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Spin and Fear

A fascinating look at the real news behind the fake news.


Working in media, our staff has a perspective that many other businesses don't. Every day we get hundreds of press releases from public relations firmspress releases on new products, tourist destinations and books. But sometimes we receive troubling releases where the obvious effort is to do damage control, also known as "spin," to paint their clients in the most positive light, especially when it concerns damages that involve life and death issues. This is big business, especially for irresponsible corporations that pollute. To learn more about sophisticated efforts of "spin," go to www.prwatch.org. It is a fascinating look at the real news behind the fake news.

I have just finished two new titles that take an inside look at the war in Iraqone on the PR and lobbying used to lure us into invading Iraq and the other examining the war from a military perspective.

The truth is hard to find. Last August, when confronted, President Bush admitted that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. However, there are thousands of our soldiers fighting in Iraq who believe that they are there fighting the men who brought down the Twin Towers. It is no wonder they assume this. Vice President Cheney alluded to this non-fact many times on television. Patriotic soldiers must believe in the mission or they will not be able to withstand the rigors of warfare. But these brave young men and women deserve the truth. We have been fighting a misguided war, one in which leaders failed to recognize that they set the stage for a growing insurgency that was inevitable. Our leaders' mistakes fueled the violence.

The Best War Ever, a new book by the editors of PR Watch, John Stauber and and Sheldon Rampton, examines the public relations and "spin" behind the war in Iraq. It is a fascinating, but disturbing, account of the propaganda spinmeisters' efforts to seduce a naive public into believing their bogus story. The authors reveal how the public was duped by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC) that was set up after Operation Desert Storm "to create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power," with generous funding by the United States. According to a 1998 ABC News report, the CIA and The Rendon Group, a public relations firm, worked together to develop the behind-the-scenes Iraqi dissident group, headed by the darling of the neo-cons, Chalabia financier convicted of bank fraud in Jordan. Eventually, according to former CIA officer Robert Baer, the CIA came to believe that Chalabi was reporting "total trash" intelligence. Chalabi's group used several public relations and lobbying groups, "despite restrictions on taxpayer money being spent to influence public and congressional opinion." Stauber and Rampton also describe how sophisticated spin control facilitated a cover-up of the numbers of civilian Iraqis killed in the war.

I also recommend reading Thomas Ricks' Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. It's the latest of a series of books that examine the leadup to the warMichael Scheuer's Imperial Hubris, Hans Blix's Disarming Iraq, Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, and Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. While each of these excellent books point to our leaders' hubris and recklessness, Ricks' authoritative accounting of the events and strategic mistakes building up to the invasion have not been written elsewhere. Clarke and Scheuer write from the perspective of their experiences in intelligence and counterterrorism; Ricks writes from the viewpoint of more than 100 senior military personnel in Iraq. A seasoned reporter who worked for both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, Ricks examined more than 30,000 pages of official documents in his research. The result is a compelling and sobering account of how and why Bush and his tightly knit group of decision-makers plunged our country into a tragic escapade in the Middle East, and how our brutal actions led to the insurgency. Ricks maintains that Abu Ghraib was not an isolated event. He describes the resentment felt by Iraqis who saw our abusive, humiliating tactics and prison conditions. "We are the hated occupier," wrote a former Special Forces veteran.

Fiasco also recounts the heroism of our troops in battles such as the 2nd Fallujah and Tall Afar. Ricks describes a war whose leaders have been derilect in their duties as military and civilian leaders. The author points specifically to President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer and Tommy Franks as bungling their responsibilities. There was no preparation for maintaining order after Bush's declaration of "mission accomplished." Ricks writes that our soldiers were unprepared to be occupiers rather than "liberators." Soldiers were faced with bombings and snipings by angry Baathists who were fired in Bremer's de-Baathification. Ricks describes the daily 800-truck convoys that rode from Kuwait through Iraq to supply troops with everything from gas to ice cream. Trigger-happy convoy drivers (with headphones on) sniped at passers-by, which created friction with Iraqis and helped fuel the insurgency. Rumsfeld was described by Ricks' interviewees as bull-headed and unable to admit he needed to adjust to a changing situation.

Today, as Rumsfeld and Bush are equating their disastrous "stay the course" in Iraq with the fight against Hitler in World War II, calling their administration's efforts a fight against Islamic fascists to "fight them there so we won't have to fight them here," logic is again taking a back seat to creating fear. Will voters buy this line again in November's elections? Haven't enough civilians and soldiers lost their lives in this terrible war?

Ricks reports that in April of 2004, General Anthony Zinni agreed with the majority of poll respondents who said the war was not worth fighting. "I have seen this movie," said Zinni. "It was called Vietnam."

Published: August 01, 2006
Issue: November 2006