Term Paper: Media and the Iraqi War

Pages: 10 (3781 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Terrorism  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Front-Page War:

How Media Complicity Created the War in Iraq

Two thousand years ago, an empire did not need justification to go to war. If the populace was unsupportive of the war, they could always be placated with mass executions, with bread and circuses. Two thousand years ago, if the military and its commanders wanted a war, all they needed was the command to march -- and if their victims were going to resist invasion, they did so through love of the fatherland, not because of some sort of multimedia spin control. Unfortunately for the hawks of the new American Empire, times have changed. America is an aging republic in which the opinions of the populace are still at least moderately important. Though the rulers of the nation may often go about their business impervious to the concerns of common folk, the national administration still cannot afford to go to war without the support --or at least generalized apathy -- of the voting public. Likewise, in the international environment today, an invaded nation cannot hope to continue fighting without the sympathy of the global community. So in order for a war to be fought and won, the management of public opinion becomes nearly as important as the management of an army. The importance of media as a means of manipulating public opinion and controlling the minds of the populace in favor of their own regime has become remarkably clear; over the past few years America has been sold the "War on Terror" with so much slick advertising and media manipulation that one might think it was the newest brand of soft drink.

The post-9/11 politicized media has been the dupe (or perhaps the co-conspirator) for many inflamed reports regarding "terrorist" links between Iraq and Ben Ladin, supposed weapons of mass destruction which threatened the world, and evidence that Hussein had plans to attack America. These rumors, all of which were latter quietly dismissed as false, were so often reprinted and re-hashed that they came to be seen as truth by Americans everywhere -- their consistent repetition by the media could be construed as directly responsible for America's acceptance of the war. As the ground war got under way, the media was under increased scrutinization, with both subtle and blatant forms of censorship abounding. Ironically, despite the overwhelming degree to which the mainstream media walked a patriotic party line, politicians and neo-conservative continually critiqued leading news sources for their liberalism. Of course, America has certainly not been alone in its use of distorted news stories and censorship. Saddam Hussein was infamous in his use of censorship and intimidation to control news sources; additionally America and its allies alleged that Arab-based news media sources have been heavily skewed against the invasion, and have supported terrorism against the occupying forces.

In both cases, the media has been more dramatically involved in this "war on terror" than in any prior war. The increased involvement of the media in wartime has, of course, been an on-going trend for many years, dating back past the Vietnam war. A reasoned case could be made to say that every war since the American Revolution has seen a higher level of media and journalistic involvement, and certainly there have been other instances where "yellow" journalism and irresponsible reporting have helped to drive violent engagements. Nonetheless, it seems likely that the "war on terror" has had a uniquely high level of media involvement, as nearly instant communications from the front have become commonplace. The war, for all sides, has been neatly packaged and defined. It has become a sort of glossy war, in which the atrocities taking place on both sides are carefully re-touched for public consumption. As Beeman describes it:

The result is that nothing is ever taken at face value, and nothing is proportionate. All actions are elevated to become mythic, dramatic enactments of the struggle between absolute good and absolute evil at every turn.... In this strange, media-dominated world, every action is set up in advance, played for the media and designed to have maximal rhetorical impact. President Bush mouths empty platitudes about fighting the "enemies of freedom" for the benefit of his extremist Republican core constituency. The heinous thugs carrying out acts such as the Berg beheading do so to indicate their willingness to exact a crowd-pleasing revenge on Americans recast as colonists, crusaders and captors. Both positions are dishonorable, for they bypass completely the welfare both of the combatants and the innocent citizens who are slaughtered in the fray.

The war has become a war of sound-byte rhetoric and brightly colored images, and the control of information has become just as important as the control of strategic geographical locations. When images and rhetoric get out of control of those who make the war, and the media is forced out of its government sanctioned telemetries, (as in the case of the Abu Ghraib prison torture, which was forced into the public attention) then and only then does the war itself seem temporarily unmanageable.

In studying the function and history of the media in this conflict, two central issues needs to be addressed. First, the way in which the conflict was created in the media, as hinted at above, deserves more careful attention. Additionally, the truths about censorship and government (both American and Iraqi/Arab) sponsorship and control over media needs to be explored. When these issues have been addressed and understood, the reaction of the American and Iraqi response to these media presentations may be most fully understood.

The Media Creation of a Crisis

To say that the media created the war in Iraq is somewhat misleading. It would be most accurate to say that the media was the tool through which pundits and politicians gained the silent authorization of their people to begin the war. According to many sources which are just now coming to light, the Bush administration had designs to go to war with Iraq from the beginning of his presidency, though the plans were no doubt incompletely formed and awaiting a justification. Certainly Bush had many reasons to want to "finish" the work that his father had started in the Gulf War. So, despite the fact that evidence indicated that the terrorist activities of September 11th were not directly related to Iraq, the Bush administration immediately began to bandy about the idea that Iraq posed an equal terrorist threat to America which had to be countered. This supposed threat was thought to come from their links with al-Qaida and the illusory stockpiles of "dirty" nuclear and chemical weapons which the nation was believed to be hiding from inspectors. It would later appear that both of these threats were unfounded.)

If you just look at how this war developed, the administration made some serious claims that sort of fluctuated one to the other. Even before the war, none of those claims held up to scrutiny - and now, after, none of them do, says Robert McChesney." (Grimm) These claims were quickly picked up and parroted by the media, and it was then (and in some cases still is) difficult to find any evidence in the mainstream media that comprehensive investigative journalism attempted to validate these claims. In general, every media outlet repeated the party line that the "terrorist" state of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. As McChesney would go on to say: "The sort of press envisioned in the Constitution was, if you go to war, we have these independent institutions that hold you accountable. They don't just say, 'Great war, guys' and move on...If the Soviet Union cited reasons like this in their invasion of Afghanistan and Pravda reported nothing but what the government said, we would've dismissed it out of hand. Our press hasn't been much better." (Grimm)

To be fair, the false information provided by the administration has, after being proven inaccurate, has been reported as faulty intelligence rather than deliberate falsehoods. However, the fact that this was not discovered and discussed earlier is a direct indication that the media was overly swayed by the administration.

It is obvious how these mistaken "truths," repeated loudly and vociferously, could easily manipulate the general public into accepting a war they might otherwise have condemned. The Bush administration consistently released "Terror alert levels" which were reported offhandedly by all the news agencies without firm supporting evidence. These created a sense of general fear which needed a resolution of some sort. Many of these warnings regarded terrorist strikes with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons which could be used to infect subways, water supplies, sporting events, or other common civilian areas. When these constant, unformed threats were subtly (and sometimes, one remembers, not so subtly) linked to the "fact" that Iraq had developed chemical and nuclear weapons which could (theoretically) be used on American citizens, it seemed logical for many to react in favor of a preventive strike.

When politicians made statements such as "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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