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Conquering the minds, conquering Iraq: The social production of misinformation in the United States – a case study

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In the lead-up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration rallied the American public for war via claims that they held unassailable evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and through the insinuation that links existed between Iraq and al Qaeda, and Iraq and the 11 September 2001 attacks. Despite the introduction of compelling evidence that these claims were false, more than 18 months after the official end of the war half of the American population continued to believe that either weapons of mass destruction had been found or that Iraq possessed a developed program for creating them. The prevalence of these misperceptions suggests important questions: How and why could such a significant percentage of the population remain so misinformed? What was the social process leading to the widespread adoption of misinformation? And what were the political effects of these misperceptions? This article proposes an analytical model that outlines both the production of these misperceptions and their political ramifications. It argues that the misperceptions about the Iraq war were socially produced via a complex interaction between a variety of factors including: the general climate of fear in America in the post-9/11 era, Bush administration agenda-setting strategies, and brokering between the political and communication establishments.
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Keywords: agenda-setting; framing; misinformation; political communication strategy; weapons of mass destruction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: USC Annenberg School, 3502 Watt Way, Suite 103, Los Angeles, CA, 90089-0281, USA 2: USC Annenberg School, 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90089-0281, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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