Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, 'Weapons of mass deception: the uses of propaganda in Bush's war on Iraq'

IssueDecember 2003 - February 2004
Review by Simon Dixon

Had they not become leaders in the field of exposing government spin doctoring and propaganda, you suspect that Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber would make pretty effective PR consultants themselves.

I recently spotted Weapons of Mass Deception riding high in the best-seller lists in a mainstream British bookstore. How many of those buying it were seduced by the snappy title and the Saddam/Bin Laden comic-strip on the cover? Those expecting the Michael Moore approach to US politics might find this a little sober by comparison.

Weapons of Mass Deception deals almost exclusively with American uses of government spin and propaganda in its relationship with Iraq, yet much of what it contains rings true for Britain and, no doubt, many other countries too.

The book opens with an account of the stage-managed demolition of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, closing in on the euphoric response that event evoked from the US news media. The first chapter then goes on to evaluate attempts to present a positive image of the USA to the Muslim world. One of the more ridiculous anecdotes is of an attempt during the 1950s to persuade Walt Disney to produce a cartoon depicting the Soviet Union as a scary bear menacing prehistoric humans, intended to be used to promote US interests in the Arab world.

The great success of this book is the ability of the authors to reach beneath the skin of what is usually referred to as spin. Spin, by its very nature, is a slippery beast to get to grips with - everyone knows it exists, but the dark workings of government press officers and public relations consultants are all too obscure. What Rampton and Stauber do so well is to demonstrate the often-imperceptible subtleties of such propaganda.

A highlight of the book is a chapter entitled “Doublespeak” which highlights the power with which the use and abuse of language can shape public perceptions. One of the great triumphs of propaganda is to drip-feed specific phrases into the public lexicon. Thus the “good guys” have a “coalition of the willing” and a “nuclear deterrent” and the “bad guys” an “axis of evil” and “weapons of mass destruction”.

Weapons of mass deception is an excellent book. Thoroughly researched and well written, it is the work of two authors with an unsurpassed grasp of their subject.

Topics: Iraq, Media
See more of: Review