Does Half the U.S. Still Believe Iraq Had WMD?

I nearly fell off my chair while reading the local newspaper two days ago. There it was. Newsflash headline: Half of U.S. Still Believes Iraq had WMD.

The AP story by Charles Hanley tried hard to maintain an unruffled tone, but betrayed its surprise a number of times.

"Do you believe in Iraqi 'WMD'? Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?" the story began. "Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq."

This is beyond baffling. And, wait, it gets worse.

The 50-percent figure is actually a substantial increase from the 36 percent who believed in this myth last year, and the 38 percent who believed it in 2004.

At first glance, all this is very disheartening for those of us who have faith in the power of information to drive away falsehoods.

"I'm flabbergasted," AP quotes Michael Massing, a media critic who has spent considerable effort analyzing media coverage of the Iraq war. "This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence."

On the other hand, maybe this isn't so surprising. After all, in a poll last December, a full 61 percent of Americans said that they believed in the devil, 40 percent of Americans admitted that they think that ghosts surround us, while one-third even accepted the existence of UFOs. Maybe there's some overlap between these people and those who still believe in those spectral WMDs.

Seriously, let's start apportioning blame for this state of affairs.

At the top of the list is the Bush Administration. It has mouthed this nonsense of "mushroom clouds" and "nuclear weapons" so insistently that it is hard for its supporters to admit to themselves that the White House took them for a ride. The closest Condoleezza Rice has come to admitting, for instance, that she and her colleagues were wrong is to say that WMDs were "perhaps" not present in Iraq. One hell of an admission.

Next on the list are the Bush Administration's foot soldiers in Congress. Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Peter Hoekstra triumphantly released a report recently that supposedly proved that 500 chemical munitions had been gathered in Iraq since the invasion. The only problem was that these were long degraded and unusable.

Who pays attention to the likes of Santorum and Hoekstra? Who takes them seriously?

Of course, the Republican echo chamber in the right-wing media is also to blame for the mass delusion among half the American public. FOX News is the leading weapon of mass deception. As a poll famously revealed three years ago, 45 percent of FOX viewers believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq and that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda and that global opinion supported Bush's Iraq invasion. An incredible 80 percent believed at least one of these fibs.

To top itself, as the AP story reveals, FOX had a recent headline: "ARE SADDAM HUSSEIN'S WMDS NOW IN HEZBOLLAH'S HANDS?"

I give up.

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