The Power of Propaganda

Study shows mistaken impressions about Iraq war fed by TV news

| October 16, 2003

A majority of Americans held at least one of three false perceptions about the war in Iraq, according to a recent study, and these contributed to popular support for the war.

The study, by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, also linked the misconceptions with TV news -- especially Fox. Frank Davies, writing for Knight Ridder Newspapers, reports that the three main delusions were: (1) weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, (2) clear evidence shows Saddam Hussein worked with 9/11 terrorists, and (3) populations in foreign countries backed the war or were divided in their support. As Davies notes, no WMDs have been found. Intelligence agencies have not found evidence Saddam worked with al-Qaida. Gallup polls showed majority opposition to the war in most countries.

The study showed that 60 percent of Americans held at least one of these fallacies to be true between January and September of this year. Importantly, the study found that the misperceptions correlated greatly with the respondent's primary news source. Eighty percent of those who relied on Fox News and 71 percent of those who relied on CBS believed at least one of the mistaken perceptions. Comparably, 47 percent of those who said they relied on newspapers and magazines and 23 percent of PBS viewers or National Public Radio listeners held at least one of the three falsities to be true.

The Bush administration played a key role in the misperceptions, noted the director of the Program on International Policy, and the White House's propaganda was aided by what one researcher called, 'stenographic coverage of government statements' without much attention to accuracy.



Altogether, these misunderstandings had a high correlation with support for the war. While less than a quarter of those who had none of the misconceptions supported the war, those who believed one of three misconceptions showed 53 percent support, those with two of three showed 78 percent support, and those with three of three showed 83 percent support of the war.
-- Joel Stonington

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