Weapons of Mass Deception: Branding America

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"Branding America" is the title of chapter one of the book, Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.

Key Points

  • The war was not only played out on Iraq soil, but also on the world stage. During the war, the Bush administration was blanketing the globe with pro-America images.
  • Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber-Shandwick Worldwide, a giant PR firm, and Charlotte Beers, a former top advertising executive, were hired to help improve the "America" brand overseas.
  • Beers' branding strategy, featuring many public relations techniques, offered feel-good imagery, but avoided key issues entirely. She was hired in October 2001 and resigned on March 3, 2003, citing health reasons.
  • The Bush administration did nothing to address the reasons why the Arab world is angry at the United States, including support for Israel, U.S. backing of authoritarian regimes (i.e. Saudi Arabia and Egypt) and America's reputation as a bullying superpower (p. 27).
  • During a press conference in September 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, avoided the truth about the U.S. helping Iraq obtain biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War until a journalist showed CNN footage of Rumsfeld himself with Hussein in 1983.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is branding? Do you have any brand loyalties (i.e. Coke v. Pepsi)?
  2. Why is branding foreign policy harder than branding companies? Why didn't the techniques Charlotte Beers used in the Middle East work? Does it make sense to brand a country?
  3. Beers' title was undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. What does public diplomacy mean (See Relaunching the Propaganda War in the Reference Materials section of the study guide.
  4. Did you understand the history between Iraq and Iran and the United States' role in the region? What do you know about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East? What about the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s? How could you find out more? Where do you look for different perspectives?


  1. Research some aspect of Middle East history. What reasons do Arab countries have for disliking the United States? Share findings in class.
  2. The Media Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that produces and distributes media literacy videos, is about to release a video on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entitled "Peace, Propaganda and the Promise Land." The video's producer, Bathsheba Ratzkoff, sifted through thousands of hours of news coverage and she highlights how the US news media depicts Israel and Palestine.
  3. How would you "brand" the United States? How would you try to convince Arabs and Muslims to support U.S. foreign policy? How would you convince them to like the U.S.? Can you like some things about the U.S. and not like other parts?