Media complicity and disinformation on the Iraq war

A new report by the progressive media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting shows the complicity of the capitalist media in selling the U.S. invasion of Iraq to a skeptical U.S. public.

The war and occupation of Iraq has passed the four-year mark. Increasing numbers of people in the United States are

expressing open opposition to the war. Many who once supported the war have now joined the anti-war movement, most notably soldiers and their families. How come so many people were convinced to support the war in the first place?

The role of the bought-and-paid-for corporate media in selling the Bush administration’s lies cannot be overstated.

It is well known that all the justifications for the invasion have been proven to be lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Iraq posed no threat to the safety or security of people in the United States. Iraq had no ties to terrorist organizations and had nothing to do with the World Trade Center attacks.

However, even in fall 2002, activists and critical journalists raised these issues and questioned the line being peddled by the administration that Iraq posed an imminent danger to the United States.

On the 4th anniversary of the US “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq, FAIR prepared a critical timeline of media coverage of the Iraq war build up from fall 2002 into the first few months of the war and occupation. The timeline paints a damning picture of media complicity in as cheerleaders for the drive to war and silencing even the mildest of anti-war views.

Some excerpts from the shameful media behavior catalogued in the timeline are the following:

September 8, 2002
-Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller co-authored the article “U.S. says Hussein intensifies quest for A-bomb parts” on the front page of the New York Times. The story relied heavily on claims made by Bush administration officials regarding Iraq’s “worldwide hunt” to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. Miller and Gordon warned that “Mr. Hussein’s dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq’s push to improve and expand Baghdad’s chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war.” The article was later discredited in its entirely.

-Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press and contended that Iraq has “reconstituted” its nuclear weapons program. His main piece of evidence was the recent attempts by Hussein to obtain aluminum tubes, which Cheney cites to “a story in the New York Times this morning.”

September 13, 2002
-While interviewing war critic and former weapons inspector Scott Ritter on CNN, Paula Zahn suggested he was in league with Saddam Hussein: “People out there are accusing you of drinking Saddam Hussein’s Kool-Aid.”

October 14, 2002
-Illustrating the limited range of debate in the corporate media, Time magazine paired a supposedly dovish piece by Wesley Clark, headlined “Let’s Wait to Attack,” with a hawkish article by Kenneth Adelman headlined, “No, Let’s Not Waste Any Time.”

October 21, 2002
-NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw asked, “Is there a real working relationship between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?” Correspondent Andrea Mitchell provided the answer: “To many Americans, the charge that Iraq was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks is compelling, and one used by the president to build support for war against Saddam Hussein.” The report that followed included three soundbites from administration officials, one critic who doubted the case, and one pro-war analyst, Ken Pollack, who explained the value of linking Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Mitchell closed by saying, “A recent poll shows that three-quarters of Americans already believe Saddam Hussein is helping al-Qaeda, a sign the administration is making its case, at least to the public.” Such muddled reporting no doubt helped the administration’s efforts.

November 7, 2002
-When anti-war activist Dr. Helen Caldicott blamed the dramatic rise in birth defects in southern Iraq on the U.S. use of depleted uranium in anti-tank shells in the Gulf War, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer defended the Pentagon. When Caldicott brought up the effect of sanctions on Iraq, Blitzer again offered the official line. He said, “the Iraqi regime itself is to blame for all of these problems.”

December 12, 2002
-The Washington Post ran a front-page article by Barton Gellman headlined, “U.S. suspects Al-Qaeda got nerve agent from Iraqis; Analysts: Chemical may be VX, and was smuggled via Turkey.” The paper suggested that Bush “received a credible report” that Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists were given chemical weapons by the Iraq government, which supplied “concrete evidence” to Bush’s contention that Iraq was aiding Al-Qaeda.

January 28, 2003
-George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union Address, in which he said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.”

-The Associated Press reported that the Comcast cable company refused to air Peace Action Education Fund’s anti-war ads during Bush’s State of the Union speech. Ironically, Comcast contended that the ads make unsubstantiated claims, but declined to specify what the claims were.

February 21, 2003
-USA Today reported that a U.S. military attack would “leave Iraq’s regular military, its civilians and most cities and towns untouched.”

February 25, 2003
-MSNBC canceled Donahue, its top-rated show and a rare bit war skepticism in the capitalist media. An internal NBC report soon surfaced that described host Phil Donahue as “a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.” The report worried that Donahue’s show could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”

March 19, 2003
-U.S. and coalition forces commenced bombing Iraq.

-The Chicago Tribune reported on pro-war rallies organized by radio giant Clear Channel: “In a move that has raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles, Clear Channel radio stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati and other cities have sponsored rallies attended by up to 20,000 people. The events have served as a loud rebuttal to the more numerous but generally smaller anti-war rallies.” The piece went on to note that Clear Channel’s rallies “are the idea of Glenn Beck, a Philadelphia talk show host whose program is syndicated by Premier Radio Networks, a Clear Channel subsidiary.” In 2006, Beck would be rewarded for his efforts with a nightly show on CNN Headline News.

Read FAIR’s timeline at by clicking here.

The timeline’s account of the media’s disgusting pro-war, pro-administration fawning, with barely a whisper of a “hard-hitting question,” is uplifted by a focus on the efforts of independent journalists and activists to tell the truth about Iraq as the United States marched towards imperialist war.

The corporate-owned media not only parroted the U.S. imperialist line on the war, but fabricated stories on behalf of those who wanted to create a pretext for war. While outrageous, such behavior is not surprising.

The capitalist media are part of the ruling establishment and, as such, act in the interest of their class. This reality gives us all the more reason to support progressive and revolutionary media that report on and analyze events from the standpoint of working-class and oppressed people.

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