Weapons of Mass Deception: The Air War

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

Key points

  • The news media provide two services to people: the gathering of information and the filtering of information.
  • Mass media make decisions about programming and content not just based on good journalistic practice but based on economic and political factors.
  • There were few anti-war voices in the major media. Those that were present often faced unfair treatment.
  • Television, in particular, was very important in shaping Americans' views of the Iraq war.
  • The Pentagon put a great deal of effort into influencing how the media reported on Iraq. The top Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke is credited with coming up with idea of embedding journalists with military troops. (Clarke has since stepped down from her Pentagon post and is now working for Comcast Corporation, the largest cable TV company in the U.S.)
  • Embedded journalists had limited ability to fully report a story and often identified with the soldiers with whom they were assigned.

Discussion questions

  1. Do you or someone in your family watch the nightly news? Why? Do you think the TV news channels and network news programs do a good job? Where else do you or your family get information about the world?
  2. What are the responsibilities of the news media?
  3. If we operate under the assumption that we aren't getting all the necessary background from our news coverage, what can we do to be better informed?
  4. What advantage does the Pentagon have when it embeds reporters with troops? What are the drawbacks? How much did embedded reporters contribute to what we know about the Iraq war?
  5. How much international news coverage is there on TV? In print? What are the stories about? How informative are they? With your personal knowledge of world affairs, are you able to understand these stories? In other words, do you have enough background knowledge to understand a story about the Iraqi Kurds or the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
  6. How have U.S. journalists previously covered wars?


  1. Watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central and compare his take on the news to that of Fox News, CNN, and the networks.
  2. Tape the local evening newscast or a segment from a cable news channel. Watch it in class and discuss the program's content. Have someone time the segments - how much time is given to breaking news, in-depth investigating, entertainment, weather and sports?
  3. Read a transcript from a White House or Pentagon press briefing. Are there examples of the spokesman or woman not answering a reporter's question? Were follow-up questions asked? Why might journalists not ask follow-up questions? What happens when they do? For amusing examples of exchanges between the White House press secretary and Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, see http://www.commondreams.org/scottie.htm