” Katie Delahaye Paine wrote in a late-March story in The Measurement Standard, a public relations industry publication. “The better the relationship any of us have with a journalist, the better the chance of that journalist picking up and reporting our messages,” Paine, the founder of The Delahaye Group, pointed out.
A relatively quick war against an overwhelmed and outmatched foe — sanitized of civilian casualties — has been a tonic for a Pentagon hungry for good publicity. From day one, live transmissions of grainy pictures from embedded reporters surrounded by a phalanx of tanks or armored vehicles hunkered down in swirling sandstorms, helped define the war for an information-hungry and voyeuristic American public.
Embedding reporters is the brainchild of Victoria “Torie” Clarke, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Clarke brings considerable PR experience to the task of winning the spin war. She recently worked with Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm heavily involved in Gulf War I, and prior to that she was president of Bozell Eskew Advertising, an issue advocacy and corporate communications company.
According to a 10-page memo prepared for the National Security Council, Clarke, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on board, argued that allowing journalists to report live from the front lines would give Americans the opportunity to get the story, both “good and bad — before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do.”
“Our people in the field need to tell our story. Only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations. ... To accomplish this, we will embed media with our units. These embedded media will live, work and travel as part of the units... to facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage.”
Three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, Torie Clarke’s plan and the Pentagon’s decision to embed reporters has worked out well for them. How do you manage the media in times of war? Thoroughly embed them, surround them with PR enablers, and spread a little fear amongst those not embedded.
— Bill Berkowitz, Embedded, enthusiastic and un-encumbered by truth, WorkingForChange, April 9, 2003
(Hill and Knowlton, mentioned above, was the PR company the created the dead baby story in Iraq, using a Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter to pose as a nurse in front of cameras to claim that Iraqi soldiers were killing babies in hospitals, a claim used to help justify the war in 1991.)
Independent journalists have often been looked at with suspicion, for they cannot be guided and controlled as much as “embedded” journalists, potentially. For example, four independent journalists (two from Israel and two from Portugal) were beaten by American troops and expelled. Embedded journalists have not suffered from the same problems, as military spokesmen on television reveal. Other journalists have been fired for airing dissenting views, or in the case of a well known American NBC reporter, Peter Arnett, for simply being interviewed by an Iraqi television station. The previous link, to the BBC, also points out that he was one of the few U.S. correspondents left in Baghdad.
The Guardian newspaper reported (April 3, 2003) that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) head of news, Tony Naets, said that the British and U.S. forces had “created a caste system with embedded journalists — usually from countries in the so-called coalition who can associate with the troops — and the truly unilateral broadcaster who is prevented from coming anywhere near the news.” Jean Stock, the EBU Secretary General is also quoted, saying “US central command policy is now actively restricting independent newsgathering from southern Iraq. Reporters and camera crews who put their lives at risk have been detained by American and British troops and returned to Kuwait.”
As discussed in more detail in the media pages on this site, military control of information and other techniques have often been employed in times of war to help present a certain picture as part of a propaganda battle.
In the first few days of the war, various leaders in the U.S. and U.K. were openly hostile to the media reporting and coverage of destruction, civilian deaths and so forth. The early days of the war had seen some mixed results, and, at that time, little of the “shock and awe” and quick liberation images that leaders of the coalition had described. It did not bode well from the military’s view point that the media were initially reporting on civilian deaths and about troops meeting more fierce resistance than expected in some places, for example. CNN reported (March 28, 2003) that “President Bush has ‘some level of frustration with the press corps’ for accounts questioning the U.S. and coalition war plan in Iraq, and he finds it 'silly' that such skepticism and questions were being raised just days into a conflict he says is going quite well, according to a senior administration official.”Side NoteYet, as detailed on the page on this site about building the case for war, much of mainstream media was quite supportive. In fact, the previous link to the CNN article is a copy reposted to the media organization, truthout.org. An editor annotated that CNN article suggesting that “These kinds of comments from Bush must be terribly disheartening for the folks at CNN. They have, after all, shown Americans a war in exactly the sanitized, patriotic mode desired by the Defense Department. Is Bush not satisfied with the warm and fuzzy stories that totally obscure the bloodbaths taking place in Basra, Umm Qasr and Nasiriya? Really, what else does the man want?”
For all the criticism that various outlets had of Al Jazeera and other Middle East media (some which was quite appropriate) the media coverage in the U.S. and U.K. since the war had begun, and after, had typically been supportive of the Coalition, or at least quite narrow in scope. That is, there was a lot of diverse and constant coverage of the daily goings on, the military issues, the challenges, and so forth, while Al Jazeera and other outlets concentrated on the horrors of civilian casualties. But, there was little from some outlets, including the likes of the BBC and others, in their prime time coverage, on any of the controversy surrounding the build up to the attacks (their legality was unquestioned, for example), instead just accepting the official position. While there were some reports of opposing views to official positions at the time of the announcement that war would be legal, there was relatively nothing after that, making such controversial issues seem like yesterday’s story and no longer relevant. In continuing to provide detailed accounts of the military activities (mostly), the context in which all this occurred was minimized).
Side note about Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera raises thorny issues in the discussions of media, politics and bias. On the one hand, criticism of Al Jazeera having a pro-Arab viewpoint sometimes ignores American news outlets often portraying an American-centric view point, as Inter Press Service highlights (April 9, 2003).
Perhaps a bit surprisingly to some western audiences, Al Jazeera has been regarded as a credible news source. (During the bombing of Afghanistan in retaliation for 9-11, for example, most of the footage came from Al Jazeera.) Media organization, Index on Censorship, for example, went as far as awarding Al Jazeera for the category of best circumvention of censorship, and noted:
Al-Jazeera satellite TV has in recent days inflamed passions on both sides of the conflict with some provocative broadcasting. The controlled release of official information at from the US HQ in Qatar raises more questions than it answers. The Coalition insists that what is reported — and the way it is reported — is a key part of the military campaign.
Al-Jazeera’s apparent independence in a region where much of the media is state-run has transformed it into the most popular station in the Middle East. Its willingness to give opposition groups a high-profile platform has left it with a reputation and credible news among Arab viewers. But that same quality has enraged Arab governments and the United States — which have sought to have the station more closely controlled.
— Free speaking voices in the wilderness, Free Expression Awards, Index on Censorship, March 26, 2003
Some have criticized (understandably) Al Jazeera showing captured U.S. soldiers. Others have even said that their constant images of wounded and killed civilians amounted to propaganda. Yet, as an article in Slate suggests, some aspects of Al Jazeera’s reporting was understandable and should be accepted. Al Jazeera was “just as fair as CNN”:
American TV news has always presented an American perspective, just as Al Jazeera presents an Arab perspective. But in wartime, the American slant has become more obvious, and as a result Al Jazeera’s Arab slant has become less objectionable. Less than 18 months ago, Fouad Ajami declared in a long New York Times Magazine article that Al Jazeera was “a dangerous force.” But in the wake of this war’s coverage by the American media, his fears and criticisms sound quaint. Ajami blasted the channel’s “shameless” promos, including a montage of scenes that portrayed a clear sympathy for the Palestinians. But how different are MSNBC’s or CNN’s montages of heroic American soldiers set to patriotic, martial music? Or the recurring shots of Americans saving babies and handing out candy to children? Ajami also criticized Al Jazeera for focusing too much on the tragedy of a single individual, 12-year-old Muhamed al-Durra, a Palestinian shot and killed in Gaza. But American networks pull similar heartstring-tugging tricks, the latest being the mediathon over the rescue of Jessica Lynch, a single American POW. (American television ignores, for the most part, the lives and the deaths of Brits and Iraqis.)
... Particularly in wartime, the best a network can hope for is ... “contextual objectivity” — an attempt “to reflect all sides of any story while retaining the values, beliefs and sentiments of the target audience.” Based on the recent wave of positive coverage in the American media, Al Jazeera is at least approaching that standard. It’s telling the American side of the story, even as its sympathies clearly lie with the plight of the Iraqi people, whom the network, fairly or unfairly, sees as suffering under both Saddam Hussein and the American-led invasion to remove him.
From the opposite perspective, the U.S. networks are doing the same: giving lip service to the Arab view of the war, while endorsing the American view that the conflict is just and necessary. The war has given lie to the idea that American journalists don’t have opinions.
— Chris Suellentrop, Al Jazeera: It’s just as fair as CNN, Slate, April 2, 2003
Note also that when Al Jazeera launched its English version web site around the time of the war, it proved extremely popular. Yet, very quickly it was hacked and the visitors would see an American flag in its place. The web hosting company, Akamai (who also hosts CNN and MSNBC) terminated the service and contract, without giving a reason. Because of Akamai’s proven technical abilities (with CNN and MSNBC), the Al Jazeera said the reason was political pressure for censorship. Major search engines such as Lycos had claimed that for a while, Al Jazeera was one of the top search items, and that a lot of visitors were simply curious web users. (The New York Times (April 4, 2003) has some more details on this.)
One other aspect that Al Jazeera and other Arab and non-western media had introduced, was imagery from non-Western sources, unlike the previous Gulf War in 1991, when all images came from western sources.
In addition, even the BBC admitted that the pressure to provide 24-hour coverage had led to many mistakes in their reporting and in general reporting the truth about war had proven difficult.
Both what is reported (and how it is reported) as well as what is not reported, can contribute to various aspects of propaganda. Some Middle East media outlets have been criticized for showing harrowing pictures of casualties, being accused of propaganda (which is an understandble accusation). Yet, many Western media outlets also contributed to a form of subtle propaganda that would suit the Coalition military leadership. That is, of toning down those same types of imagery and thus having the effect of sanitizing the war.
Thus, the attempt to have military control on the side of the coalition, plus the coalition’s own propaganda, combined with pressures for constant reporting and understanding so many reports quickly, plus Saddam Hussein’s own cruder propaganda machine, and various other factors that accompany war reporting had made understanding specific details of war difficult. This is perhaps not new, as similar problems occurred in many prior conflicts (see the above mentioned Knightley book for many examples), but it shows that even in recent times, key issues of media control, manipulation and propaganda are still with us.
Much has been made, often appropriately of the state-owned Iraqi television and the numerous blatant propaganda attempts used by the Iraq leadership. Yet, because American and British media is not state-owned, it can be easy to automatically assume that they don’t exhibit forms of propaganda themselves, or be used as vehicles for propaganda. As detailed in the media section of this web site, even in democratic nations propaganda can be present, often in more sophisticated forms than in brutal dictatorships and government run stations. Side NoteAnd also highlighted in that previous link is that when ranking nations based on the level of their free press, the U.S. and U.K. ranked just 17th and 21st, respectively. This highlights that misconceptions in these nations about the level of freedom of the press can affect many other perceptions of various issues, including the war on Iraq.
Throughout the Iraq crisis, including the build-up, as the previous page details, propaganda featured on all sides. On the British/American side, it was used to justify war when the case had been weak, and amidst international opposition, and possibly illegal, according to many legal experts. Side NoteQuite surprisingly for many, as The Guardian reported in the U.K., was that the “influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal.” Perle has said that “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.” It may well have been that international law prevented the ability to support a policy of regime change as such. However, the wider concern that many critics have raised is that the process of determining resolutions and getting international cooperation to agree Saddam Hussein was such an immediate threat to the world was completely by-passed in a manner that most nations in the world would not be able to do, thus ammounting to an abuse of the international system.
Since the war had started, diverse coverage and discourse on legality appeared to be less discussed. With the demise of the Iraqi regime, a lot of media reporting turned towards suggesting vindication of the actions, or questioning where Saddam Hussein may be hiding, where the supposed weapons of mass destruction are, and about the security of occupation forces. Yet, it seems that the issue of legality is less discussed, especially in a geopolitical and power context.
An interesting debate that had occassionally surfaced in the mainstream was whether or not there was media bias against the war initially because it had sometimes questioned the effectiveness of the military strategy at various stages of the conflict.
- While the predictable overall military triumph of the Coalition was hardly questioned, there was lots of questioning of the means, the tactics, the timeframes, and so forth.
- Yet, this is an example of a narrow range of discourse because what has been debated is the military tactics, not whether the war could have been justified on the claims given or not, etc.
Alternatives to war had existed for a long time but were never taken seriouslyAlternatives to war were numerous, but lack of patience was among the main reasons people like Tony Blair decided war had to be waged.
- For decades, people around the world, including human rights groups, activists, non governmental organizations, exiled Iraqis and many others had opposed Saddam Hussein’s brutality.
- But also opposed was the British and American influence on the brutal sanctions regime which in the last 12 years had inflicted so much damage to ordinary Iraqi civilians — of course, as a propaganda battle waged on, American and British leaders were easily able to claim that the sanctions effects were solely Saddam’s responsibility.
- In addition, also for many years, such groups had been opposing American and other nations’ support of Saddam.
- For example, it is well known that the U.S. and others sold Saddam Hussein chemical and biological weapons and even some nuclear materials.
- Yet when the media reports on speeches from Blair and others about how Saddam used chemical weapons on their own people, (or when they mention it themselves), never is it added “with our support”.
- Those three words, repeated as often as the point about Saddam’s use of those weapons, would have added a different perspective to the propaganda battle perhaps.
- Such side notes seem minor, but we see this in many situations. For example, we were often reminded that journalists reporting in Iraq during the war were often being monitored and accompanied by Iraqi officials. Hardly ever were we reminded of similar, though more subtle, processes when reporting as embedded reporters, or reporting from Coalition military headquarters.
- In comparison to the violent support of Saddam Hussein in the past, support for democratic uprising from within had been limited and the effects of the sanctions hurt the people the most, while ironically strengthening the regimes grip on the country.
- While detailed more so in the links below, consider how journalist Robert Fisks reports of Saddam gassing his own people, were at that time, somewhat stifled in the media:
He did use gas against the Iranians and against the Kurds. And I also have to say that when he used it against the Iranians, and I wrote about it in my own newspaper at the time, the Times, the British Foreign Office told my editor the story was not helpful because at that stage of course, Saddam Hussein was our friend — we were supporting him. The hypocrisy of war stinks almost as much as the civilian casualties.
— Robert Fisk, Interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, April 22, 2003
- These aspects are discussed in more detail, for example at the following pages on this web site:
Listed here are just a small set of examples of the types of things that media coverage in the mainstream had often avoided or lacked details of. These are not a complete set of examples, because covering the war would require a full-time effort (not the spare time, one-man effort that this site is!)
Some civilian deaths, such as the one where a bomb hit a market killing around 50 people, have been treated as suspicious with respect to who did it (sometimes suggesting that some were possibly Iraqi in origin, not Coalition). In other situations they have been presented almost as a PR problem, as an article from media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) puts it, because it “looks bad” for coalition forces.
As an aside, it is interesting to note how contradictions can arise in such situations. Consider for example what prize-winning writer, Arundhati Roy noted:
After dropping not hundreds, but thousands of bombs on Baghdad, when a marketplace was mistakenly blown up and civilians killed — a US army spokesman implied that the Iraqis were blowing themselves up! “They’re using very old stock. Their missiles go up and come down.”
If so, may we ask how this squares with the accusation that the Iraqi regime is a paid-up member of the Axis of Evil and a threat to world peace?
— Arundhati Roy, Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates, Guardian, April 2, 2003
Little effort has been made so far to understand the number of casualties on the Iraqi side, both civilian and military. In some respects, numbers have been hard to measure due to the types of devastating weaponry used, and due to the fact that when entire Iraqi divisions were “destroyed” this involved large numbers being killed, surrendering, or withdrawing from battle, so that the final death toll was hard to count. Perhaps the numbers will surface at some point, but there are political issues at steak. For the Coalition forces, it has appeared to be an utmost priority to keep civilian casualties low, so as to not lose support. However, it is also interesting to note something from the first Gulf War, in 1991. When asked by the New York Times, about the civilian casualties, Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who was then the highest ranking military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Gulf War, said “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in”. (New York Times, March 23, 1991). That is not to say that Powell cares or not about the current number, but more that this highlights that there may be political reasons to try and ignore this issue from mainstream discourse as much as possible.
A web site attempting to provide a count of Iraqi civilian casualties is the Iraq Body Count web site. It also quotes General Tommy Franks, of the US Central Command as saying “We don’t do body counts”.
Narrow Range of Views and Topics
As the link above from FAIR also highlights, much of the mainstream was also obsessed with the military technology as well as tactics, both contributing to a narrow range of discussion. It would appear then the shock of civilian deaths and the horrors of war were minimized, sheltering their populations, while the awe of military prowess and the highlights such as the toppling of Saddam, the celebrations were highlighted and praised whenever the chances arose, allowing more reasons to support the war, giving it a feel of somewhat minimal impact on ordinary lives. Geopolitical interests were rarely discussed.
War journalist and author Chris Hedges, as well as columnist for the New York Times provides powerful paragraphs to an article in The Nation magazine:
The reasons for war are hidden from public view. We do not speak about the extension of American empire but democracy and ridding the world of terrorists — read “evil” — along with weapons of mass destruction. We do not speak of the huge corporate interests that stand to gain even as poor young boys from Alabama, who joined the Army because this was the only way to get health insurance and a steady job, bleed to death along the Euphrates. We do not speak of the lies that have been told to us in the past by this Administration — for example, the lie that Iraq was on the way to building a nuclear bomb. We have been rendered deaf and dumb. And when we awake, it will be too late, certainly too late to save the dead, theirs and ours.
The embedding of several hundred journalists in military units does not diminish the lie. These journalists do not have access to their own transportation. They depend on the military for everything, from food to a place to sleep. They look to the soldiers around them for protection. When they feel the fear of hostile fire, they identify and seek to protect those who protect them. They become part of the team. It is a natural reaction. I have felt it.
But in that experience, these journalists become participants in the war effort. They want to do their bit. And their bit is the dissemination of myth, the myth used to justify war and boost the morale of the soldiers and civilians. The lie in wartime is almost always the lie of omission. The blunders by our generals — whom the mythmakers always portray as heroes — along with the rank corruption and perversion, are masked from public view. The intoxication of killing, the mutilation of enemy dead, the murder of civilians and the fact that war is not about what they claim is ignored. But in wartime don’t look to the press, or most of it, for truth. The press has another purpose.
Perhaps this is not conscious. I doubt the journalists filing the hollow reports from Iraq, in which there are images but rarely any content, are aware of how they are being manipulated. They, like everyone else, believe. But when they look back they will find that war is always about betrayal. It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and of idealists by the cynical men who wield power, the ones who rarely pay the cost of war. We pay that cost. And we will pay it again.
— Chris Hedges, The Press and the Myths of War, The Nation, April 3, 2003.
In Iraq Crisis, Networks Are Megaphones for Official Views was a report by media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), highlighting how “Network newscasts, dominated by current and former U.S. officials, largely exclude Americans who are skeptical of or opposed to an invasion of Iraq” when looking at two weeks of coverage from the end of January 2003, to mid-February, a key time of political discussions. As highlighted on this section and through the various links on this and the previous page, such domination continues and is part of a number of techniques often employed in propaganda, or by media outlets that reflect the voices of power, with little questioning, as also detailed on this site’s section on propaganda.
But with all this propaganda, it is interesting to note that even in nations such as the United States, where the population in general appears to support the Bush policy, there has been a lot of opposing views, though struggling to be heard. Take for example the following speech from Hollywood actor and director, Tim Robbins, on the challenges of speaking against the war:
In the 19 months since 9/11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided and a world population that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state.
Last weekend Susan and I and the three kids went to Florida for a family reunion of sorts. Amid the alcohol and the dancing, there was, of course, talk of the war. And the most frightening thing was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own community, in their own life. Keep talking, they said; I haven’t been able to open my mouth. A relative tells me that a history teacher tells his 11-year-old son, my nephew, that Susan Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition to the war. Another relative tells me of a school board decision to cancel a civics event that was proposing to have a moment of silence for those who have died in the war, because the students were including dead Iraqi civilians in their silent prayer. A teacher in another nephew’s school is fired for wearing a T-shirt with a peace sign on it. A friend of the family tells of listening to the radio down South as the talk show host calls for the murder of a prominent anti-war activist. Death threats have appeared on other prominent anti-war activists’ doorsteps for their views. Relatives of ours have received threatening emails and phone calls.
Susan and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets. Two weeks ago, the United Way cancelled Susan’s appearance at a conference on women’s leadership. Both of us last week were told that we and the First Amendment were not welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. A famous middle-aged rock'n'roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to tell me he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. In Washington [veteran journalist] Helen Thomas finds herself banished to the back of the [White House press briefing] room and uncalled on after asking Ari Fleischer whether our showing prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay on television violated the Geneva Convention.
— Tim Robbins, Our voices are lost in the tide of intolerance sweeping America, Observer, April 20, 2003
Urging Support of Troops Regardless of Views on the War
Just as the war started, officials and leaders from the U.S. and U.K. highlighted to their populations that even if they had opposed the war, they should now support the troops. In a way that was a subtle guilt trip, while in another sense it served to try and minimize the fervour and opposition to the war. The BBC, for example, had notably reduced its anti-war demonstration coverage, reducing it to a few sound bytes compared to the coverage during the political build up, which was inescapable. Even a demonstration of some 400,000 in London and many around the rest of the country, was reduced to minimal coverage, concentrating mostly on the war as it had just begun. As FAIR suggested, Using “Pro-Troops” To Mean “Pro-War” Is Anti-Journalistic.
When American soldiers were captured, paraded and humiliated on television, it led to a lot of understandable anger and also the pointing out that this violated Geneva Conventions. Yet, Asia Times noted an irony in this:
Even US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced to take the images into account, calling the showing of captured American troops a possible “war crime”. President George W Bush cut short his working getaway at Camp David to return to the White House on Sunday and tell reporters that “I do know that we expect them [the US prisoners of war] to be treated humanely, just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture — humanely.”
Of course, the Arab media found much to mock in Bush’s comments. The Bush administration’s “newfound affection for the Geneva Convention is remarkable”, wrote an editorial in the Riyadh-based daily Arab News. “The US does not believe that the prisoners now being held at Guantanamo Bay are prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. Pictures of the men there, shackled and living in cages, were distributed by the Bush administration to the world’s media.”
Nobody could accuse al-Jazeera of taking sides in the showing of prisoners; they had earlier broadcast images of Iraqi men believed to be soldiers surrendering to British troops near Basra. Rumsfeld had not complained.
— Paul Belden, Free press and the face of war, Asia Times, March 25, 2003
An article in the Indian magazine, The Hoot, also noted that “The [U.S. Defence] Secretary talked about the Geneva Convention and its violation by Iraqi television by showing captured soldiers. Ironically, hours before, these networks were beaming pictures of captured Iraqi ‘soldiers’ ... with their hands tied and lined up.”
This is not to say that parading captured soldiers on television and humiliating them is ok. It just highlights when and how such issues are portrayed, and the consistency (or lack of) concerns. Civilians were also humiliated in subtle ways. Take the following for example:
- On April 3, 2003, BBC television news program (Newsnight I think) showed an “embedded” reporter interviewing a doctor asking him why he had a picture of Saddam Hussein in his office, what he thought of Saddam, and if he would take the picture down.
- We were instructed by the presenter to note the fear in the eyes and response of the doctor.
- While being asked, (and unsure of what the right response should be — perhaps he viewed the “liberators” as “aggressors” or feared that Saddam Hussein’s cronies would note his responses) a solider came and gently took down the photo. Without breaking down, you could see in the doctor’s eyes, as the presenter pointed out, just how distraught and uncomfortable he looked.
- Such humiliation for this person was not met with any concern. With the fear of Saddam’s regime being so brutal to dissent, as we were constantly reminded then such humiliation was surely also risking that doctor’s life? (It turns out that about a week later, Saddam’s regime had fallen, so this might with hindsight seem ok, yet at the time the interview occurred, no-one knew for sure the events that would unfold.)
The "Rescue" of Private Jessica Lynch
Consider the following as an example of manipulation for home audiences:
The US media splashed this story [about the “rescue” of Private Jessica Lynch] in April. Lynch was one of a group of 10 US soldiers captured by Iraqi troops. According to the approved narrative, she had been ambushed on 23 March and captured after firing at the Iraqis until her ammunition ran out. She had been hit by a bullet, stabbed, tied up, and taken to a hospital in Nasiriyah where she was beaten by an Iraqi officer. A week later US special forces freed her in a surprise operation: despite resistance from her guards, they broke into the hospital, rescued her and flew her by helicopter to Kuwait.
That evening, Bush, from the White House, announced her rescue to the nation. Eight days later the Pentagon supplied the media with a video made during the mission, with scenes up to the standards of the best action movies.
After the war ended on 9 April, journalists — particularly from The New York Times, the Toronto Star, El Pais and the BBC — went to Nasiriyah to find the truth. They were surprised by what they found. According to their interviews with Iraqi doctors who had looked after Lynch (and confirmed by US doctors who had later examined her), her wounds, a fractured arm and leg and a dislocated ankle, were not due to bullets but to an accident in the lorry in which she had travelled. She had not been maltreated. On the contrary, the Iraqi doctors had done everything possible to look after her.
“She had lost a lot of blood,” explained Dr Saad Abdul Razak, “and we had to give her a transfusion. Fortunately members of my family have the same blood group: O positive. We were able to obtain sufficient blood. She had a pulse rate of 140 when she arrived here. I think that we saved her life”.
Taking considerable risks, these doctors managed to contact the US army to return Lynch. Two days before the special forces arrived the doctors had even taken her in an ambulance to a location close to US lines. But US soldiers opened fire and almost killed her.
The pre-dawn arrival of special forces equipped with sophisticated equipment surprised the hospital staff. The doctors had already told the US forces that the Iraqi army had retreated, and that Lynch was waiting to be claimed.
Dr Anmar Uday told the BBC’s John Kampfner: “It was like in a Hollywood film. There were no Iraqi soldiers, but the American special forces were using their weapons. They fired at random and we heard explosions. They were shouting Go! Go! Go! The attack on the hospital was a kind of show, or an action film with Sylvester Stallone”.
The “rescue” was filmed on a night-vision camera by a former assistant of director Ridley Scott, who had worked on the film Black Hawk Down (2001). According to Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times, these images were then sent for editing to US central command in Qatar, and once they had been checked by the Pentagon they were distributed worldwide.
— Ignacio Ramonet, State-sponsored lies, Le Monde diplomatique, July 2003
Sanitizing The Horrors of War
On television reporting of civilian deaths was hard to avoid, but some of the details or depth of it was somewhat contained.
- The International Red Cross said they were horrified by the number of dead civilians, as reported by Canadian Press (April 3, 2003).
- As mentioned further above, the mainstream in the U.K. and U.S. typically minimized reporting of the horrors of war, though some details were of course mentioned.
- The BBC for example, reported (April 8, 2003) that hospitals in Baghdad were overwhelmed.
- The Guardian also detailed some gruesome aspects of the horrors of war (April 9, 2003) showing that such media reports in the western mainstream are available, occassionally.
- However, in the first three weeks of the war, these aspects were not been given much priority, and when they were by media elsewhere, such as in the Middle East, there was accustation of pro-Saddam propaganda. A large amount of reporting in the rest of the world focused on the horrors of the war. For example, the New York Times highlighted (April 5, 2003) that “the American Portrayal of a War of Liberation is faltering across the Arab world.” USA Today presented the concern (April 2, 2003) that while “Iraq gets sympathetic press around the world, international media [is] wary of U.S. reporting.”
- The above-mentioned USA Today article also added that
Some media voices, in fact, say the U.S. media’s view of the war is similarly and dangerously monochromatic. Feeling much of the heat is the ubiquitous CNN, some of whose correspondents have been criticized for being more cheerleaders than reporters.
“CNN’s Walter Rodgers’ style of reporting resembles the live coverage of the Super Bowl,” noted an editorial in Germany’s liberal Suddeutsche Zeitung. “(It is) anecdotal, full of metaphors, enthusiastic and bubbling with admiration for the overwhelming technical advantages of the Abrams tank.”
Journalists in Asia echo that complaint. A Sunday Bangkok Post column scolded Thai television stations for using U.S. feeds without “investigating (or) challenging them.” And a recent critique of coverage in the English-language South China Morning Post ran under the headline “U.S. television networks losing the fight against biased coverage.”
Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, says these charges have some merit.
“Our coverage is a little worse than I expected. (Reports from embedded journalists) are basically snippets of enthusiastic travelogue and up-close and personal stuff with the troops,” Gitlin says. “There’s been a disappearance of political commentary. We don’t seem to want to know why others are angry.”
— Marco R. della Cava, Iraq gets sympathetic press around the world International media wary of U.S. reporting, USA Today, April 2, 2003
The same article notes for example, that even though U.S. media might be “monochromatic”, in Britain and some other nations that support the U.S. stance, there are some media outlets openly against it, while others are for it.
In the days after the main war was over, the British media for example, started to concentrate more on the emergency issues of access to water, health, the issues of looting security in general and so forth. This pattern tended to fall in line with the timetable of the official position. That is during the time of the war, a lot of television coverage was about the military, with occassional reporting on the horrors and the controversial nature of the war. When the main thrust of the war had ended, only then questions began to be askd about the effects (while overall, coverage still seemed supportive of the war).
And months after the war ended, in October 2003, the Washington Post revealed that with the increasing death toll amongst American troops in Iraq, the Bush administration decided to enforce a policy that would ban news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases.
Bombing the Media
Towards the end of March, Coalition forces bombed Iraqi TV. On the one hand, there were understandable questions about bombing Iraqi television because it was an outlet for propaganda, yet, on the other hand, there were many issues of double standards arising:
- As Amnesty International pointed out, attacking the TV station is illegal under international law, and amounts to a war crime:
“The bombing of a television station simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda is unacceptable. It is a civilian object, and thus protected under international humanitarian law,” said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director for International Law at Amnesty International.
“Attacking a civilian object and carrying out a disproportionate attack are war crimes. The onus is on the Coalition forces to demonstrate the military use of the TV station and, if that is indeed the case, to show that the attack took into account the risk to civilian lives.”
— Daily Digest: War Crimes during military operation, Amnesty International, March 26, 2003, News Service No: 068
- FAIR reported the comments of the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, who suggested that “there should be a clear international investigation into whether or not this bombing violates the Geneva Conventions. Once again, we see military and political commanders from the democratic world targeting a television network simply because they don’t like the message it gives out.”
- As FAIR summarized in the same link above, U.S. mainstream media supported the bombing, with some outlets even encouraging the bombing of Iraqi TV before it happened. FAIR added, “Given such attitudes, perhaps it’s not surprising that discussions of the legality of attacking Iraqi TV have been rare in U.S. mainstream media. Yet when the White House accused Iraq of violating the Geneva Conventions by airing footage of American POWs, media were eager to engage the subject of international law. It’s a shame U.S. media haven’t held the U.S. government to the same standards.”
On April 8, U.S. forces in central Baghdad fired at the Al Jazeera station and a hotel where many journalists stayed. Three journalists were killed, including a well known Al Jazeera correspondent.
- Media organization, Reporters Without Borders, accused the U.S. of firing on journalists deliberately.
- The U.S. had claimed that they were reacting to shots fired from those areas, but journalists on the scene pointed out that they did not hear any shots before the U.S. tanks fired.
- In addition, Lindsey Hilsun, from UK’s Channel 4 News reported from the scene adding that the U.S. tanks were some distance away from the hotel and supposed rifle fire and rocket propelled grenades would not have reached those tanks. She also added that no shots were fired at those tanks.
- An Australian daily, The Daily Telegraph, also reported that French TV caught this on camera too. British journalist Robert Fisk was also on the scene, and commented that Sky News, another British outlet, who also had a journalist at the hotel when it was hit, had pointed out that the Pentagon knew that this hotel housed journalists. In addition, Al Jazeera had constantly updated Coalition forces of its stations whereabouts, even though it had been bombed too. (Asia Times (April 10, 2003) also quoted this same Sky News journalist, David Chater, that the shell fired at the hotel “was aimed directly at this hotel and directly at journalists. This wasn’t an accident, it seems to be a very accurate shot.” The article also highlights the targeting of of independent journalists.)
- As the Indian media organization, The Hoot also suggested, the targeting was deliberate: “Events leading to the march of the coalition soldiers into Baghdad this week clearly proved that Pentagon was deliberately targeting Arab media. What other explanation could there be for the bombing of the buildings housing Al-Jazeera and Abu Dubhai stations on April 8? Of course the Palestine Hotel, which accommodated hundreds of western journalists, was also bombed. Pentagon sought to justify its attacks as a response to sniper fire from these buildings. Significantly, not a single journalist from any country corroborated the Pentagon version.”
- The next day, the famous images of the toppling of the large statue of Saddam Hussein was broadcast around the world, in effect, marking the fall of the regime.
Fall of Saddam and Vindication of the War
Inter Press Service pointed out (April 9, 2003) that while there were celebrations at Saddam being toppled, there was caution in some areas as well.
- For much of the mainstream media, the underlying theme implied how this vindicates the leaders, Bush and Blair.
- The concern for many around the world is that such quick, decisive and effective wars may mean that future wars may be supported and waged, even if their cases may also be questionable or even perhaps illegal.
- It is by no means certain what the future of Iraq is. The Coalition claims that occupation will only be as long as until an Iraqi democracy is in place, not a moment longer, while others fear that they will remain as long as it takes to get a puppet regime (which may still be democratic for its people, but a puppet for geopolitically regional and international issues). This is an understandable concern given the decades of supporting brutal regimes and malleable puppet regimes, while in some cases actually overthrowing popular regimes around the world (though in this case, overthrowing an unpopular regime that had been assisted by some Coalition nations and others for many years).
- How the vindication is being portrayed as well has been of interest. Tony Blair himself for example has been quite measured and avoided a “told you so” and vindicative attack on his critics directly, though indirectly, this has been quite marked. Mostly by the media. Media watchdog Media Lens provide a lot of critique on even the liberal media in Britian in how they have sought to vindicate Blair:
“For a political leader, few therapies compare with military victory. For a leader who went to war in the absence of a single political ally who believed in the war as unreservedly as he did, Iraq now looks like vindication on an astounding scale.” ('So begins Blair’s descent into powerless mediocrity, Victory in Iraq risks being effaced by imminent surrender over the euro', Hugo Young, The Guardian, April 15, 2003)
This is the role of the establishment media — to vindicate the crimes of the powerful, to whitewash the bloodbath. Young raises doubts on the side (the glory could quickly fade for Blair), but power is vindicated — the crucial point.
It doesn’t matter how many people died, how fraudulent the reasons for war, how blatant the greed for oil and power, how vast the domestic and international public and political opposition, how blatant the contravention of international law, how horrendous the aftermath. The priority, always, after one of our wars, is to vindicate the decision to fight.
... for our political commentators these deaths [of Iraqis in the Iraq war] don’t really count, they aren’t touched by them — Third World people are always dying, that’s just what they do, and they would have died anyway under Saddam. Sometimes grotesque attempts are even made to rationalise this prejudice.
... It is true that the direct effects of this war were less destructive than some other wars (the indirect effects are only beginning to come to light) but that is not how we judge the legitimacy of war. The question is to what extent a war is based on lies, self-interest and deception — and this war was based on nothing but lies, self-interest and deception. The US/UK simply decided to invade another country, obscuring their motives — oil, power, influence, intimidation — under a veil of propaganda.
It might be difficult to accept, but the truth is that every person who died in the war was killed for Western corporate and strategic interests. Does anyone seriously believe that the US would send a quarter of a million troops to Iraq only to have the Iraqi people freely vote to have nothing to do with the United States government? But wouldn’t genuine 'liberty' and 'democracy' have to include that possibility?
If we approve of the war, then we must approve of every lesser Mafia and gangland killing now and in the past, every imperial slaughter throughout history. We must accept that 'might makes right', that morality is of consequence only as a cover for criminality. We have to vindicate the right of a criminal to break into houses, of a rapist to brutalise at will, of a torturer to inflict agony on any victims he has the power to torment.
It makes no difference that 'only' a few thousand Iraqis died, or that 'only' a few hundred died — would the Germans have been right to invade the Soviet Union if only 100 people had been killed?
— Moral Meltdown — The Guardian and Observer, Media Lens, April 18, 2003
- Consider also the amount of propaganda to vilify the enemy, to help create the shock, disgust, even hatred that would provide support for the war. No doubt Saddam Hussein and his regime have been brutal, and no-one seriously argues that. However, what is less considered is that he was well-armed by the west, including countries such as the U.S. who provided chemical and other WMD capabilities. In addition, the grim reality of the sanctions regime is said by people like Tony Blair to be solely at the fault of Saddam Hussein in the way he chose to implement the sanctions policy. No one challenged Tony Blair’s claims about this, that the U.N. Sanctions Committee — heavily influenced by U.S. and U.K. members — make life and death decisions on what materials could be allowed into Iraq or not, including things like Chlorine for water disinfection. Consider also the following, which highlights how in the propaganda battle, some of the more difficult truths were simplified:
But consider the logic of the argument on its own terms: war is bad, this war was not as bad as other wars, therefore this war was not so bad. Saddam was bad, this war was not as bad as Saddam, therefore this war was not so bad. In this kind of propaganda there are only ever two choices, black or white: war to bestow liberty by deposing a dictator, or freedom for a dictator to slaughter his people. But of course nothing is that simple.
— Moral Meltdown — The Guardian and Observer, MediaLens, April 18, 2003
And a summary of some of those uncomfortable truths:
There is something especially disgusting about the lurid propaganda coming from these PR-trained British officers, who have not a clue about Iraq and its people. They describe the liberation they are bringing from “the world’s worst tyranny”, as if anything, including death by cluster bomb or dysentery, is better than “life under Saddam”. The inconvenient truth is that, according to Unicef, the Ba'athists built the most modern health service in the Middle East.
No one disputes the grim, totalitarian nature of the regime; but Saddam Hussein was careful to use the oil wealth to create a modern secular society and a large and prosperous middle class. Iraq was the only Arab country with a 90 per cent clean water supply and with free education. All this was smashed by the Anglo-American embargo. When the embargo was imposed in 1990, the Iraqi civil service organised a food distribution system that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation described as “a model of efficiency . . . undoubtedly saving Iraq from famine”. That, too, was smashed when the invasion was launched.
— John Pilger, Crime Against Humanity, April 10, 2003
U.S. Army Sent Fake Iraq Letters To U.S. Media Outlets
As reported by Britain’s Channel 4 news program, the U.S. Army sent fake letters to many U.S. media outlets to show positive results from the war, such as how a city near Baghdad was transformed after the war.
“Each of the 12 letters, whose contents are identical, were signed by different soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry,” Channel 4 noted. They pointed out that, “The fraud was discovered when two letters arrived at the same newspaper in Washington state.”
As the Channel 4 broadcast on October 14, 2003 also noted, this happened to be the same perspective being presented by the Bush Administration, and George Bush himself as he went on various interviews with local media outlets, because, as some critics believed, they are easier to deal with than the major nationwide outlets. If you combine this with say the example mentioned further above about the Bush Administration enforcing a policy to ban coverage of dead soldier' homecomings, then it looks more like a one-sided picture is likely to emerge in the minds of ordinary Americans.
History is said to be written by the victor, and newspapers are said to be modern sources and recorders of history. Yet, this would appear to show an example of how history can be re-written.
A Free and Uncensored Press in Iraq?
Consider the following:
You know, I just came in from Baghdad, and there are now over 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq in a free Iraq, where people are able to say whatever they wish. People are debating, people are discussing — something they have not done for decades."
— Donald Rumsfeld, in response to protesters, September 10, 2003
Rumsfeld made an attempt to divert attention from the substance of protests calling for his resignation with talk of the establishment of a free press in Iraq. Rumsfeld did not remind the audience of the countless instances of censorship exercised by the U.S. over mostly Arab journalists expressing anti-occupation views.
— Victoria Cunningham (One of the protestors on who interrupted Rumsfeld’s speech in Washington), Context: Governing Council’s Crackdown on Al-Jazeera, Institute for Public Accuracy, September 24, 2003
Inter Press Service also reports that media watchdogs such as Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders) are highlighting concerns about the clamp down on media stations for airing anti-occupation views and giving time to recordings of Saddam Hussein,, thus raising issues of press freedom. “Penalising media outlets sets a poor precedent and raises serious questions about how Iraqi authorities will handle the broadcast or publication of negative news. The governing council should encourage open media,” IPS quoted a CPJ member as saying.
IPS continues, “The controversy comes amid growing concerns about the CPA’s attitude toward the press and a number of recent incidents in which media workers were assaulted by occupation troops.”
IPS also notes that a number of media outlets have been closed after the CPA accused them of incitement against occupation forces. Furthermore, as IPS also says, “the Iraq Media Network (IMN), a CPA-run project put together by a major U.S. defence contractor, has reportedly taken over a number of radio stations in various parts of the country, effectively silencing independent voices.”
And consider the following propaganda strategy used by the CIA to create certain impressions on the general public of Iraq:
The CIA paid mullahs and created fake Islamic religious leaders to preach a moderate message and counter anti-American sentiment in the Arab world after the 11 September attacks, a new book claims.
In The CIA at War, Ronald Kessler, an investigative reporter and author of several books about the CIA and the FBI, also details espionage activity in Iraq which supported the March invasion that toppled the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein.
[Interviewing top CIA officials], Mr Kessler claims the CIA used agents from intelligence services in Arab countries, including Jordan, Syria and Egypt, to infiltrate al-Qaeda and develop intelligence.
These agents were also used to sow suspicion, so that members of the network would kill each other. The book blames al-Qaeda for 11 September.
— Tabassum Zakaria, CIA paid mullahs to counter anti-US feeling, The Scotsman, September 24, 2003
The above may or may not appear shocking, but as part of a war strategy, such propaganda operations are common place, and there are probably many that we will never hear about.
Censorship in the Free World
The BBC produced a short list (April 17, 2003) of some events and claims which turned out later to be false, inconclusive or unknown, though at the time used as propaganda, such as that Scud missiles were fired (none were), that there was a civilian uprising in Basra (none), chemical weapons find (none to date), etc. The Guardian also had a similar article earlier (March 29, 2003). As the weeks and months rolled by, more and more came to light. In June 2003, for example, Alternet, an alternative on-line media organization produced a list of 10 of the “most outrageous and significant of the dozens of outright lies”.
Note that a lot of the above comes from British and American mainstream sources. The mainstream do provide many articles and may often provide important and critical news items, and the main criticism here is around what is prioritized, what is under-reported etc.
- A lot of these news items around the time of the war may be on the middle pages so to speak, or in the case of television, may either show important dissenters late at night, or provide less coverage of these aspects in comparison to the amount of pro-war coverage, etc.
- As a result, a distorted view of issues may result, and people may end up supporting a war which could otherwise have had at least questionable reasons.
- A report from the U.S. University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) for example, released a study in October 2003 highlighting how many misconceptions about the case for war on Iraq were propagated through the mainstream broadcast news channels. The study, as Inter Press Service reported on it, found that “the more misperceptions held by the respondent, the more likely it was that s/he both supported the war and depended on commercial television for news about it.”
- What often seems to be lacking from mainstream media reporting, especially television, seems to be detailed context, and reporters that challenge questionable assertions and claims by leaders and their spokespeople.
Indeed, mainstream outlets have themselves been involved in analysis and/or pointing fingers at competing outlets on who has been more involved in propaganda. There are so many articles on the topic that it would be impossible to list them all here, but some are included below, including links to some other media analysis:
- When O'Reilly Takes On the BBC, by Rory O'Connor, AlterNet, May 7, 2003
- Critic Accuses Media of Aiding U.S. War Propaganda, by David Morgan, Reuters, May 2, 2003
- BBC Director General Strikes Out At US Media, by Matt Wells, The Guardian, April 25, 2003
- Turner Calls Rival Media Mogul Murdoch 'Warmonger' by, Duncan Martell, Reuters, April 25, 2003 (see second article on the linked page)
- Revealed: How the Road to War was Paved with Lies, by Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, April 27 2003
- We must not Americanise the BBC, by Greg Dyke, BBC Director General in a speech to a journalism symposium at Goldsmiths College, University of London, April 25, 2003
- Dyke Attacks American Media Networks for 'Gung-Ho' Coverage of Gulf Conflict, by Ian Burrell, The Independent, April 25, 2003
- The US vs. the UK, by Russ Baker, The Nation, April 11, 2003
- Hour of Media Shame, by Kanak Mani Dixit, The Nation, April 11, 2003
- U.S. media losing global respect, by Stephan Richter, Japan Today, April 21, 2003
- The Un-American Media, by Ana Marie Cox, In These Times, March 28, 2003
- State-sponsored lies, by Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde diplomatique, July 2003
- MediaChannel.org is a web site devoted to issues about the media.
- Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting also provides a lot of media analysis and studies. For Iraq, see in particular:
This article is part of the following collection:
- Iraq—2003 onwards; War, Aftermath and Post-Saddam
- Iraq - WikiLeaks - More Damaging Revelations for the US
- Iraq War Media Reporting, Journalism and Propaganda
- Aftermath and Rebuilding Iraq
- Iraq: Lack of Security and Deteriorating Conditions
- Justifying the Iraq War and WMDs
- Iraq War and Geopolitics
- Handover of Power to Iraqis
- Iraq Links for More Information