935 False Statements

February 7, 2008 • Ethics and Quality, Newsroom Management • by

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, February 1, 2008

Researchers Analyze the Iraq Campaign of the US Government
There is by now only little dispute that George W. Bush and his administration have lied to the public when, during the run-up of the Second Iraq War, they claimed that Sadam Hussein was in possession of WMDs and had close ties to Al-Qaeda. How often they have done so, and what arguments they used, is now documented in detail on a website.

Compelling evidence is presented on how the media have become the victims of a large-scale spin campaign orchestrated by the Bush Administration. On hundreds of occasions during the two years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, president Bush and his cabinet members have made at least 935 false statements, according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith from the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based institute specialised in promoting investigative journalism and analysing the ethics of governmental action (www.publicintegrity.org).

Their report refers to an “orchestrated deception on the path to war”, and anyone clicking  through the website will gain the impression that such an assessment is justified. The US Administration keeps defending its statements by claiming that they were based on the secret service reports available at the time. However, according to the New York Times, it has been proven that some of them were in clear contradiction to the information those reports contained.

The documentation provided by the Center for Public Integrity can also be seen as a valuable contribution to a current debate among communication researchers on spin doctoring as part of governmental communication. Instead of public arousal on such “unethical” behaviour,  this discourse is marked by economists who analyse the societal and media conditions under which “professional lying” goes unpunished – even if the deceivers are caught red-handed, as it were. That this question is not only of concern to academics, most of us know quite well: whether one engages in “swindling” or in telling “white lies” not only depends on the likelihood of being caught, but also on the kind of sanctions perpetrators are potentially faced with. The effects of media moralizing and media scandals may be changing. Whereas presidents Nixon and Johnson both had to step down after public pressure had exceeded a certain limit, George W. Bush and his administration seem to get much less into trouble.

Translation: Oliver Heinemann

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