Propaganda Studies: Invasion and occupation of Iraq since 2003

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. This viewpoint is reflected in other contemporary scholarship on the subject. Prominent among them is Nicholas O’Shaughnessy’s work, which has spawned a new discipline in social sciences – that of Political Marketing. In his book titled Politics and Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Seduction, the author deciphers the real meaning and agenda behind political rhetoric and posturing. By studying extensively the media coverage of Iraq war and drawing suitable examples from it to support his claims, Shaughnessy illustrates how obfuscation of fact and propagation of myth are essential techniques of political marketers. And through this technique, propagandists are able to maintain the appeal of disinformation even when genuine sources of information are available in the digital medium. (Shaughnessy, 2005)

Despite awareness created by scholars such as Shaughnessy, public expressions of disagreement and distrust only account for a politically aware minority while the large majority of the population is subject to government propaganda, 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 handful of sociological and political economic theories of news production that attempt to answer this most pressing question of modern democratic societies. 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) We also see in the media coverage of the ongoing Iraq operations how each of these five filters exert their influence in shaping the media product.

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