guiding the public's perception of a war -- while it is
launching missiles at Afghanistan, the Bush
"If you doubt that the Executive Branch is run by people who plan U.S.
"The media spinners at the White House are undoubtedly
Marketing a war is serious business. And no product
brand names than one that squanders vast quantities of resources while
intentionally killing large numbers of people.
The American trend of euphemistic fog for such enterprises began
several decades ago. It's very old news that the federal government no
longer has a department or a budget named "war." Now, it's all called
"defense," a word with a strong aura of inherent justification. The sly
effectiveness of the labeling switch can be gauged by the fact that many
opponents of reckless military spending nevertheless constantly refer to
it as "defense" spending.
During the past dozen years, the intersection between two avenues,
Pennsylvania and Madison, has given rise to media cross-promotion that
increasingly sanitizes the organized mass destruction known as warfare.
The first Bush administration enhanced the public-relations
techniques for U.S. military actions by "choosing operation names that
were calculated to shape political perceptions," linguist Geoff Nunberg
recalls. The invasion of Panama in December 1989 went forward under the
name Operation Just Cause, an immediate media hit. "A number of news
anchors picked up on the phrase Just Cause, which encouraged the Bush and Clinton administrations to keep using those tendentious names."
As Nunberg points out, "it's all a matter of branding. And it's no
accident that the new-style names like Just Cause were introduced at
around the same time the cable news shows started to label their coverage
of major stories with catchy names and logos." The Pentagon became adept
at supplying video-game-like pictures of U.S. missile strikes at the same
time that it began to provide the big-type captions on TV screens.
Ever since the Gulf War in early 1991, people across the political
spectrum have commonly referred to that paroxysm of carnage as Operation
Desert Storm -- or, more often, just Desert Storm. To the casual ear, it
sounds kind of like an act of nature. Or, perhaps, an act of God.
Either way, according to the vague spirit evoked by the name Desert
Storm, men like Dick Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell may well have been assisting in the implementation of divine natural occurrences;
high winds and 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs raining down from the
Soon after the Gulf War a.k.a. Desert Storm ended, the Army's chief
of public affairs, Maj. Gen. Charles McClain, commented: "The perception
of an operation can be as important to success as the execution of that
operation." For guiding the public's perception of a war -- while it is
happening and after it has become history -- there's nothing quite like a
salutary label that sticks.
In October 2001, while launching missiles at Afghanistan, the Bush
team came up with Operation Infinite Justice, only to swiftly scuttle the
name after learning it was offensive to Muslims because of their belief
that only Allah can provide infinite justice. The replacement, Enduring
Freedom, was well-received in U.S. mass media, an irony-free zone where
only the untowardly impertinent might suggest that some people had no
choice other than enduring the Pentagon's freedom to bomb.
If you doubt that the Executive Branch is run by people who plan U.S.
military actions while thinking like marketers, you're (no offense) naive.
It was a candid slip of the tongue a couple of months ago when the White
House chief of staff, Andrew Card, told the New York Times: "From a
marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Not
coincidentally, the main rollout of new-and-improved rationales for an
upcoming war on Iraq did not take place until September.
Looking ahead, the media spinners at the White House are undoubtedly
devoting considerable energy to sifting through options for how to brand
the expected U.S. assault on Iraq. Long before the war is over, we'll all
know its reassuring code name. But we won't know the names of the Iraqi
people who have been killed in our names.
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (I'd recommend a visit to the site), a nationwide consortium of public-policy researchers. He has written op-ed pieces for Boston Globe, Washington Post, Newsday, New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Baltimore Sun, and is a far more successful writer than Alex Sandell will ever be. His column, normally titled, "Media Beat," is nationally syndicated in a wide variety of newspapers. If you'd like to see his weekly "Media Beat" column published on the opinion page of your local daily newspaper(s), please contact the opinion-page editor at the paper(s) and suggest that the paper give his column a try. Please mention to editors that his weekly column is available to newspapers from Creators Syndicate. Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."
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