The War on Terror

Ex-President George W. Bush Addresses the United States of America after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 2001

Ex-President George W. Bush Addresses the United States of America on March 19th, 2003

Ex- President George W. Bush stating “mission accomplished” in Iraq on May 1st, 2003. In original broadcasts a large banner could be seen in the background with those exact words written. In all Subsequent airing of the speech it has been cropped out because of it’s conflicting message with the current situation in Iraq.

United States White House Spokesperson Dana Perino addressing the “Mission Accomplished” Speech

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” –George W Bush May 24, 2005

The War on Terror and the War in Iraq alike offer an unconventional case for the transmission of propaganda during times of war.  Unlike World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, technological advances and the societal expectations have changed the way the public receives propaganda.  Gone are the days of propaganda posters and highly publicized propaganda films.  A new form of propaganda has emerged, one that is deeply rooter in our culture, and offers a new brand of subtle persuasion.

With the constant availability of information on twenty-four hour news channels, the public is bombarded with coverage.  It is this constant stream of communication which adds to the legitimacy of the claims made through these outlets.  This legitimacy acts as a veil, and behind it lay the same techniques of propaganda that have been used for decades.  Due to the overwhelming amount of information available to the public, this section will deal extensively with two particular mechanisms for the transmission of propaganda, (1) Education (2) Embedded Journalism.  These two mechanisms are specifically important to young adults who are studying Communications.  By observing the mechanisms of propaganda describe below, students of Communications are able to learn how to effectively market a war as well as how to cope with the increasing pressure from the military when acting as embedded journalists.


The age of constant communication has provided the public with access to the White House that was previously unheard of.  In an increasingly connected world, politicians must be more vocal in order to compete with the other media outlets providing the public with up to the minute updates on the state of nation.  When examining the Bush administration we see how communication between the White House and the public was critical in the effective transmission of propaganda.  More specifically this information was used as away of education the public, preparing them for war.  The direct communication between white house officials and the public provided a sense of legitimacy.  This false confidence in the quality of information set the stage for a propaganda campaign to justify both the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The Bush administration employed many techniques of propaganda, from repetition to labeling, the White House designed their propaganda campaign to bombard the public behind a veil of legitimacy.

The attacks of September 11th shook the world.  The immediate response from both the White House and American people seemed to be a resounding call to arms.  The United States was the victim of an act of terrorism and they were prepared for war. Essential to the success of propaganda is the subtle restriction of discourse.  By limiting the debate on the rationale for combat, there is little room, if any to escape the effects of propaganda.  In the case of the War on Terror this was true.  After the attacks the response was from the White House was to declare a war on terrorism.  The use of the word war was an integral part in influencing the US led war in Afghanistan.  In the past, similar acts of terrorism have been labeled human rights crimes.  From an international perspective, by labeling the events of 9/11 as an act of war, the United States was permitted to respond to the situation using means that would have been otherwise unavailable to them.  The crime was not one against humanity, but yet an act of war, thus permitting a much harsher brand of retaliation.  This seemingly discreet replacement of words is an example of labeling, a tenant of propaganda.  By labeling the incident an act of war the door was opened for the support of both the population and international governmental organizations.

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.” –Washington, D.C., July 12, 2007

The justifications for War in Iraq are directly linked to the War on Terror. Building off a successful campaign for war in Afghanistan and a global war against terrorism the validation for the War in Iraq was accepted without much resistance, given the arguably unsubstantiated evidence provided for its necessity.  The continued emphasis placed on the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and the associative links made between Al-Qaeda  and Saddam Hussein prompted the support needed from the American public to condone war with Iraq.  In this instance we saw high level American politicians continuously reiterating their cause for war.  This repetition is crucial for the effective transmission of propaganda.  It was later discovered that such weapons of mass destructive were never found in Iraq.  Whether this gaff was a function of genuine error or deceptive in nature is not of consequence where propaganda is concerned.  This is an example of disinformation.  Public opinion was influenced by information that was false.  To this date, the links drawn between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda are debated.  Regardless of the answer to this question, it appears as if the Bush administrations’ simplification of the alleged relationship between the two parties was crucial in gaining support for the war. By over-simplifying the potential relationship the administration succeeded in narrowing the discourse, a form of propaganda.

This section has described how the Bush administration set the stage for the War in Iraq.  By having government officials communicate directly with the public, a sense of legitimacy was attained.  This allowed for the effective transmission of propaganda.  In the context of our target audience it is essential to understand how these events played a role in leading to both the war in Iraq and the War on terror.  Many students of communication have the option of entering into a career in marketing.  By observing and disseminating the marketing techniques of the United States government in their push for War in the Middle East, students can learn the importance of the art of communication.

A New Kind of Reporting – Embedded Journalism

The Iraq war, as well as the war on terror utilized new technologies and techniques in conjunction with existing techniques of propaganda.  With the advent of new technologies allowing for the immediate reception of audio and visuals the face of news coverage changed.  What is known as “embedded reporting became commonplace.

Embedded Reporting: refers to news reporters being attached to military units involved in armed conflicts.

On the surface, embedded journalism would appear to be a highly democratic form of reporting.  The news is broadcasted directly from the scene, uncensored and realistic. It is this assumption that allows for the effective transmission of propaganda.  Embedded journalism operates in a very controlled environment.  This presents us with an interesting dilemma.  In theory the essence of embedded reporting would appear to be unbiased first hand information, thereby adding to the legitimacy of the medium.  However as we will see, embedded reporting is a technique of propaganda.

The army has control over when and where a reporter may work.  Reporters are given the opportunity to display visually shocking images, seemingly telling the whole story, however these images do not substitute the lack of context found in fact reporting.  In this respect the military is able to manipulate what the public sees, and in turn influence their attitudes towards the conflict.   In addition because the journalists worked closely with the military officers,  and they arguably became sympathetic to their cause, thus affecting the quality of their reporting.  In addition embedded reporters are very much at the mercy of their military hosts.  Due to the perceived legitimacy of embedded reporting many journalists are attracted to this particular field of reporting, thereby making the environment highly competitive.  Because the army exerts so much control of these reporters, they are expected to act in a certain manner, and deviating from these supposed norms are met with harsh consequences.  An example of this is when Peter Arnett, an American journalist was fired after having given an interview to an Iraqi news station in which he expressed views that were not in line with the American military’s. By instilling the fear of job loss on reporters the quality of reporting is put into question.  It can thus be determined that those reporters embedded in war zones are tools of propaganda fulfilling the agenda of the government, and are ultimately held in fear.

The study of the case of embedded journalists in the war in Iraq is particularly important to those studying communications.  It is apparent that the American military successfully managed the reporting of the supposedly free American press.  By studying how this was achieved, future employees in the field of journalism can learn how to avoid this control.  At very best future media producers can learn how to minimize the control exerted on them by the government while remaining competitive in the field.  It is important for these future media producers to recognize if the influence of the military on embedded reporters is unavoidable new outlets for getting their story must be found.


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