PR Investigator John Stauber Reveals How PR Experts Sold America on an Illegal and Dangerous War
by Liam Scheff – LA Citybeat 2003
John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton are founders of the Center for Media and Democracy, an organization dedicated to exposing the PR tactics used by government and industry to influence and create public opinion. They publish the weekly watchdog journal PRWatch and are the authors of Trust Us, We’re Experts and Toxic Sludge is Good for You.
In their newest book, Weapons of Mass Deception, Stauber and Rampton reveal the hidden hands that manipulate US policy and thrust us into the Iraq war.
How were Americans sold the Iraq war?
When a nation is attacked, people always rally around the leadership. After September 11, the nation was scared. There were loud calls for revenge. Selling a war was not a difficult thing to do.
Essentially, it was a bait and switch. This administration exploited the horrific events of 9/11 to impose its neo-Conservative foreign policy on America – a policy outlined by the right-wing think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC). A cornerstone of this policy has long been to remove Saddam Hussein from Iraq and establish a new American Empire in the Middle East.
Rather than embracing the sorrow and goodwill that the world felt for the US after 9/11, Bush’s cabinet: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsefld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle – all members of PNAC – took the tragedy as a green light for their agenda, and made the case for war with Iraq.
The media responded very favorably to the drive for war. This was especially true of television, where most people get their news.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel led the way, waving the flag and reporting the administration’s press releases without criticism. Guests who disputed administration claims were called cowards. Fox personalized the war simply as “Us vs Them.”
Their reporting bias won them a huge share of the audience. So, everybody else moved in the same direction. One TV executive called it “The Fox Effect.”
In addition, right-wing attack organizations like “The Media Research Council” – the patriot police – intimidated and questioned the loyalty of any reporter who strayed from the path.
If everybody followed Fox, who did Fox follow?
Right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns Fox. Murdoch hired Roger Ailes, one of the most important and effective PR strategists for the Republican Party, as president of Fox News.
We know that after 9/11, Ailes, the president of the “fair and balanced network” advised Bush on how to sell the Iraq war to the American people.
Who does the government’s PR work?
There are thousands of PR experts employed by politicians. Some of the biggest outfits are Hill and Knowlton, the Rendon Group and Burson-Marsteller.
Hill and Knowlton, the world’s largest PR firm, was hired by the Kuwaiti Royal family to sell the US on the first Gulf War. The firm was hired within days of Saddam’s invasion of the Kuwaiti oil fields.
Before becoming undersecretary of Defense for Public Affairs – for propaganda – Victoria Clark worked for Hill and Knowlton. Clark is the person who came up with the idea of “embedding” troops – a very astute move that tremendously helped the administration manage coverage of the war.
John Rendon’s firm, The Rendon Group, has been a CIA and Pentagon favorite for over a decade. It’s very difficult to get information on Rendon. He won’t do interviews and all his contracts are classified. But if you look at events clearly staged for public consumption, like the toppling Saddam statue in Firdos Square, they have all the hallmarks of Rendon.
Rendon once bragged about his work in the Gulf War in a speech to the Air Force Cadets, “Did you ever wonder how the people of Kuwait City got all the American flags they were waving? – I did that.”
The so-called Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi, is a creation of the CIA through The Rendon Group. Chalabi was one of the few members of the Iraqi resistance who supported the neo-Cons’ vision for Iraq.
Rendon takes credit for naming the Iraqi National Congress. The name is stolen from Nelson Mandela’s “African National Congress,” as if the CIA-created Chalabi organization has the same popularity and legitimacy of Nelson Mandela’s government.
Why do we hear so little about this on news programs?
Industry and government manipulate news with a tactic called the “Third Party Technique.” In this, so-called independent experts are paraded before the public to offer analysis. In reality, they’re anything but independent.
The media, however, portrays them as independent and unbiased, so the public perceives them as such. Right-wing think tanks like Benador Associates excel at placing these pro-war experts into the mainstream media.
Studies done after the war revealed that the majority of experts who appeared on TV news during the invasion of Iraq were pro-war. One such expert is William Kristol.
Bill Kristol comes across as an intelligent, low-key, affable intellectual, but politically, he’s a hardcore, far-right, neo-conservative. Like Roger Ailes, Kristol was originally a political lobbyist and insider. He was Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff.
You’re likely to see Kristol giving analysis on MSNBC, Fox and The Lehrer Newshour. You’ll hear him identified on NPR as a journalist, the editor of the Weekly Standard. But what’s the Weekly Standard? It’s a political journal edited and published by Rupert Murdoch, specifically to promote neo-Conservative views.
Most importantly, Bill Kristol is the founder of the PNAC. PNAC outlined the vision of empire now being put in place by the very men who started the organization: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle.
These men came into office as Bush’s foreign and military policy brain trust. On 9/11, they immediately advocated attacking Iraq by claiming that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda, that he was a nuclear threat and that he was responsible for 9/11.
This was the “Big Lie” tactic, and it was essential to selling the war to the American public. But now the big lies are being exposed daily, even in the mainstream media. It’s become obvious that there are no weapons and there’s not a shred of credible evidence that Saddam had a thing to do with 9/11.
So, the Bush administration is shifting its arguments.
Right. A big part of PR strategy is “message development.” Republican pollsters saw that they could sell the war based on the idea that Saddam was a brutal dictator who had to be removed. That’s why Paul Wolfowitz, who led us into this war, recently toured the gravesites of Shiites massacred by Hussein.
Frankly, the “evil Saddam” argument has a certain amount of merit. Hussein was a dictator and a butcher. He’s slaughtered thousands of people and used chemical weapons against his own citizens.
Given this fact, we wondered why, in order to stimulate US support for the first Gulf War, Hill and Knowlton had to fabricate a false story about Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies instead of just reporting the truth.
The answer, we realized, was that when Hussein was killing thousands of his own Kurdish citizens with poison gas, he was our ally.
The fact that he was using chemical weapons against his own people was rather acceptable to the first Bush administration.
Hussein only became our enemy when he made the stupid blunder of taking over the Kuwaiti oil fields. Saddam did think, I suspect, that he was so beloved by Bush, Sr. that he could get away with it.
At the end of the first Gulf War, Bush urged the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam with the promise of US backing. But when they did rise up, Bush allowed Hussein to put down the uprising and murder the dissidents. That’s why the US is not trusted by Iraqis.
When Wolfowitz visits the graves of Shiites who were slaughtered by Hussein, remember that they were slaughtered because they took George Bush, Sr., this president’s father, at his word.