Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq

By de Rooij, Paul | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq


de Rooij, Paul, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq By David Miller (editor), Pluto Press, 2004, 310pp. List: $19.95; AET: $14.50.

The 2003 U.S. war on Iraq was accompanied by one of the largest propaganda campaigns in history-in which the American and British publics were subjected to a barrage of misinformation, lies and outright attempts to induce fear. Opposition to the war in Europe and elsewhere required a massive campaign to cow people into silence while George Bush and Tony Blair pursued their elective war. The implications of this propaganda campaign range much wider than just the policy consequences in the Middle East, extending to the survival of Western democracy and the nature of our societies. Tell Me Lies, David Miller's very important book, helps us understand what we were subjected to, how this was done, how this has evolved in recent history, and what media alternatives are available to counter this trend. A multifaceted examination of this phenomenon, Miller's book is a welcome addition to an expanding literature on this topic.

Tell Me Lies contains a collection of well-chosen articles from a range of knowledgeable writers and activists. These writers comprise eminent journalists (John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Tim Llewellyn), academics (Greg Philo, Miller), media critics (Norman Solomon, Edward Herman, David Edwards, David Cromwell, Noam Chomsky), government propaganda specialists (Nancy Snow), Middle East experts and people working in alternative media. The articles complement each other very well and don't seem to overlap-a risk when so many authors contribute to such a book.

The first few articles are by Pilger, and help one reflect on recent history. His accounts convey a moral outrage and highlight why it is important to be concerned about the mass deception. Once Pilger has set the stage, other authors delve into the mechanics and history of propaganda. Snow presents an insider's account of America's "public diplomacy" machinery; another article provides a similar account of the British propaganda operations (aka I/Ops).

In their articles considering the historical context of how propaganda campaigns have evolved in recent wars, Philip Knightley and Des Freedman demonstrate that government propaganda machines increasingly control the flow of information. Lessons were learned in Vietnam, where journalists had considerable leeway; the tendency since then has been to severely restrict access to war zones and to expunge all images that convey the ghastly aspects of war. Taken together with the U.S.-Iraq propaganda campaign, it is clear that the tendency is for more control, for longer periods, and over a wider range of media coverage-even MTV had an embedded journalist during the war!!

The articles by Herman and Greg Philo/M. Gilmour are the most valuable contributions to the book. Herman demolishes the propaganda claims of the run-up to the war, and clarifies the pattern of propaganda. Philo/ Gilmour's article examines university students' knowledge of history-an evaluation obtained by studying focus groups. It is disturbing to find that only 8 percent of British students interviewed knew the origin of the Palestinian refugee problem, and only 5 percent of them knew what a "gulag" was. …

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