Did the US government use 911 as an excuse to launch a sophisticated propaganda campaign designed to scare the American people into giving up their civil liberties, as well as supporting the war in Iraq?

Arizona legal scholar David Altheide says that’s exactly what happened. In his new book “Terrorism and the Politics of Fear,” he points out how the war on terrorism actually began with several earlier “wars” on crime and drugs, all with the goal of encouraging the US people to relinquish certain privacy rights for protection and a safer world.

In his book, he tells how government sources worked with entertainment-oriented news media and popular culture to construct the “politics of fear,” in order to promote beliefs and assumptions about danger, risk and fear. He says that propaganda about the Iraq war was skillfully orchestrated. The invasion of Iraq, he demonstrates, was laid out long before 911 in a conservative “think tank’s” vision for a new foreign policy that called for engaging in preemptive strikes against those who threaten US interests. The group promoting this new vision included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Altheide says, “By drawing on and compounding people’s fear following 911, the U.S. government convinced people that they were all potential victims. Because there was an absence of a clear target for reprisal after 911, 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 [us] and [we] 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 than broadcasting the news. Fear?giving people a good scare?is considered part of the entertainment package. Between 1977 and 1997, hard news declined from 67.3 to 41.3% of the broadcast day, while entertainment news tripled.

Many people can’t figure out what happened to the type of investigative reporters who blew the cover the major news stories like Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. In an analysis of newspaper and television coverage following 911, Altheide found that the mass media relied heavily on government administration sources that directed the focus and language of news coverage. Of the 414 stories on Iraq broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS from September 2001 to February 2002, all but 34 of them originated at the White House, Pentagon and State Department. He 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.”

According to Altheide, that shaping includes bombarding people with stories about weapons of mass destruction, suicide bombers, and airport security breaches that make us feel as if “there was a terrorist lurking round every corner.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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