Australian social scientist Alex Carey wrote, “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The Madison-based newsletter PR Watch is dedicated to exposing that propaganda, and, along with its affiliated website, provides essential ammunition for peace and justice activists and others fighting corporate disinformation. The journal’s editors, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, have also put out a series of muckraking books that, thanks to meticulous research, careful sourcing and finely-tuned B.S. detectors, are among the best examples of modern-day muckraking.
Weapons of Mass Deception effectively demolishes all the major arguments for George W’s Iraq war. It also shows the absurd depths to which war coverage sank, as when CNN stalwart Wolf Blitzer asks his colleague Frank Buckley, “tell us, Frank: how dramatic will it be?” The answer: “it will be very dramatic, Wolf.” Jesse Ventura opined, “it reminds me a lot of the super bowl.” MSNBC head Erik Sorenson was so impressed by the high-tech visuals of “shock and awe” he gushed, “this may be one time where the sequel is more compelling than the original.”
Of course, selling the sequel was an expensive undertaking. The Rendon Group, which created anti-Saddam propaganda for the CIA immediately after Gulf War I (during the first year of its contract the firm spent $23 million developing such material, including comic books and videotapes), made out especially well. Not the least of their accomplishments was creating the Iraqi National Congress (INC), helmed by embezzler and Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi. Presto, Freedom Fighters! Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and other neoconservative hawks behind the Project for a New American Century(PNAC), which provided the blueprint for Bush’s post-Sept 11 foreign policy, were so enamored of Chalabi they dubbed him “the George Washington of Iraq.” But unlike Washington, Chalabi had no real following within his own country, a fact CIA higher-ups found disturbing but Bush’s inner circle didn’t. Given the predominance of oil industry veterans in the Administration, it’s not surprising that one of the INC’s key points of disagreement with its rivals was over how to disburse petroleum profits: though others supported nationalizing Iraq’s oil, the INC argued in favor of creating a private consortium (including ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil and BP) to explore and extract those resources.
With enough advertising even the most threadbare excuse for a “liberation” movement can be sold to the U.S. public, softened as we are by decades of TV pitchmen and soundbite history. Stauber and Rampton cite a University of Massachusetts study of Gulf War I coverage which found that “the more TV people watched, the less they knew,” and “revealed a strong correlation between knowledge and opposition to the war. The more people know, in other words, the less likely they were to support the war policy.”
Unfortunately for the Iraqi people, most U.S. voters do get their news from TV, and more from Fox news than any other source. A former Fox editor quoted in Banana Republicans lays down the basic journalistic standards of Murdoch’s network: “The facts of a story just didn’t matter at all. The idea was to get those viewers out of their seats, screaming at the TV, the politicians, the liberals—whoever—simply by running a provocative story.” Murdoch hired Roger Ailes, the veteran right wing media guru who helped Richard Nixon get elected in 1968, to run the fledgling news channel.
Fox regularly featured clients of “media relations” expert Eleana Benador, who worked with hawks including Wall Street Journal empire-enthusiast Max Boot and NY Times reporter/Chalabi confidant Judith Miller, to peddle op-eds and push a pro-war line on TV talk shows. What Benador calls “trying to make communication a little bit easier” was actually willful obfuscation, as she counseled her clients to tone down their rhetoric to avoid scaring people with a glimpse of their true intentions (war and more war). As Rampton and Stauber point out, in PNAC lingo “U.S. nuclear weapons—which would be called ‘weapons of mass destruction if someone else owned them—are described as ‘the U.S. nuclear deterrent,’ while missiles with global reach are ‘defenses to defend the American homeland’ [which] ‘provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world.’”
Banana Republicans shows how effectively the right has organized in the U.S., and how relentless, and eager for battle, its leadership is. Grover Norquist, who a former aide to Dick Armey calls “our field marshal”, cut his teeth politically lobbying for Mozambique’s RENAMO and Angola’s UNITA, two brutal armed movements also supported by the South African apartheid regime. He describes his goal as “to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
This level of vitriol is complemented by movement strategist David Horowitz. Like many of the original neoconservatives a former leftist (Stauber recently called him a “Market Leninist”), Horowitz retains the instincts of his ‘60s revolutionary days. In a pamphlet distributed to all Congressional Republicans in 2000, Horowitz posited, “You cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate. You can do it only by following Lenin’s injunction: ‘In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent’s argument, but to wipe him from the face of the earth.’”
It’s hard to imagine John Kerry’s waffling, aloof patrician mode being a match for such opposition, and Stauber and Rampton are on the money when they write, “Whereas Republicans see politics as a war, strategists for the Democratic Party tend to see politics as a debate.”
But based on his recent performance, it doesn’t seem that the Democratic Leadership Council types behind Kerry even want much of a debate. Kerry, who brags that he endorsed sixteen out of nineteen military budget increases during his time in the Senate, and who recently assured wealthy backers “I am not a redistributionist Democrat,” on June 2 criticized Bush for calling Iraq the main front in the war on terror. His bone of contention: “It’s a multifront almost, a war with so many fronts that it’s a mistake to singularize it in that way.” Kerry argued for focusing on “60 countries around the world,” and, apparently in order not to alienate any potential Republican voters, added, “American troops will not be put under the command of another country or another institution.”