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Mass Deception

Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq

Scott A. Bonn

Publication Year: 2010

The attacks of 9/11 led to a war on Iraq, although there was neither tangible evidence that Saddam Hussein was linked to Osama bin Laden nor proof of weapons of mass destruction. Why, then, did the Iraq war garner so much acceptance in the United States during its primary stages? Mass Deception argues that the George W. Bush administration manufactured public support for the war on Iraq, introducing a unique, integrated, and interdisciplinary theory called "critical communication" to explain how and why political elites and the news media periodically create public panics that benefit both parties.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society


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pp. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xi

Amid the frenzy of the attacks on September 11, the Bush administration pushed forward its plan to invade and occupy Iraq—a nation that had no involvement with the terrorist plot. Those developments prompted some observers to recall the memorable words of Senator Hiram Johnson, who declared: “The first casualty when war comes is truth” (Stevenson, 1948,...

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pp. xiii-xiv

As a critical sociologist and former media executive, I have long beeninterested in the processes and mechanisms of persuasion that influence public attitudes on important issues in society. I am particularly interested in the social forces that facilitate the construction of so-called problems and alleged threats to the social order. I spent more than twenty years in the corporate...

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1. George W. Bush and the Drums of War

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pp. 1-16

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by international terrorists. A series of coordinated suicide attacks were carried out that day in which hijackers simultaneously took control of four U.S. domestic commercial airliners. The hijackers crashed two planes into the World Trade Center Towers in Manhattan, New York, and they flew the third plane into the U.S. Department of Defense...

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2. Why Do Many in Society Drink the Kool-Aid Served in a Moral Panic?

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pp. 17-45

In much of the moral panic literature, considerable attention is given to analyzing whether a particular condition conforms to its conceptual tenets, i.e., establishing that a situation is a moral panic (e.g., Best, 1994; Hawdon, 2001; McCorkle & Miethe, 1998; Reinarman & Levine, 1989; Rothe & Muzzatti, 2004). However, little attention is paid to explaining why moral panics occur in society in the first place. Stated differently, moral panics are often treated in the literature...

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3. Empirical Evidence of an Elite-Engineered Moral Panic over Iraq

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pp. 46-79

This chapter examines the proposition that the G. W. Bush administration engineered a moral panic among the American public over an alleged threat posed by Iraq after 9/11 in order to increase support for the U.S.-led military strike in 2003. More specifically, the objectives of this chapter are to present and discuss: (1) the findings from a newspaper content analysis of presidential administration sources of rhetoric...

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4. How the Bush Administration Sold the Iraq War to the U.S. Public

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pp. 80-100

Early in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card was asked why President G. W. Bush had waited until after Labor Day to begin an intensive effort to persuade the American public of the need to invade Iraq. Card responded, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (Elliott, 2002, p. 4). Amazingly, Card’s statement compared the justification...

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5. The Power Elite, State Crime, and War Crime

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pp. 101-120

In this chapter the theoretical and methodological approaches used to examine the second of two central propositions in this book are discussed. The second proposition is: The Bush administration participated in elite deviance, state crimes, and war crimes. More specifically, the moral panic engineered by the Bush administration constitutes elite deviance, including moral harm to society, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq are state crimes and violations of international criminal law...

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6. The Higher Immorality and Crimes of the Bush Administration

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pp. 121-147

By mid-2004 there were already allegations that the Bush administration had misled the U.S. public about the need to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, George W. Bush was reelected president in November of 2004. Mills (1956) argued that a passive and alienated U.S. public does not directly influence fundamental government policies such as the decision to go to war. Bush’s reelection in 2004 indicates how effectively the moral panic over Iraq manipulated public attitudes and opinions concerning the alleged threat to national security. In this chapter, it is argued...

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7. What Are the Lessons of the Iraq War?

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pp. 148-172

The Spanish philosopher and poet George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The final chapter of this book discusses the contributions of the research to theory and it also presents a contextualized examination of the Bush administration’s moral panic over Iraq. An important question guides the discussions presented in this chapter: What can we learn from the moral panic over Iraq about the power elite, the news media, and society in general? The chapter begins with a discussion of the contributions...


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pp. 173-176


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pp. 177-185


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pp. 187-190

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About the Author

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p. 191

Scott A. Bonn is an assistant professor of sociology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He received his doctorate in sociology at theUniversity of Miami, Florida. Scott teaches courses in criminology, sociologyof deviance, media and crime, and research methods. His primary researchinterests include white-collar crime, state crime, public agenda-setting, and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813549965
E-ISBN-10: 0813549965
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813547886
Print-ISBN-10: 0813547881

Page Count: 210
Illustrations: 12 tables, 1 graph
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Critical Issues in Crime and Society
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Raymond J. Michalowski See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 769927199
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mass Deception

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Iraq War, 2003- -- Causes.
  • Iraq War, 2003- -- Deception.
  • Deception -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Bush, George W. (George Walker), 1946-.
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