Weapons of Mass Deception: True Lies

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"True Lies" is the title of chapter three of the book, Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.

Key points

  • The Pentagon set up the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) with the intention of delivering some false news to foreign media organizations. After the New York Times ran an article on the OSI plans, the office was shut down (at least in name).
  • In 1990, the Kuwaiti government paid PR giant Hill & Knowlton $11.9 million to help sell the first Iraq War to the American people.
  • Hill & Knowlton devised numerous strategies to make Americans sympathizes with Kuwait including the not-quite-official government caucus where a young girl, who turned out to be the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter, reported that she had seen Iraqi soldiers dump babies out of incubators at a hospital. This story was repeated continually in the news, even by then President George H. W. Bush.
  • As with most news, the correction didn't receive the same attention as the news spectacle. And by the time reporters had a chance to debunk the story of Iraqi soldiers killing babies, the U.S. was already engaged in Operation Desert Storm.
  • The United States gave Iraq many of its chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
  • Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, defected to Jordan in 1995. The Bush administration used his comments to demonstrate that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction. Yet, they left out a key piece of his testimony - he claimed that all weapons were destroyed after the 1991 air strikes on Iraq.
  • In the 2003 Iraq War, the United States (and the Coalition of the Willing) fired 800 Tomahawk missiles, more than 14,000 precision-guided munitions and an unspecified number of cluster bombs. In comparison, Iraq only fired 20 missiles outside of its borders, most of which landed into the Persian Gulf and the desert.
  • 15 of the 19 airplane hijackers in the 9/11 terrorist attack were from Saudi Arabia. Following 9/11, Saudi Arabia hired PR firms to help it manage its image. PR firm Qorvis Communications received a little over $20 million and in return, Saudi representatives appeared on all the major shows - interviewed by Ted Koppel, Paula Zahn, Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly among others.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do we hold our officials accountable if they aren't taken to task for evading questions? Whose job is it to get questions answered?
  2. Why does the Bush administration get away with being as vague as it is on issues of war?
  3. Why didn't the story of the English media taking Tony Blair the prime minister to task regarding his government's dishonesty in linking chemical weapons to Iraq stir any similar response in the United States?
  4. Why isn't Saudi Arabia under more fire since 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from the kingdom?
  5. What reasons might Bush and his team have for not going on the offensive against Saudi Arabia?
  6. What ties does the Bush family have to Osama bin Laden's family?
  7. Discuss the terms "weapons of mass destruction" and "war on terrorism." What do these phrases mean? What images do they create in your mind? How does the Bush administration define these terms? (p. 85).
  8. Even if the Bush administration doesn't give the whole story about Kamel, shouldn't the news media fill in the gaps? Why do you think they haven't?
  9. How does the US government justify that it still hasn't found any evidence of illegal weaponry in Iraq?
  10. Why has the Bush administration focused on Iraq and essentially ignored North Korea's claims of a nuclear weapons program?


  1. In the book, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, political economist and journalism professor Robert McChesney argues that the number of journalists holding the administration accountable continues to shrink as news programs are being pressed to turn a profit by their parent companies, which means less reporters and less time to investigate the claims made by government officials, corporations and their front groups. What this amounts to, McChesney claims, is that the public loses out on the information it needs to remain informed citizens. What do you think of this argument?
  2. Follow up on one of the facts given by the Bush administration. For example, on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the UN that he knew of at least one "chemical and poisons factory" in northeastern Iraq. When a reporter went to site, he found a bakery and some dilapidated buildings. See if you can find follow-up fact-checking stories about other claims the Bush administration has made. What kind of media attention do these follow-up stories receive?
  3. Look up the Carlyle Group online. What do you learn from perusing their website? Who are the people involved with the group? What is there relationship to the current administration? Does it tell you that it is America's eleventh largest military contractor?