10 Most Deceptive PR Campaigns in History

Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction
A participant wears a Laura Bush mask in an antiwar demonstration in Hollywood in 2008. © Gene Blevins/LA Daily News/Corbis

At the time of the Iraq war in 2003, one reason given for the U.S. military action was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This was despite the fact that the U.N. chief weapons inspector found no WMD [source: CNN]. Authors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, who run PRWatch, say the U.S. was able to pull off that feat by using PR tactics to get the American public clamoring for such an invasion.

First, they say, the George W. Bush Administration, through misinformation and repetition, made Americans believe Iraq was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Documents were presented to the U.N. that discussed Iraq's huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. These were later found to be forgeries. (Opinions differ as to whether the U.S. government knew they were fakes in advance [source: Pincus].)

Former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan wrote in a book in 2008,"[Bush's] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people ... A nuclear threat was added to the biological and chemical threats to create a greater sense of gravity and urgency. Support for terrorism was given greater weight by playing up a dubious al Qaeda connection to Iraq. When it was all packaged together, the case constituted a 'grave and gathering danger' that needed to be dealt with urgently."

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, many media outlets showed images of jubilant Iraqis, thrilled to be saved from Hussein's dastardly clutches. We saw close-ups of both Americans and Iraqis helping pull down Hussein's statue, set in Firdos Square; we weren't shown the long-range photo of the square, which was nearly empty of people [source: Rampton and Stauber].

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