Telling it Like it (Actually) Is

By Gabriel Carlyle


Two new publications consider media involvement in the invasion of Iraq

During the invasion of Iraq, the ‘embedded’ BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt spotted a truck through his binoculars. On a hunch Hewitt alerted the Captain of the military unit he was accompanying, telling the Captain, “I think these guys are going to attack us.” Within seconds the unit opened fire on the truck, which exploded. Momentarily Hewitt wondered whether he was “getting too close” but his qualms apparently disappeared when a second and then third explosion confirmed that the truck had been carrying grenades: “from then on the bonding grew tighter,” he later explained.

The reporting of ‘embedded’ journalists such as Hewitt (from whose story David Miller draws the reasonable inference that ‘acting as an accessory to murder… is seen as a less serious offence than Andrew Gilligan’s alleged crime of misreporting a source’) is just one of the many facets of the media’s coverage of the invasion examined in Tell Me Lies – an excellent collection of short essays, compiled in the wake of the attack, which really do add up to a composite whole.

It is perhaps invidious to single out individual contributions but of particular note were the interview with veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk, and Greg Philo and Maureen Gilmour’s analysis of the way in which the lack of historical context in most international news leaves a ‘black hole’ in the public’s understanding.

Other topics include the targeting of journalists during the conflict (at least 15 were killed in less than four weeks); the way in which the British media helped sanitise the war through its selection of images (from Vertigo contributor Julian Petley; see also page 12); the comprehensive overhaul of the propaganda apparatus undertaken by the US and UK governments in the wake of 9/11; and the role of the internet – both in the global anti-war mobilisations and in disseminating alternative information sources to the general public.

Two Tell Me Lies contributors are also authors of Weapons of Mass Deception – a stunning look at how the Bush administration enlisted the PR industry to sell the invasion of Iraq to the American public. Long-time PR watchers Rampton and Stauber have gone out of their way to dig up material you’re unlikely to have encountered elsewhere, such as the fact that in 1987 Daniel Pipes and Laurie Mylroie – later two of the invasion’s most aggressive propagandists – co-authored a paper advocating giving military aid to Saddam’s regime (other highlights include CNN reporter Jamie McIntyre confronting Donald Rumsfeld with the video footage of Rumsfeld’s 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein). This, combined with the use of revealing transcripts from TV and radio and a creative use of the LexisNexis database, means that even the most seasoned Iraq-watcher will get something out of this impressive work.

Gabriel Carlyle co-ordinates the work of Voices UK (, campaigning in solidarity with the people of Iraq.

Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq, edited by David Miller, Pluto Press 2003, ISBN 0-7453-2201-8, £12.99

Weapons of Mass Deception by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Constable & Robinson 2003, ISBN 1-84119-837-4, £6.99