Weapons of Mass Deception: Liberation Day

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"Liberation Day" is the title of the introduction to the book, Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.

Key Points

  • The United States entered Baghdad on April 9, 2003. The U.S. news coverage from that day focused on the toppling of a giant Saddam Hussein statue.
  • Public relations practitioners, or military public affairs officers, were likely on the scene as the statue came down, ensuring that the image Americans saw in their livings rooms of the troops rolling into Baghdad was victorious.
  • The news media did not provide context for the toppling of the statue such as the size of the crowd in Firdos Square or what else was happening throughout Iraq. Instead, news anchors likened the event to historical events such as the Berlin Wall coming down and the Tiananmen Square standoff.
  • John W. Rendon, a self-described "information warrior" and PR specialist who consults on government policy and helped build up support for the 1991 Gulf War, reports that he's " a person who uses communication to meet…corporate policy objectives." (p. 5) In layperson's terms, this means that he is seeking to manage perception - creating buzzwords and memorable images, for example - on an issue so that the majority of people will support corporate interests. In this case, this meant going forward with Operation Iraqi Freedom (which is itself a buzz-phrase created by the Bush administration). For more on Rendon, see Chapter 2: War Is Sell.
  • Public relations firms are successful because they do their work behind the scenes. The United States wasn't just waging war on Iraq - with the help of PR people, they were waging a covert campaign to influence "the emotions, motives and objective reasoning" of both American and world audiences. The administration's efforts were less successful on foreign shores. Polls conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed world opinion of the United States has dramatically declined since the war with Iraq began.
  • The response to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq is more complicated than the "America as Liberator" rhetoric coming from the White House implies. Many Iraqi people were glad to see Hussein go, but weren't happy about United States' invasion, with some 300,000 U.S. military personnel deployed to secure the region.
  • Rampton and Stauber argue the American public needs to be challenging the news media. Media literacy - understanding the way the media work - allows people to be more discerning in how they take in information. Rampton and Stauber suggest studying the images we see in the news, asking what went into creating these images and what pertinent information gets left out of public dialogue about current affairs.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is public relations and how is it different than advertising? If you were a PR practitioner, how would you sway people to support your client's cause? Would you choose the same techniques to sell war that you would use to sell soap? When is PR beneficial to society? When is it problematic?
  2. What role does money play in public relations? Can everyone use PR?
  3. What techniques did Bush's administration use to ensure that the TV image of American soldiers entering Baghdad was victorious (rather than disastrous as U.S. soldiers continue to be killed well after the United States declared the war won)?
  4. Why might Iraqi people be upset that a soldier put the United States' flag on the toppling statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein? What does it symbolize? How does this action contradict the objectives of "Operation Iraqi Freedom"?
  5. If there was no memorable imagery of the U.S. taking Baghdad, like the toppling of Hussein's stature, would Americans have perceived Operation Iraqi Freedom as successful?


  1. Start a list of the propaganda that the authors say Bush's administration used to sell the Iraq War to the American public. Keep adding to the list as you work through the book.
  2. Have a discussion about objectivity. Is it ever possible for reporters and news editors to be truly objective? What might color a journalist's perspectives?