!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'April 9, 2003: Saddam Hussein’s Government Collapses; US Orchestrates Propaganda Stunt with Toppling Statue'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event April 9, 2003: Saddam Hussein’s Government Collapses; US Orchestrates Propaganda Stunt with Toppling Statue. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A study by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs examines the 600 hours of war coverage by the nation’s broadcast news organizations between the coverage of the first strikes (see March 19, 2003) and the fall of Baghdad (see April 9, 2003). The study shows that of the 1,710 stories broadcast, only 13.5 percent show any images of dead or wounded civilians or soldiers, either Iraqi or American. The study says that television news coverage “did not differ discernibly” from the heavily sanitized, Pentagon-controlled coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (see August 11, 1990 and January 3, 1991). “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” is transformed on US television screens “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” A similar study by Columbia University’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that “none of the embedded stories (see February 2003 and March-April 2003) studied showed footage of people, either US soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured, or killed by weapons fired.” In fact, only 20 percent of the stories by embedded journalists show anyone else besides the journalist.
Focus on Anchors - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks’ mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war’s antagonists, the leading players in the drama.… TV viewers were on more intimate terms with [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s and [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith’s perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated ‘Iraqi people’ whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering.”
Fox News - Rich will say that Fox News is the most egregious of the lot, reporting what he mockingly calls “all victory all the time.” During the time period analyzed, one Fox anchor says, “[O]bjectively speaking [it is] hard to believe things could go more successfully.” Another Fox anchor reports “extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control” even as that city is sliding into guerrilla warfare and outright anarchy. Neoconservative Fred Barnes, one of Fox’s regular commentators, calls the competition “weenies” for actually reporting US casualties. [Rich, 2006, pp. 78]

Entity Tags: Shepard Smith, Columbia University, Aaron Brown, Fox News, George Washington University, Frank Rich, US Department of Defense, Fred Barnes

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

A US military vehicle pulls down a statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a small crowd.A US military vehicle pulls down a statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a small crowd. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)The government of Saddam Hussein collapses as US troops take control of Baghdad. To mark the occasion, a statue of the former dictator in downtown Baghdad’s Firdos Square is pulled down, seemingly by a group of average Iraqi citizens and US soldiers. [Associated Press, 4/9/2003] The celebration is later revealed by the Los Angeles Times to be a psychological operation managed by US forces and not Iraqi citizens. [Los Angeles Times, 7/3/2004] The entire event is a carefully staged photo op. The tightly cropped pictures sent out by the Pentagon, and subsequently broadcast and published around the world, show what appears to be a large crowd of celebrating Iraqis. However, aerial photos show that the square is nearly empty except for a small knot of people gathered in front of the statue. The square itself is surrounded by US tanks. And there is some question as to the authenticity of the celebrating Iraqis. Al-Jazeera producer Samir Khader later says that the Americans “brought with them some people—supposedly Iraqis cheering. These people were not Iraqis. I lived in Iraq, I was born there, I was raised there. I can recognize an Iraqi accent.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302] Fox News anchors assure viewers that images of the toppling statue are sure to persuade the Arab world to see America as a liberator. Correspondent Simon Marks, reporting from Amman, Jordan, reports that “the Arab street” is angry, and it will take careful diplomacy to convince the majority of Arabs that this is not “an American war of occupation.” In response, Fox anchor David Asman, a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer, says, “There’s a certain ridiculousness to that point of view!” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, David Asman, US Department of Defense, Fox News, Simon Marks

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

While television news anchors and analysts continue to follow the lead of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in comparing the toppling of the Firdos Square statue to the fall of the Berlin Wall (see April 9, 2003 and April 9, 2003), press reporters and editorial writers begin to express some skepticism. An unphotogenic photo of the statue being covered by an American flag prompts the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley to note that this was a “powerful reminder that, unlike the Soviet empire, Iraq’s regime did not implode from within.” Noting that an American tank had been required to eventually push the statue over, Stanley adds, “In 1989, East Germans did not need American help to break down their wall.” The Washington Post’s Tom Shales observes that “of all the statues of Saddam Hussein scattered throughout the city, the crowds had conveniently picked one located across from the hotel where most of the media were headquartered. This was either splendid luck or brilliant planning on the part of the [US] military.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Two days later, the Toronto Star will report, “Never mind how that video was tightly framed, showing a chanting crowd, when wider shots would have revealed a very different picture: a very large, mostly empty square surrounded by US tanks.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Tom Shales, Toronto Star, Alessandra Stanley, Washington Post, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln.Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush, wearing a custom-made flight suit, is ferried in a Navy S-3B Viking jet to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln anchored off the coast of San Diego, where he declares the cessation of major combat operations in Iraq. A banner unfurled behind the president reads, “Mission Accomplished.” [CNN, 5/2/2003] Bush begins his speech by saying: “Officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans, major combat operations have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] Bush praises a military victory “carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.” He celebrates “the images of fallen soldiers” and “the images of celebrating Iraqis” (see April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, and April 10, 2003), and continues, “[T]he battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the eleventh, 2001, and still goes on.” The invasion “removed an ally of al-Qaeda,” he asserts. Because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Bush says, “no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.” Bush gives his listeners a dose of belligerence: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got.” [White House, 5/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 90]
Perfectly Staged - The presentation itself is a triumph of stage-managed spectacle. The Lincoln, only 39 miles offshore, is held out at sea for an additional 24 hours, forcing the crew to wait another day to see their families after their lengthy sea tour. The carrier shifts position several times to ensure that the television cameras only film expanses of ocean as backdrop for Bush, and not the Southern California skyline. Bush’s handlers decide not to have the president fly in by helicopter—standard procedure for such a visit—but instead opt for a far more dramatic flight in a fighter jet making a high-speed tailhook landing. The jet is renamed “Navy One” and Bush is designated co-pilot. [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305] The Secret Service balks at allowing Bush to fly in “one of the sexier fighter jets,” but eventually relents enough to allow Bush to “pilot” a four-seat S-3B Viking (specially dubbed “Navy One” and with the legend “George W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief” stenciled on the cockpit). [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] The crew wears uniforms color-coordinated with the banner and other props the White House public relations staff have deployed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90] Bush makes a dramatic exit from the fighter jet wearing, not civilian clothes, but a flight suit. As he greets the crew, he shouts in response to a reporter’s question: “Yes, I flew it! Of course I liked it!” The idea that Bush, whose time in fighter planes was strictly limited and 30 years out of date, would have been allowed to fly a state-of-the-art fighter jet without training or certification is absurd on its face, but by and large the press swallows Bush’s claim without question. Three hours later, Bush emerges from below decks, this time wearing a business suit. His entrance is timed to coincide with the California sunset, called by Hollywood cinematographers the “magic hour” for the lovely, glowing low light it bathes upon its subject. The huge “Misson Accomplished” banner, produced by Bush public relations staffers and designed to match other event banners and graphics, stretches high above Bush’s head. (One of the chief producers of the event, former ABC producer Scott Sforza, had boarded the Lincoln days before to ensure that production values were met. Sforza made sure that the banner would be visible to the cameras during Bush’s speech—see Before May 1, 2003.) [Unger, 2007, pp. 304-305]
Iraqi Captives No Longer POWs - US military officials will subsequently say that the event means captives being held in Iraq will no longer be treated as prisoners of war under the third article of the Geneva Conventions, but instead as civilians being held by an occupying power under the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions—which allows long-term detentions for prisoners deemed a threat to governing authorities. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] White House aides tell reporters that Bush will not officially declare the war “over” because, under the Geneva Conventions, that would require the US to release some 6,000 prisoners of war taken during and after the invasion. [Rich, 2006, pp. 88-90]
'Hubris, Arrogance, and Cowboy Swagger' - Author and public administration professor Alasdair Roberts will later write: “President Bush attempted to clothe himself in the garb of the military with the hope of drawing on the esteem with which it was regarded. He did this figuratively—and also literally when… he landed on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.… This was taken as hubris, arrogance, and cowboy swagger. But it is more accurately regarded as a sign of weakness. The heads of other developed democracies do not feel the need to meet the media in military garb. This was evidence of the president’s inability to command authority on his own account.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 21] Some have a different opinion (see May 1-4, 2003 and May 7, 2003). Immediately after the event, Fox pundit Morton Kondracke says, “This was fantastic theater.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 89]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, US Department of the Navy, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Morton Kondracke, Scott Sforza, Bush administration (43), Alasdair Roberts

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

US forces in Iraq launch Operation Peninsula Strike, conducting a series of raids on a peninsula along the Tigris River about 35 miles north of Baghdad, near the towns of Balad and Duluiya. The sweep, aimed at suppressing the growing Iraqi resistance, is the Coalition’s largest military operation since the regime’s collapse (see April 9, 2003). About 4,000 US troops—supported by river patrol boats and AC-130 gunships—participate in the assault. Up to 100 Iraqis are killed and 397 are taken prisoner. [BBC, 6/13/2003; Guardian, 6/13/2003] Residents of the towns complain that the US’s heavy handed tactics are alienating the Iraqi populace and creating popular support for the insurgency. One Iraqi is quoted as saying, “There was no fighting in a town like Falluja during the war. That only came when American soldiers killed 18 people during a protest. The people who are fighting the Americans are only taking personal action to avenge the murders of their family members.” [The Irish Times, 6/14/2003]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A long shot of Firdos Square during the statue toppling process. A small knot of onlookers can be seen surrounding the statue at the far end of the area; most of the square is empty. Three US tanks can be seen stationed around the square.A long shot of Firdos Square during the statue toppling process. A small knot of onlookers can be seen surrounding the statue at the far end of the area; most of the square is empty. Three US tanks can be seen stationed around the square. [Source: Ian Masters]A study by the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media is presented at the October 2006 conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The study features an in-depth examination of the iconic toppling of the Firdos Square statue of Saddam Hussein (see April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, and April 10, 2003). The study notes that “wide-angle shots show clearly that the square was never close to being a quarter full [and] never had more than a few hundred people in it (many of them reporters).” But after the initial two-hour live broadcast of the statue’s fall, US broadcasters chose to repeat tightly focused shots that, in author Frank Rich’s words, “conjured up a feverish popular uprising matching the administration’s prewar promise that Americans would see liberated Iraqis celebrating in the streets” (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, August 3, 2002, and September 9, 2002). According to the study, some version of the statue-toppling footage played every 4.4 minutes on Fox News between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. the day of the statue’s fall, and every seven minutes on CNN. [Rich, 2006, pp. 83-84; Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 10/22/2006]

Entity Tags: CNN, Saddam Hussein, Frank Rich, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, Fox News, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike