Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq

Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq

Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq

Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq

Synopsis

The attacks of 9/11 led to a war on Iraq, although there was neither tangible evidence that the nation's leader, Saddam Hussein, was linked to Osama bin Laden nor proof of weapons of mass destruction. Why, then, did the Iraq war garner so much acceptance in the United States during its primary stages?



Mass Deception argues that the George W. Bush administration manufactured public support for the war on Iraq. Scott A. Bonn introduces a unique, integrated, and interdisciplinary theory called "critical communication" to explain how and why political elites and the news media periodically create public panics that benefit both parties. Using quantitative analysis of public opinion polls and presidential rhetoric pre- and post-9/11 in the news media, Bonn applies the moral panic concept to the Iraq war. He critiques the war and occupation of Iraq as violations of domestic and international law. Finally, Mass Deception connects propaganda and distortion efforts by the Bush administration to more general theories of elite deviance and state crime.

Excerpt

Amid the frenzy of the attacks on September 11, the Bush administration pushed forward its plan to invade and occupy Iraq—a nation that had no involvement with the terrorist plot. Those developments prompted some observers to recall the memorable words of Senator Hiram Johnson, who declared: “The first casualty when war comes is truth” (Stevenson, 1948, p. 2445). With that concern in mind we turn to Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq. In this very important book, Scott Bonn offers to criminologists and sociologists, as well as students and citizens alike, an opportunity to understand in-depth the mechanics of political manipulation. The penetrating analysis herein relies on critical communication theory to decipher the Bush narrative on 9/11 and the alleged links to Saddam Hussein. Integrating concepts from sociological theory and media studies, Bonn focuses on moral panic, the power elite, and manufactured consent, thereby paying tribute to the enduring work of Stanley Cohen, C. Wright Mills, and Noam Chomsky.

In these opening comments on Mass Deception, I wish to reflect on a triangle of influence in which Bonn blends the thoughts of Cohen, Mills, and Chomsky while not losing sight of his own critique of mass communication. From the onset, Bonn elaborates on the meaning of moral panic, a concept used to interpret exaggerated and turbulent reactions to a putative social problem. The concept was initially developed in the 1960s by Cohen in his groundbreaking book Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Since then the concept has been used—and misused—by an array of researchers, journalists, and social commentators (see Garland, 2008). The third edition of the book (2002) allowed Cohen to look back on the idea of moral panic along with areas of inquiry where it has made further impact, ranging from welfare issues to asylum seekers. While recognizing its many territories of expansion, it is also crucial to attend to the depth and complexity of the concept. The 2002 version of Folk Devils and Moral Panics stands apart from its previous editions for its ability to delineate further the explanatory power of moral panic. Cohen considers three extensions of moral panic theory that lend themselves to the . . .

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