Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber definitely have an agenda. The title of their new book, ‘Weapons of Mass Deception’ makes it clear which side of the debate concerning the war in Iraq they fall on. In case there were any lingering doubts in this generally well-written book, the subtitle of the book is ‘The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq.’
This obviously isn’t going to tow the administration line.
In any book that comes out with a strong political opinion, the burden of proof falls on the authors. Much like a well-written essay, the strength of the argument depends on the supporting evidence.
Rampton and Stauber don’t have to worry about that.
There are 33 pages of notes for 204 pages of actual text. Department of State and Air Force documents, CNN interviews with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security briefing books, speeches by President Bush and the public policy documents of the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century are all quoted. Also quoted are media sources ranging from the Los Angeles Times to the National Review to Business Week. Clearly, there is evidence to support their opinion.
Using a series of interrelated sections, each focusing on a single aspect of the public relations frenzy in Iraq, Rampton and Stauber lay out the administration’s attempt to sway the Middle East and the world to its opinion piece by piece.
The titles of each section, such as ‘Branding America,’ ‘True Lies,’ and ‘Doublespeak’ make it clear that the authors do not see this action as positive, but rather as an attempt to force the American people into a reading of the facts surrounding the war with Iraq that fits with the administration’s goals.
In each section, the issue is presented through a series of smaller sections within a historical framework. In the ‘Branding America’ section, for example, the reader is taken through the process of the administration’s choice to use someone who can create a series of commercials and radio spots intended to sway public opinion in the Arab world. This was attempted by the same mass-media commercial techniques used to sell products here in the United States. A historical overview of the United States’ attempts to sway public opinion in the Middle East is then presented, which leads directly into why Beers’ campaign in the Middle East failed.
The failure of the campaign is presented in the same step-by-step fashion, from Beers’ attempt to create America as a brand to sell to Muslims, to the Arabs’ refusal to accept this brand due to inconsistencies between the American political position and the American public-relations position.
It is easy when writing a book based on opinion to fall into the habit of over-editorialization (Michael Moore, anyone?). This makes sense when you think about it. The writer is presenting information and opinions that they think are important enough to write about, ergo they’re going to present them with some passion. The danger with such a scheme though is that you will end up ‘preaching to the choir.’ You don’t win over any hearts and minds (to use the Vietnam term) by presenting your information filled with side commentary and invective.
It’s clear that Rampton and Stauber have a very definite opinion. The conclusion we’re expected to draw from their text is consistent with the opinion expressed in the introduction that we’re being spoon-fed a very narrow view of the situation in Iraq to get us to support the Bush administration’s desire to go to war. However, this opinion is expressed with a clear and unblurred eye towards the historical realities of the Middle East.
The viewpoint it expresses is slanted, but it is a viewpoint that relies on information missing from the mainstream of current American political discourse and the American public is not exposed to enough.
The text itself is lively and persuasive, without being preachy or overly emotional. It allows the reader to make their own conclusions, while presenting evidence that makes the authors’ conclusions hard to refuse.
All in all, this book succeeds admirably in providing the burden of proof that any good opinionated text needs.
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