Half of Americans Believe Iraq Had WMDs

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[Polls]
A recent Harris Poll reports found that while "the U.S. and other countries have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, surprisingly more U.S. adults (50%) think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq. This is an increase from 36 percent in February 2005."

This is terrible news. Even President Bush has been forced to admit that his administration's number one justification for attacking Iraq was wrong, because in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction. The Harris Poll didn’t attempt to analyze why the number of misled Americans has actually increased in the past year, but perhaps it is because Senator Rick Santorum held a news conference not long ago in Washington and announced that WMDs had just been found in Iraq. A bit like announcing that, science be damned, the Sun is revolving around the Earth! Pentagon officials quickly dismissed the Senator's claims, which were based on the discovery of some leftover, nonfunctioning weapons from more than a decade ago. Sheldon Rampton and I examine this phenomenon in our next book, The Best War Ever, excerpted below.

Writing for the Associated Press, Charles Hanley suggests that “timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. … But the Pentagon and outside experts emphasized that these abandoned shells, many found in ones and twos, were 15 years old or more, their chemical contents were degraded, and they were unusable as artillery ordnance.” The AP quotes John Prados, author of Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War, as saying, ''I think the Santorum-Hoekstra thing is the latest 'factoid,' but the basic dynamic is the insistent repetition by the Bush administration of the original argument” that Saddam had WMDs.

The repetition of these phony WMD claims continues in the right-wing media and blogosphere. For example, this very article by Hanley of the Associated Press is under stiff if ludicrous attack by the American Spectator and others keeping the 'Saddam had WMDs' myth alive and even growing.

Author John Prados is only half right when he blames the pro-war message machine. The basic dynamic is what is called in PR lingo the “big lie” tactic and as Sheldon Rampton and I pointed out in our 2003 bestseller Weapons of Mass Deception, it worked like a wonder to sell the war on Iraq. For the big lie to work, however, there has to be no countervailing voice, no strong criticism, no opposing view echoed in the dominant media.

The reason that increasing numbers of Americans share a collective false memory is that they still remember being told, over and over again, that there “absolutely” were WMDs. This story was boldly declared, not merely by the Bush administration, but also by leading U.S. news media. In fact, during the initial weeks of the US attack in 2003, the TV, radio and print media in the US repeatedly reported that WMDs were discovered, and although every single story was later shown to be false, the retractions were few and minor if they were aired at all.

After extensively scouring Iraq and failing to find weapons, the White House and news media should have been equally bold in admitting their error, but instead their retractions came wrapped in weasel words that left many Americans still believing the original stories were true.

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