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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: April 2013

1 - The Puzzle of Polarized Opinion


It was March 20, 2003. The United States was at war. Three nights earlier, in a prime-time address to the nation, President George W. Bush had issued Saddam Hussein an ultimatum: leave Iraq within forty-eight hours or face the prospect of an invasion “commenced at the time of our choosing.” Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, had refused to flee.

And then, at 10:15 pm on the East Coast, Bush made good on the threat. He announced that he had ordered an attack on Baghdad. The U.S. military machine’s “shock and awe” campaign had begun, the first salvo in a conflict that would prove bloodier and costlier than most Americans had anticipated, and whose political and economic consequences likely would be felt generations down the line.

Despite the inherent dangers and uncertainty that attend any military conflict, mainstream media coverage in the days surrounding the invasion highlighted the aura of national solidarity. With polls showing roughly seven in ten citizens endorsing military action, “Americans have rallied strongly around President Bush and accepted his call for war as the only practical way to remove Saddam Hussein and end the threat posed by his weapons of mass destruction,” led a Chattanooga Times Free Press story.