Guarini Institute: An Eyewitness Account of the Iraq War and the Media

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On June 18th, 2013, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Ibrahim Al-Marashi from the Department of History of the California State University San Marcos, who held a lecture on the role of media in the shaping of popular opinion regarding the 2003 War in Iraq.

The lecturer began with an intriguing account of his personal “contribution” to the media boom that surrounded the military campaign – an academic paper produced byProfessor Al-Marashi on the subject of the Gulf War (1990-1991) had been misused by the British government as a false academic proof of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in 2003 Iraq.

The story of Professor Al-Marashi is only one instance of media manipulation of public opinion on subjects of international significance. Professor Al-Marashi classified the Persian Gulf War as a “TV War”, in which the media communicated the aspects that appealed to the audiences – victories and heroic acts on the part of Coalition forces, omitting images revealing the real horror of the war. In making this point, Professor Al-Marashi reiterated the issue of interpretation of the conflict, brought up by French Sociologist Jean Baudrillard in his collection of essays The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.

According to Professor Al-Marashi, the large role of the media in military conflicts is not a new phenomenon. Everyone is familiar with the famous poster of Uncle Sam, sending his “I Want You” message to encourage young men to enroll in the army. Horrible images of the enemy and celebration of military achievements and technological advancements further contribute to the shaping of popular opinion. In the case of the 2003 Iraq War, the fear that weapons of mass destructions were at the disposal of Iraqi forces was used as a reason for preventive military action in the area. Professor Al-Marashi referred to the “Anthrax Scare”, brought up by the Bush Administrations a realistic threat against the entire American Society should the virus be utilized by Saddam Hussein. The lack of solid scientific proof behind this hypothesis did not get in the way of the media popularization of the war.

Delving into the question of how media influences people’s outlook nowadays, Professor Al-Marashi surprised his audience, showing a picture of John Cabot University students, taken in the hallway of the Tiber campus earlier that day; all youngsters depicted had their attention directed at the screens of their smartphones. The reality of media influence nowadays leads to the inevitable question: is the media manipulating minds? Further reflection inevitably leads to the question of the credibility of sources we are used to consulting daily. “The CNN Effect”, as Professor Al-Marashi labeled the 24-hour news cycle offered by many information agencies, gives audiences a feeling of being well-informed. Before reports on essential subjects are trusted, however, we must realize that media does not always reflect reality; sometimes, “media constructs reality.”