Five years ago, polls showed that roughly 2 out of 3 Americans backed an assault on Iraq. A startlingly high percentage falsely believed that Saddam helped plan the 9/11 attacks or Iraqi hijackers were involved that day, and that Iraqi WMD had already been found. Somehow, despite the media's exhaustive coverage of the post-9/11 world and the Saddam threat, a very large segment of the American public remained un- or misinformed about key issues related to the Iraqi crisis.
When the war dies down, editors and media analysts should catch their breath and ask themselves: How much did press coverage (or lack of coverage) contribute to the public backing for a pre-emptive invasion without the support of the United Nations?
When it came down to crunch time, the American people — as evidenced by opinion polls conducted after President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam on March 17 — supported the attack by about a 2-to-1 margin. Some of this reflected the usual rallying 'round the flag that accompanies every war, but the truth is, Bush always had strong (if nervous) popular support.
So, what motivated Americans to back their president throughout the winter of discontent — when much of the rest of the world strongly disagreed with the need for war now?
Of course, there were many reasons, ranging from partisan politics to genuine hatred and fear of the evil Saddam. But there was another key factor: Somehow, despite the media's exhaustive coverage of the post-9/11 world and the Saddam threat, a very large segment of the American public remained un- or misinformed about key issues related to the Iraqi crisis. Let's look at a few recent polls.