Almost 2,700 Americans have been killed in Iraq, and financial estimates are measured in the trillions for a conflict already longer than our country's fighting in World War II.
According to London's Independent newspaper, more than 62,000 people have been directly killed in the U.S. "war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan. And a poll by CNN from Sept. 2 shows that 58 percent of Americans now oppose the war. Yet the Bush administration insists on staying the course.
Cutting through that administration rhetoric is 53-year-old John Stauber, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison, Wis.,-based activist group that investigates what it terms propaganda and deception from both the private and public sectors. Stauber has co-written with Sheldon Rampton The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies and the Mess in Iraq, one of an estimated 300 books about the war so far. WW spoke with Stauber from his home in Madison before he reads from his book Wednesday, Sept. 20, at Powell's on Hawthorne.
WW: What makes The Best War Ever any different from all the other books about Iraq?
John Stauber: What Sheldon and I specialize in writing about is propaganda, and especially the organized propaganda campaigns of industry and government. That's been our beat since 1993. What we've done is examine how the propaganda that sold the war is really guaranteeing a U.S. defeat. The administration is continuing to be dishonest with itself, and dishonest with the American people. Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice said on Fox that despite the conclusions of the latest CIA report, Saddam did have ties to al-Qaeda. And yet she provided zero evidence. So the same sort of fearmongering and false statements that sold the war are desperately being used to maintain support in the U.S. The most recent Harris survey found that 50 percent of the American public believed that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
What do you conclude when you hear a statistic like that?
I think there's a real problem in the U.S. with people not understanding news information, media corporations and propaganda. People do tend to believe the news sources that are television-based and that they like the best. You've got a lot of people getting their news from Fox, for instance. When Dick Cheney travels with his entourage, he orders that all the TVs, wherever they go, be turned to Fox. It's the U.S. news media that's to blame. We in the book cite example after example of how TV and print media [claimed] WMD were repeatedly found after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There were virtually no retractions given any similar weight.
But how can anybody tell when information is accurate and unbiased?
If you have access to Web-based resources and you know how to evaluate and decide among various sources of information, if you have some media literacy skills, I think it's pretty clear what information is documented and not.
Maybe it's clear for you, but what about an average citizen who hasn't studied media literacy as long as you?
First, turn off the TV. It's all about sensationalism, holding an audience, and after 9/11 we all saw how Fox in particular wrapped itself in the flag and led the cheerleading for the war, driving itself to a huge audience share—and the other networks followed suit. The problem is that TV is where most Americans get their news. It's a little like the problem with fast food—if you pay no attention to your diet and just buy what tastes best and is cheapest, you're going to run into health problems. It's not that different, except we're all brought up with this myth that propaganda doesn't exist in the United States.
So how can anyone know that anything, even your book, is fact-based?
It's all about Journalism 101. We need a lot more critical thinking and media criticism taught in schools at a very early age. What we see happening with people not being skeptical and not demanding good journalism, not being held accountable for their lies, is that we're really losing our democracy—which is ultimately ironic, because the basic claim that the administration makes is that they're pursuing the war on terror to preserve freedom and democracy.
To hear the entire interview, go to www.wweek.com/media/8008.mp3.
Stauber reads from The Best War Ever at 7:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 20, at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. Free.
Stauber co-founded the Center for Media and Democracy in 1993 with Sheldon Rampton. A four-minute video about The Best War Ever, the sixth book the men have co-written, is online at TheBestWarEver.com or prwatch.org.