By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Powell cites new "British intelligence" on Saddam's "spying" capabilities; British Channel 4 reveals that this new dossier is plagiarized from a journal article by a graduate student in California.
The administration raises its terrorist threat level to orange, causing widespread anxiety and duct-tape purchases (a handy placebo for a faltering economy); ABC News reports (at last, a rapid response) that the latest terror alert was largely based on "fabricated" information provided by a captured al Qaeda informant who subsequently failed a lie-detector test.
Powell announces a new threat from an Iraqi airborne "drone"; the drone, patched together with tape and powered by a small engine with a wooden propeller, turns out to have a maximum range of five miles.
The administration trumpets alleged attempts by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger; the IAEA concludes that the incriminating documents were forged.
On March 7, Powell is back in the Security Council brandishing . . . aluminum tubes!: "There is new information . . . available to us . . . and the IAEA about a European country where Iraq was found shopping for these kinds of tubes . . . [tubes] more exact by a factor of 50 percent or more than those usually specified for rocket-motor casings." When I ask the State Department the name of the European country, I am informed that said country wishes to remain anonymous. (So did Nayirah al-Sabah.) When I inquire with the IAEA about the "new evidence," I am told that El Baradei's analysis, presented before Powell's declaration, is unchanged: "Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets."
The question is, why do they get away with it?
George Orwell blamed "slovenliness" in the language, like the phrase "weapons of mass destruction." Most people think it means nuclear weapons, sure to kill hundreds of thousands. With no A-bombs in sight in Iraq, Bush can still shout about nerve gas and poison gas — also "weapons of mass destruction" — and unsophisticated folks think he's still talking about A-bombs. Bad as they are, chemical and biological weapons are very unlikely to kill in the same quantities as nuclear weapons, but Bush gets a free ride on sloppy English.
PR practitioners say it's easy for politicians to have their way. Peter Teeley, Bush the First's press secretary when he was vice president, explained it this way: "You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it." If it happens to be untrue, "so what. Maybe 200 people read [the correction] or 2,000 or 20,000."
Hermann Goering was more specific: "Why, of course, the people don't want war," he told G.M. Gilbert at the Nuremberg war-crimes tribunal. "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders . . . All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
John R. MacArthur is the publisher ofHarper's magazine and author ofSecond Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War.