May 1 2007

Transmission Accomplished

Propagandizing the short-lived Iraq War ‘victory’

While much has been written about how credulous reporting about the Bush administration’s bogus weapons claims paved the way for the Iraq War, it’s important to remember that media cheerleading for the war only intensified once the bombs started falling—a dismal performance documented here with examples from the first celebration of “shock and awe” to the swooning over George W. Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished.” These quotes are excerpted from “Iraq and the Media: A Critical Timeline,” published on (3/19/07).

An awesome performance

“We don’t want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we’re gonna own that country.”

NBC’s Tom Brokaw (3/19/03)

“Suddenly in the sky, in the direction of Basra, or east of where we were, the sky just lit up with artillery, and it was an awesome performance of artillery to soften

up the positions where we were heading.”

—Embedded NBC correspondent Chip Reid (3/21/03)

“I’m not messing with people who want to say this attack is illegal, it’s not warranted, it’s not justified—I’m not going to argue with you people anymore. Take your propaganda to somebody else who might believe it.”

—Rush Limbaugh (quoted in New York Post, 3/21/03)

“We got stabbed in the back by those assholes in France and the rest of them. Enough of Tom Daschle, who is disgraceful, and all the rest—enough of that.”

—Don Imus (quoted in New York Post, 3/21/03)

Like a scalpel

“Every weapon is precision guided—deadly accuracy designed to kill only the targets, not innocent civilians.”

NBC Nightly News’ Jim Miklaszewski (3/21/03)

“Bush appears to be applying force like a scalpel—delivering powerful but measured blows that most observers believe are aimed as much at the psyche as the fighting strength of the Iraqi military.”

L.A. Times (“Bush Opts for Precise Approach,” 3/23/03)

“The American public knows how important this war is, and is not as casualty sensitive as the weenies in the American press are.”

Fox News commentator Fred Barnes (3/23/03)

“Based on what I’ve seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we’re trying to send the exact opposite message, I think [it was] was an appropriate target.”

New York Times reporter Michael Gordon on the bombing of Iraqi TV (CNN, 3/25/03)

“There is a school of thought that says we should have given the citizens of Baghdad 48 hours to get out of Dodge by dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that. Forty-eight hours, you’ve got to get out of there, and flatten the place. Then the war would be over. We could have done that in two days. . . . You flatten Baghdad, you flatten all the troops, we know where they go, there’s nowhere to hide in the desert. We know where everybody’s moving. And you know as well as I do, this war could have been over in two days. . . . It’s just frustrating for everybody to know that we have been fighting this war with one hand behind our back.”

Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly (3/25/03)

Not going for shock value

“All right, we’re going to interrupt this press briefing right now because, of course, the U.S. government would disagree with most of what he is saying.”

CNN anchor Carol Costello, cutting away from a press conference with the Iraqi information minister (3/26/03)

“They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history. They stress they’re fighting a regime and not the people, using smart bombs, not dumb, older munitions. But there have been and will be accidents. . . . And there’s a new weapon in this war: Arab media, especially Al Jazeera. It’s on all the time, and unlike American media, it hardly reflects the Pentagon line. Its critics say it accentuates civilian casualties and provokes outrage on the Arab street.”

NBC’s Brian Williams (4/2/03)

“Thank you for coming on the show. And I want to add, I think the Special Forces rock!”

NBC’s Katie Couric, interviewing a military official on the Today show (4/3/03)

Jessica Lynch “fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers . . . firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.”

Washington Post (“‘She Was Fighting to the Death’; Details Emerging of W. Va. Soldier’s Capture and Rescue,” 4/4/03)

“Many advertisers began returning after the first 72 hours of the war once they noticed the surprising lack of disturbing imagery on television. Prepared for a bloody and graphic period of coverage, relieved sponsors found that networks did not go for shock value.”

Reuters, 4/7/03

The flush of triumph

“We’re all neo-cons now.”

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (4/9/03)

“Just sort of that pure emotional expression, not choreographed, not stage-managed, the way so many things these days seem to be. Really breathtaking.”

Washington Post reporter Ceci Connelly (Fox News Channel, 4/9/03) on the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue—which turned out to be “stage-managed” (L.A. Times, 7/3/04) by Army PSYOPS

“The picture says something about us as Americans, about our can-do spirit, our belief in lending a hand.”

USA Today on the statue toppling (4/10/03)

“Iraq Is All but Won; Now What?”

—A Los Angeles Times headline (4/10/03)

“Even in the flush of triumph, doubts will be raised. Where are the supplies of germs and poison gas and plans for nukes to justify pre-emption? (Freed scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.) What about remaining danger from Baathist torturers and war criminals forming pockets of resistance and plotting vengeance? (Their death wish is our command.)”

New York Times columnist William Safire (4/10/03)

“Relax, celebrate victory”

“Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be. Now, I can’t and don’t argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.”

CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather (Larry King Live, 4/14/03)

“I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war, and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.”

CNN executive Eason Jordan (Reliable Sources, 4/20/03)

“Now that the Iraq deal is over, let’s invade Belgium. It may be a small country, but man, is it annoying. . . . Isn’t it time to invade Belgium, just knock some sense into them, and give the Frenchies next door a scare?”

—John Gibson (Fox News Channel, 4/28/03)

“It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq’s cities, towns or infrastructure. It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war’s critics feared, without the quagmire they predicted, without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect.”

—Richard Perle (“Relax, Celebrate Victory,” USA Today op-ed, 5/1/03)

Mission accomplished

“He looked like an alternatively commander in chief, rock star, movie star and one of the guys.”

—Lou Dobbs on George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech (CNN, 5/1/03)

“We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits.”

—Chris Matthews (MSNBC, 5/1/03)

“The war winds down, politics heats up. . . . Picture perfect. Part Spider-Man, part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan. The president seizes the moment on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.”

PBS’s Gwen Ifill on Bush’s speech (5/2/03)

Research assistance by Taylor Asen.