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.
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 case1.
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
2 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 highlighted3 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.
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 reporting6. 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:
(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 interviewed8 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, 20039) 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 propaganda10 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, 200311) 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 case12 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 annotated13 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, 200314).
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:
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:
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, 200317) 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 difficult18.
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 down20 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 media21 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 details22, 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 illegal23. 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 seriously
Alternatives 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:
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 problem27, 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:
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 Count29 web site. It also quotes General Tommy Franks, of the US Central Command as saying We don’t do body counts.
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:
In Iraq Crisis, Networks Are Megaphones for Official Views36 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 propaganda37.
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:
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-Journalistic40.
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:
An article in the Indian magazine, The Hoot, also noted42 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.)
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
44, 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 overwhelmed45.
The Guardian also detailed some gruesome aspects of the horrors of war46 (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, 200347) that the American Portrayal of a War of Liberation is faltering across the Arab world. USA Today presented the concern (April 2, 200348) 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
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 bases50.
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:
FAIR reported58 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 deliberately59.
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 too60. 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 journalists61. In addition, Al Jazeera had constantly updated Coalition forces of its stations whereabouts, even though it had been bombed too. (Asia Times (April 10, 200362) 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 deliberate63: 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.
Inter Press Service pointed out (April 9, 200364) 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 decades65 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:
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:
And a summary of some of those uncomfortable truths:
These aspects are detailed on the previous page on this site about building the case69, and on the next page about the effects of sanctions70.
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 outlets71 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.
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,
75, 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 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.
The BBC produced a short list107 (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, 2003108). 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 list109 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
110. 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 BBC111, by Rory O'Connor, AlterNet, May 7, 2003
Critic Accuses Media of Aiding U.S. War Propaganda112, by David Morgan, Reuters, May 2, 2003
BBC Director General Strikes Out At US Media
113, by Matt Wells, The Guardian, April 25, 2003
Turner Calls Rival Media Mogul Murdoch 'Warmonger'114 by, Duncan Martell, Reuters, April 25, 2003 (see second article on the linked page)
Revealed: How the Road to War was Paved with Lies
115, by Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, April 27 2003
We must not Americanise the BBC116, 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
117, by Ian Burrell, The Independent, April 25, 2003
The US vs. the UK118, by Russ Baker, The Nation, April 11, 2003
Hour of Media Shame119, by Kanak Mani Dixit, The Nation, April 11, 2003
U.S. media losing global respect
120, by Stephan Richter, Japan Today, April 21, 2003
The Un-American Media121, by Ana Marie Cox, In These Times, March 28, 2003
State-sponsored lies122, by Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde diplomatique, July 2003
MediaChannel.org123 is a web site devoted to issues about the media.
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting124 also provides a lot of media analysis and studies. For Iraq, see in particular:
Iraq and the Media125 includes analysis on the media regarding Iraq
Media Views126 includes links to media-related articles from around the web, and those from earlier in 2003 include more on Iraq
(Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)
The original from the UN sometimes cannot be accessed in a straight forward manner. I found you had to sometimes go to this next page, which lists all the meetings conducted/actions taken by the Security Council in 2002. Scroll down to the November 8, 2002 document, called S/PV.4644, and select that link. http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/resguide/scact2002.htm
Elizabeth Becker, 'The American Portrayal of a War of Liberation Is Faltering Across the Arab World', New York Times, April 5, 2003 [Link is to reposted version on Truthout.org], http://truthout.org/docs_03/040703G.shtml
Most (nearly half) of all foreign militants are Saudi, not Iranian. The Bush administration of course mentions only Iran
May 7, 2007
Added information about the study in the Lancet noting some 400,000 to 950,000 estimated Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion and some of the controversy surrounding the study.
September 10, 2006
Added notes on the following:
New York Times appears to have revised history in its explanation of why Iraq was invaded by the US and UK;
A propaganda intern describes how he was paying to plant pro-American articles in the Iraqi press that were secretly written by the US military;
The US attempts a fresh push at massaging international coverage of the Iraq war;
Bush appears to be using a definition of torture that most do not recognize, and thereby being able to claim he doesn’t authorize the use of torture.
August 10, 2005
Added a small note about how civilian casualties are not cared about much and that reporting on it is skewed.
August 21, 2004
About how embedded journalism and the media briefings at Central Command were carefully and successfully managed by the Coalition forces
August 10, 2004
About NBC censoring part of an interview with Bush about justifying the war on Iraq; Al Jazeera temporarily banned from Iraq.
July 31, 2004
Torture report reveals pressure from Washington to squeeze out intelligence from detainees in effect encouraged more torture
June 5, 2004
An insight into Chalabi’s past reveals important information about how the campaign to wage war on Iraq came about.
May 21, 2004
Overview and issues regarding torture revelations by American and British troops and the impact on the British paper that revealed some of this.
May 2, 2004
Media outlets that have not shown images favorable to the U.S./U.K. efforts have been criticized as biased. Some details added. Update also added on Pentagon ban on coverage of dead American servicemen briefly being relaxed
March 10, 2004
More information on spy allegations
February 17, 2004
More regarding spy allegations and that war could have been averted
February 09, 2004
New section on censorship, and Katharine Gun revealing that U.S. was spying on U.N. delegations in early 2003