Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, former CIA director John Deutch delivered a sobering assessment of the questions that have arisen regarding President Bush's prewar claims about Iraqi threats: "If no weapons of mass destruction or only a residual capacity (is) found, the principal justification enunciated by the U.S. government for launching this war will have proven not to be credible," Deutch said.
Whether there was an "intelligence failure" or a highly successful manipulation of information by an unscrupulous president and his team of spin doctors was the subject of lively discussion in the Capitol last week. Official Washington is catching up with John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, the PR Watchers who for months have been busy exposing the president's penchant for marketing - as opposed to truth-telling.
Stauber and Rampton, the Madison-based debunkers of corporate spin, have written up their compelling case against the White House's "case" for war in an exceptional new book, "Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq" (Tarcher/Putnam). It is difficult to imagine a more timely text.
Stauber and Rampton, who will discuss "Weapons of Mass Deception" at 7 tonight at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, 426 W. Gilman St., have a long track record of cutting through the official spin to get to the hidden truths about environmental, public health and safety with books such as "Toxic Sludge Is Good for You" and "Trust Us, We're Experts." But, while their past books exposed the manipulation of scientific data by bottom-line-obsessed corporations and bottom-feeding public relations firms, "Weapons of Mass Deception" explores even more troubling manipulations of those who would bend the truth in order to legitimize a "pre-emptive war."
Using their knowledge of classic public relations scams, the authors explain how the administration and its willing accomplices in the media hyped the case for an invasion of a distant land that posed no realistic threat to America.
"Weapons of Mass Deception" is thick with case studies and meticulously footnoted examples of how the administration sold a fantasy called "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The book's most important sections detail the administration's preparations for what White House aides referred to as the war's "product launch" last fall, and the propaganda techniques employed by the administration to successfully create the false impression that there was a link between Iraq's secularist Baath Party leadership and the fundamentalist al-Qaida network.
As the president's use of false "evidence" in his State of the Union address leads to calls for an independent investigation of the White House spin cycle in the weeks and months before the war began, "Weapons of Mass Deception" is arguably a more credible intelligence document than anything put together by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. And this book could well turn out to be the essential road map through the burgeoning scandals of the Bush White House.
But the most revealing sections of this book are those that deal with the "postwar" era that we are supposedly in. Stauber and Rampton's deconstruction of the president's "mission accomplished" flight onto a returning aircraft carrier to film "Top Gun"-style 2004 campaign commercials, for instance, serves as a powerful indictment of the administration's ethics and judgment.
Equally devastating is Stauber and Rampton's indictment of the American media, which fostered the impression that, after the arrival of U.S. troops in Baghdad, crowds of Iraqis stormed a city square to tear down a statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Stauber and Rampton invite readers to step back from the stage-managed scene shown on their television screens and observe a long-shot photo, taken by a top photographer for the Reuters news service at the time the statue went down. That perspective shows a square that was empty expect for the handful of U.S.-linked "celebrants" gathered near the statue itself.
Like a flashlight in a cave, "Weapons of Mass Deception" shows the way out from the spin zone that the Bush administration and its stenographic media have created.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times