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[casi] Iraq attack critics start to get heard

THE TORONTO STAR, Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Iraq attack critics start to get heard



That's the sound of my fingers drumming on my desk as I, and the world,
await for news of the discovery of Saddam Hussein's nuclear and chemical

You know, the weapons of mass destruction that the brutal vicious dictator,
in cahoots with his old chum Osama Bin Laden, were stockpiling in order to
incinerate America whose freedoms they hated?

I'd make that now tired "fog of war'' joke except that fog is too clean and
sweet-smelling a metaphor for the you-know-what that spewed from the mouths
of the snake oil salesmen who built Operation Iraqi Freedom on a dung heap
of lies.

And thanks to their accomplices, willing or stupid or blind or otherwise, in
the media, the deal was sealed, as was the fate of thousands of Iraqi
civilians, tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts and a growing number of
American kids still eating dust and bullets in the desert.

The watchdogs of society became lapdogs - toothless and drooling ones at

Consider: Last week, the good news story out of Iraq was about the capture
of Hussein's ruthless murderous cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid. He is best known
as "Chemical Ali" for how he gassed the Kurds in the 1980s - while the U.S.,
ahem, looked the other way. Now, could this be the very same Chemical Ali
that the media so gleefully pronounced dead on April 7?

And I quote, from the Fox News Network that day: "Now, the interesting thing
is how there will be an identification if all that remains is just a hole in
the ground. Obviously, the U.S. and the coalition forces want to examine
this site to try to get some identification. You know, we saw down in Basra,
the home of Ali Hussan al Majeed, notoriously known as Chemical Ali, taken
out in a precision strike, laser-guided bombs used there. And today, British
officials confirming that the body recovered there was, in fact, his body. "

Hmmm. And yet, no news report that I saw, and I saw plenty, took notice that
the media never corrected the British troops' claims that Chemical Ali was
not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

A database search since April turned up a few tiny oooops type mentions, as
in ooops, now the British aren't so sure.

Needless to say, any corrections, clarifications or retractions did not get
that "Hurray for our side'' ticker-tape parade type play that the "Chemical
Ali has been smoked" story did.

Now you can say that that's always the way with the media: We're notoriously
negligent at owning up to our shortcomings. And you'd be right.

But the "mistakes'' about and around the attack on Iraq were not just honest
reporting gone wrong but something far more insidious. Those of us who toil
in the media criticism mire, and there are only a handful of us in the
mainstream (although plenty on the Internet) squawked often about how the
lies, the spin and the outright propaganda - from stories of the crowds who
cheered the toppling of the statue of Saddam to the rescue of Private
Jessica Lynch to yellowcake uranium and on and on - could fill a book.

And fill a book they did: Weapons Of Mass Deception: The Uses Of Propaganda
In Bush's War On Iraq, by counter-spinmeisters John Stauber and Sheldon

Stauber is founder and director of the Center for Media & Democracy
( while Rampton is his co-writer and editor of the
quarterly PR Watch: Public Interest Reporting On The PR/Public Affairs

Their just-released paperback deconstructs the marketing campaign that sold
Americans on the war - and the interesting thing is, much of it was written
before the first bombs fell on Baghdad. That's long before the truth about
Jessica Lynch emerged, well before the hubbub about Nigerian uranium, and
months before a British weapons expert apparently offed himself in the woods
after being outed as the source of a BBC story saying that Prime Minister
Tony Blair's nose was just as long as George W. Bush's proboscis.

Now here's a surprise: The mainstream media have largely ignored the book,
just like they did Michael Moore's still best-selling Stupid White Men. I
mean, you don't see Rampton and Stauber all over TV the way you see that
harridan Ann Coulter, whose hateful and shrill right-wing screeds (Treason,
Slander, etc.) get plenty of promotion all over the cable dial.

"Despite the U.S. media's lack of attention the book has been regularly in
the top 100 best sellers; it's on the San Francisco Chronicle
best seller list (#5) for the second week in a row, and now it's on the New
York Times list,'' Stauber told me last week.

Weapons Of Mass Deception is just one of a number of new books which cast a
jaundiced eye on the White House and media's role in these times.

My favourite media dissector Danny Schechter (
has compiled his weblog columns, as well as other articles into Embedded:
Weapons Of Mass Deception, an online book from Tony Sutton, an Ontario-based
newspaper consultant and designer. (Conflict alert! Sutton edits, which publishes reports by journalists from around
the world, including John Pilger, Robert Fisk and me.)

Saturday Night Live alumnus Al Franken has Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell
Them: A Fair And Balanced Look At The Right -which earned him a lawsuit from
the aforementioned Fox News which, laughably, claimed that it owns "Fair And
Balanced'' as its promotional slogan. (Last week a judge rightfully tossed
out the lawsuit.)

Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine And How It Distorts The Truth by
Joe Conason, a writer for the New York Observer and, was excerpted
all last week in Salon. It is a lacerating look the chicken hawks, including
Bush and vice president George Cheney, who sat on their rich and/or
privileged butts during Vietnam but had no compunction about marching other
people's children off to war.

Completely different is Embedded: The Media At War In Iraq, an oral history
by 60 reporters who covered the invasion. Edited by Bill Katovsky and
Timothy Carlson, it includes testimony from CBS' John Roberts, CNN's Sanjay
Gupta and others who purport to tell the "real-life stories behind the
media's own stories.''

This includes some of the truths you didn't see those CNN anchors cheering
about the blood and the guts and the disembowelled victims, with
not-so-sweet stories such as that from the New York Times' Dexter Filkins
who quoted a Marine sharpshooter saying, "We dropped a few civilians but
what do you do? I'm sorry, but the chick was in the way.'' Oh now, there's a
Paula Zahn moment for you.

The truth about Iraq will out eventually, and sooner than any hard evidence
of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or connections to Al Qaeda.

Thanks to these books, which stockpile all the bits and bites of information
into highly readable anti-Bush bombs. they might even have an effect on the
next U.S. presidential election.

Trouble is, most folks south of the border get their "news'' from TV and
much of that news is not much more than infotainment.

So don't hold your breath, not unless you're trying to avoid inhaling the
stench from that smog of war.

PUMPING IRONY: The New York Times reports Fox News senior vice-president
John Moody no longer wants any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie puns on the
right-wing channel. The former bodybuilding champ turned movie blockbuster
is running for governor of California.

"Total Recall, `The Governator,' and `Running Man' are a few of the
never-ending examples,'' writes The Times' Jim Rutenberg.

Okay, so the jokes are getting old. But could the prohibition have anything
to do with Ah-nuld's politics and how they jibe with Fox's interests?

Just wondering.

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