The Persian Gulf TV War Revisited

The 1991 war against Iraq was one of the first televised events of the global village in which the entire world watched a military spectacle unfold via global TV satellite networks.1 In retrospect, the Bush administration and the Pentagon carried out one of the most successful public relations campaigns in the history of modern politics in its use of the media to mobilize support for the war. The mainstream media in the United States and elsewhere tended to be a compliant vehicle for the government strategy to manipulate the public, imperiling democracy which requires informed citizens, checks and balances against excessive government power, and a free and vigorous critical media (see Kellner 1990 and 1992). Indeed, if the media do not adequately inform citizens, provide a check against excessive government power and corruption, and adequately debate the key issues of the day, democracy is undermined. M oreover, the U.S. media, especially CNN, completely dominated global coverage of the event. CNN had cameras and reporters in Baghdad throughout the war, a large crew in Israel, and live coverage of all U.S. military and government press conferences. Thus its images, discourses, and material tended to shape global coverage of the event. This meant that the Bush administration and Pentagon was able to control the flow of images and discourses and thus to manage the TV spectacle of the Gulf War.2 In this chapter, I first discuss the production of the text of the "crisis in the Gulf" and then "the Gulf war." This will involve analysis of disinformation and propaganda campaigns by the Bush administration, the Pentagon, and their allies, as well as dissection of the constraints produced by the so-called pool system. I also indicate how the political economy of the media in the United States facilitated the manufacturing of consent for U.S. government policies. Then I analyze the meanings embedded in the text of the war against Iraq and the reception of the text/event by the audience..
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