How To Sell a War

The Rendon Group deploys ‘perception management’ in the war on Iraq

By Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber | 8.4.03
In The Times

As U.S. tanks stormed into Baghdad on April 9, television viewers in the United States got their first feel-good moment of the war—a chance to witness the toppling of a giant statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Americans channel-flipping over breakfast between Fox, CNN and CBS all saw the same images, broadcast live from Baghdad’s Firdos Square. For those who missed it in the morning, the images were continually replayed on cable news throughout the day, and newspapers carried front-page color photos. […]

The problem is that the images of toppling statues and exulting Iraqis, to which American audiences were repeatedly exposed, obscured a larger reality. A Reuters long-shot photo of Firdos Square showed that it was nearly empty, ringed by U.S. tanks and marines who had moved in to seal off the square before admitting the Iraqis. A BBC photo sequence of the statue’s toppling also showed a sparse crowd of approximately 200 people—much smaller than the demonstrations only nine days later, when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad calling for U.S.-led forces to leave the city. Los Angeles Times reporter John Daniszewski, who was on the scene to witness the statue’s fall, caught an aspect of the day’s events that the other reporters missed. Most Iraqis were indeed glad to see Saddam go, he wrote, but he spoke near the scene with Iraqi businessman Jarrir Abdel-Kerim, who warned that Americans should not be deceived by the images they were seeing. […]