Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Marketing the War Against Iraq


226 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8651-9
DDC 956.7044'3




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. His
most recently published works are Biblical Religion and Family Values,
Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics, and Religion and


The title of this book virtually tells all. Historian Paul
Rutherford’s take on American media propaganda promoting the Iraq War
belongs to the genre of media, political, and cultural criticism that
passionately exposes a vast conspiracy underlying activities that most
cultural observers interpret less dramatically and less comprehensively.
Rutherford, a University of Toronto professor, belongs to the camp of
analysts who focus on conspiracies of the cultural right, and he
stresses the close fit between the objectives of the Bush
administration, big business, and the public relations industry. There
is little original theorizing in this volume, as Rutherford mainly
follows the road constructed by such media critics as Chomsky and
Herman, though he makes the reasonably anticipated references to such
thinkers as Gitlin, Postman, and Ellul. With this type of analysis, it
generally helps to avoid appearing to be just as propagandistic as the
propagandists one is vilifying; but if Rutherford is trying, he is not
being notably successful.

There are a good number of observations made by Rutherford with which
an open-minded reader will be prepared to agree; and even those
unsympathetic to the author’s inflexible ideological stance will find
that many of his examples hit the mark. However, the overheated rhetoric
in the book will turn off many serious readers, particularly when
Rutherford sloganizes—about, say, “consuming war,” “the phallic
dimension,” and “the propaganda state”—in pretty much the same
manner as the marketers he despises. This sloganizing is evident even in
the book’s title and subtitle. The book is loaded with cartoons that
are generally expressions of Rutherford’s own views rather than
specimens of the media propaganda he is exposing. He draws throughout on
the frequently half-baked opinions of those he characterizes as
“consumer voices” or a “citizen’s panel”; and the voices on
his hand-picked panel seem to be merely acquaintances of his. Such a
methodology—if it may be called that—might well lead a serious
social-scientific researcher to wince. This book is a curious work to
come from a university press ostensibly committed to the dissemination
of authentic scholarship.


Rutherford, Paul., “Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Marketing the War Against Iraq,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30622.