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Use Of Fear To Support War On Terror...

Teddy Rogers

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Teddy Rogers
A new book by David Altheide asserts that the U.S. government used the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as a catalyst to unleash a sophisticated propaganda campaign. That campaign was designed to scare the American people into giving up civil liberties, as well as supporting the war in Iraq, Altheide says in his new book, titled “Terrorism and the Politics of Fear.” Altheide is Regents’ Professor of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University.

In the book, Altheide states his belief of how the U.S. government used the news media to promote fear and a sense of insecurity. The use of “entertaining fear” applied to the war on terrorism actually began with several earlier “wars” on crime and drugs, he maintains. The goal is to encourage the U.S. people to relinquish certain privacy rights for protection and a safer world.

Book chapters on the Pat Tillman story, internet control and fear of crime demonstrate how government sources worked with entertainment-oriented news media and popular culture to construct the “politics of fear,” and with other decision-makers to promote audience beliefs and assumptions about danger, risk and fear.

The Iraq War propaganda that Altheide maintains was skillfully orchestrated. The invasion of Iraq was laid out long before 9/11 in a conservative “think tank’s” vision for new foreign policy that called for engaging in preemptive strikes against those who threaten U.S. interests. The group, the Project of the New American Century (PNAC), counted among its associates current and former members of the George W. Bush administration including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

“By drawing on and compounding people’s fear following 9/11, the U.S. government convinced people that they were all potential victims,” Altheide says. “Because there was an absence of a clear target for reprisal after 9/11, our government with the help of the media constructed broad symbolic enemies. It became a war on terrorism, a war against evil. The government had a plan to protect them and the people went along with the plan.”

Altheide says the carefully crafted propaganda campaign could not have been executed without a compliant news media that has become increasingly more focused on entertainment – of which fear is part of -- than broadcasting the news. He cites research on network trends that shows that between 1977 and 1997, hard news declined from 67.3 to 41.3 percent, while entertainment news tripled.

“The mass media give us definitions of how to look at the world, and most people derive their news from the mass media,” Altheide says. “When the mass media is getting the majority of its information from government news sources, then there is a clear political shaping of events taking place.”

That shaping included bombarding people with stories about weapons of mass destruction, suicide bombers, and airport security breaches that made one feel “there was a terrorist lurking round every corner,” Altheide says.

In analysis of newspaper and television coverage following 9/11, Altheide found that the mass media relied heavily on government administration sources that directed the focus and language of news coverage. Citing media analyst Andrew Tyndall, Altheide illustrates that of the 414 stories on Iraq broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS from September 2001 to February 2002, all but 34 originated at the White House, Pentagon and State Department. Additionally, papers saw huge increases in their use of the word fear in the headline and terrorism in the report. The New York Times, for example, saw an increase of 1754 percent.

The U.S. government, Altheide maintains, capitalized on people’s heightened state of fear to exert social control in the name of homeland security. Congress passed the Patriot act when many members admitted they hadn’t even read it. Mechanisms such as monitoring phone conversations and personal financial transactions were accepted in exchange for a “safer world.”

When the Bush administration was ready to wage war on Iraq, it had already shaped the civic mood in the country. Critics of the war on terrorism, like critics of the massive war on drugs, were said to be uncaring, unpatriotic and supporting the enemy. Questionable evidence linked Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. The media presented to the American people what it had been told, not what it had uncovered. Indeed, The New York Times later apologized for its shoddy coverage of the war.

“The systematic use of propaganda is now part of all war coverage, whereby any critique of managed news is included as part of the scripted war program,” Altheide says. “As with previous wars, the propaganda show becomes stale as more truthful accounts emerge over time.”

In fact, recent polls show support for the war among the American people has waned as the governments’ evidence for going to war in the first place has unraveled, and the body count increases. Yet, the government presses on in its propaganda campaign, Altheide says, to convince the American people and the world that what is being fought in Iraq is a war on terror – the enemy or potential enemy of all.

The language, however, has altered meaning so that all anti-government activities are now being labeled terrorism. What, then, becomes of the revolutionaries who rise up against oppressive governments? Who are the insurgents in Iraq who say they fight against American occupation?

“By our modern definition, our own country’s founding fathers would be considered terrorists,” Altheide says. “And what of the American people after this war ends? They are more accustomed to surveillance and more willing to support formal social control. They are more afraid.”


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