The invasion and occupation of Iraq since 2003 is a classic example of the power and effectiveness of propaganda campaigns. For some people, subsequent revelations about the lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) might have come as a surprise. But even before the invasion took place, many people across the world (including Americans) took part in mass protestations against what they sensed to be an illegitimate war carried out for unjust reasons. This is a reflection of the general public disillusionment with the functioning of government institutions. More importantly, it is an indication of the distrust of mainstream media sources and the information (misinformation) being generated by them. Sadly, though, such expressions of disagreement and distrust only account for a politically aware minority, whilst a large majority of the population are subject to government propganda, orchestrated and implemented by major media institutions. Indeed, the ruthlessness and brazenness with which the Bush Administration went about achieving its strategic goals can be learnt from the following quote:
“The issue of whether the Pentagon was waging an orchestrated domestic propaganda campaign was first openly acknowledged in the fall of 2002. Donald Rumsfeld was asked whether the Pentagon was engaged in propagandizing through the Defense Department’s Office of Strategic Influence (strategic influence is military jargon for propaganda). Military officials said they might release false news stories to the foreign press, but they had to retract that when news organizations expressed concern that the bogus stories could be picked up in the domestic press. Mocking concerns about propaganda blowback, Rumsfeld informed the media on November 18, 2002, that he would eliminate the program in name only. (Goodman & Goodman, 2004, p.253)
One might wonder why such a nexus between apparently two different kinds of institutions should exist and what benefits would its leaders attain in the process. There are a few sociological and political economic theories of news production that attempt to answer this most pressing question of modern democratic societies. The rest of this essay will try to encapsulate the essence of such theories and find out if they resonate in the case of the Iraq War.
One of the major contributions to the subject of government-media propaganda is made by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. Their seminal work titled Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media is perhaps the most illuminating work on this subject, alongside Ben H. Bagdikian’s another path-breaking work ‘Media Monopoly’. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman layout a template for how propaganda works. This they called the Propaganda Model. In it they identify a set of five key factors that contribute to the functioning of propaganda machinery. These are: 1. Ownership of the medium 2. Medium’s funding sources 3. Sourcing 4. Flak and 5. Anti-Communist Ideology. (Mcchesney, 1989, p.36) It should be remembered that during the time of the book’s publication, Soviet Union was still in existence and Anti-Communist ideology comprised the dominant American foreign policy paradigm. In the context of the ongoing occupation of Iraq, one could replace it with such contrived fears as Terrorism and Islamophobia. (Edgley, 2000) What follows is a brief overview of these five factors that helped propaganda efforts in the lead-up to the Iraq war to be successful.
First, mainstream media outlets in the United States (a fact that is equally applicable to most capitalist countries) is largely privately owned. Let us take the case of Television news. The facade of diversity created by hundreds of news channels breaks down with the realization that most channels are owned by a few major media houses such as CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox. These television networks are in turn owned by bigger business corporations such as General Electric, Time Warner, AOL, etc. Some of these major business corporations also have sister concerns that serve directly or indirectly as military contractors to the American government. The massive deployment of military weaponry and equipment had undoubtedly resulted in windfall profits for these companies (even as the economy was reeling under an acute recession). In the case of the Bush presidency, his Administration had several former energy company employees such as Dick Cheney and Condaleeza Rice, whose loyalties were stronger with former employers than with majority of American citizens. Also, for media conglomerates such as NBC, CBS, etc, bolstering their bottom lines is of primary importance, for after-all they are privately owned and are driven by the profit motive. (Leahey, 2004, p.281) In this framework, it is easy to see why their editorial policies and news selection guidelines would relfect these imperatives and preoccupations. This analytic framework makes it easy to see how major media companies in the country implicitly aided (if not prompted) the government to invade Iraq and take control of its energy resources. As a result of this inherent advantage, a list of misconceptions were perpetrated by the Bush Administration during the war. For example,