Featured contributor Kevin Howley on George W. Bush sticker(s)

Kevin Howley (PhD Indiana University, 1998) is a writer and educator. His work has appeared in Journalism: Theory, Practice and CriticismSocial Movement StudiesLiterature/Film Quarterly and Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture. His most recent book is Drones: Media Discourse and the Public Imagination.

[Editor’s Note: Kevin was one of the first people to contact me offering to contribute to the Paper Bullets exhibition and book. His original plan was to write about the “No Intel Inside” sticker of George W. Bush, but after seeing his final essay, I asked if I could include other Bush stickers, too. I am delighted with how this all turned out!]

No Intel Inside, Subliminable Strategery, ca. 2003

This essay examines the “No Intel Inside” political sticker lampooning US President George W. Bush – “Bush the Lesser” to borrow Arundhati Roy’s (2003) useful phrase – during the run up to the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Viewed as a form of cultural resistance to Bush’s war on terror and his plan to invade a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this sticker is a sly appropriation of the ubiquitous and enormously successful “Intel Inside” corporate branding campaign that works to subvert the Bush administration’s march to war, and its reliance on highly questionable intelligence that “found” evidence of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Furthermore, this sticker draws upon a reservoir of Bush malapropisms to underscore the president’s penchant for linguistic infelicity, and to ridicule his intelligence – or lack of same. The essay situates this sticker in the long tradition of culture jamming, especially the resistant sensibilities and practices associated with cultural appropriation and pranking rhetoric (Harold, 2004).

Intelligence Failures

On August 3, 2001, ABC News ran a story headlined “Bush Takes Monthlong Texas Vacation.” Scarcely a half-year into his first term in office, President George W. Bush planned to “shed the confines of the White House” and decamp to his ranch in Crawford, Texas where, according to his press secretary, Ari Fleisher, he looked forward to “enjoying a little down time.” Fleischer, assured reporters, “he’ll do a little policy, he’ll keep up with events” (ABC News, 2001). Three days later, Bush received a Presidential Daily Briefing that warned “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” (Blanton, 2001). Two and a half years later, The New York Times reported, “President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned to attack the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes” (Lichtblau & Sanger, 2004). The unprecedented attack on the US mainland claimed the lives of 2,977 Americans (9/11 Memorial & Museum).

Absolute Certainty

The public did not learn of Bush’s foreknowledge of bin Laden’s plan to strike the United States until the following spring (Stein & Dickinson, 2006). By that time, the Bush administration turned its attention from the hunt for bin Laden, and instead set its sights on overthrowing Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. During his State of the Union address of January 29, 2002, President Bush famously referred to Iraq as part of the “Axis of Evil.” On the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC’s Tim Russert that US intelligence knows, “with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon” (NBC News, 2002).

Significantly, Cheney’s assertions on NBC’s Sunday morning public affairs program, Meet The Press, quoted from Judith Miller’s story in that day’s New York Times – reporting that was based on leaked information from the Vice President’s office (Kornbluth, 2015). On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, CNN observed, “the administration planted a false story in the Times, then cited the false story on NBC, using the Times’ imprimatur to bolster its credibility. That is some Jedi-level media manipulation” (Waldman, 2013).

By early 2003, the Bush Administration was pulling out all the stops to forge a “coalition of the willing” to topple Saddam. To seal the deal, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented “evidence” of Iraq’s WMD program to the United Nations Security Council. Days later, the media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted, “many journalists treat allegations made by Powell as though they were facts. Reporters at several major outlets neglected to observe the journalistic rule of prefacing unverified assertions with words like ‘claimed’ or ‘alleged’” (FAIR, 2003). The United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq in March, 2003. According to the Cost of War Project at Brown University, between 2003-2023 upwards of 315,000 people “have died from direct war violence in Iraq” (Costs of War). In retrospect, Powell acknowledged US intelligence failures in the run up to the Iraq War, describing his speech to the UN Security Council as a “blot” on his record (Breslow, 2016).

My Pet Goat

In a withering sequence from Michael Moore’s Academy Award-winning documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), a befuddled George W. Bush is incapable of decisive action upon learning that a second plane has struck the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11th. For nearly seven minutes, Bush, who was visiting an elementary school classroom at the time, proceeded to mindlessly thumb through the children’s book My Pet Goat.

Like many of the president’s critics, from late night talk show hosts to political rivals, Moore pokes fun at Bush’s verbal gaffes throughout the film. The president’s reputation for abusing and misusing the English language, often to hilarious effect, was neatly captured by the portmanteau “Bushism.” At the height of the Bush era, Slate magazine editor Jacob Weisberg, published a series of books collecting the president’s most memorable malapropisms, including this gem, taken from a CBS News interview in 2006: “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror” (Weisberg, 2007).

More recently, in the wake of the Trump presidency, columnist Nicholas Goldberg waxed nostalgic for the Bush years: “I distinctly remember the cover of Rolling Stone in May 2006. Bush was drawn sitting on a stool wearing a dunce cap and a stupid expression … He was the doofus who extolled Americans who were ‘working hard to put food on your family’ and asked ‘Is your children learning?’ and then dared to insist he’d been ‘misunderestimated.’ His policies led to a lot more deaths than Trump’s did.” (Goldberg, 2022).

Culture Jamming W

The “No Intel Inside” sticker is emblematic of the pranking rhetoric of culture jamming – a form of semiotic warfare that routinely subverts advertising imagery and language to challenge consumerism and corporate culture more generally. Given its ubiquity in the late 20th and early 21st century, the Intel Inside logo was ripe for parodic picking. As Smit Josi points out, “The ‘Intel Inside’ campaign, launched in 1991, marked the turning point in the way computer components were marketed and perceived. Intel positioned its microprocessors as the driving force behind the performance of personal computers and made the brand synonymous with computing power” (Josi, 2023).

Here, the wildly successful Intel Inside logo is repurposed to undermine the Bush Administration’s rush to war in Iraq. Doing so, the sticker deploys what appears to be a press photo of the President pointing to his (empty) head and incorporates a number of “Bushisms” to poke fun at W – and poke holes in his administration’s rationale for toppling Saddam Hussein. With an economy of style associated with the subvertisements (Dery, 1993) made famous by the anti-consumerism collective AdBusters, the sticker refashions the Intel Inside logo to underscore Bush’s lack of intelligence – as well as the “cooked intelligence” used to justify a costly invasion and brutal occupation of Iraq. The parodic language, such as “prophets” instead of “profits,” “ink” rather than “inc.,” and the mock-Bushism “strategery” (2023) – first used in a Saturday Night Live sketch lampooning W’s presidential debate with Al Gore – further underscores the rhetorical power of sticker art to “stick it to the man” in slyly humorous, yet deadly serious fashion.


9/11 Memorial & Museum. (n.d.). Commemoration. https://www.911memorial.org/connect/commemoration

ABC News. (2001, August 3). Bush takes monthlong Texas vacation. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=121420&page=1

Blanton, T. S. (2001, August 6). The President’s daily brief. The National Security Archive. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB116/index.htm

Breslow, J.M. (2016, May 17). Colin Powell: U.N. speech “was a great intelligence failure.” Frontline. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/colin-powell-u-n-speech-was-a-great-intelligence-failure/

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Dery, M. (1993). Culture jamming: Hacking, slashing, and sniping in the empire of signs. Open Media.

FAIR. (2003, February 10). A failure of skepticism in Powell coverage. FAIR. https://fair.org/press-release/a-failure-of-skepticism-in-powell-coverage/

Goldberg, N. (2022, August 22). Remember when we thought George W. Bush was the worst president ever? Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-08-29/bush-trump-worst-president

Harold, C. (2004). Pranking rhetoric: “Culture jamming” as media activism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(3), 189-211.

Josi, S. (2023, February 6). How Intel’s “Intel Inside” campaign changed the game for invisible products and created an iconic brand. [Post] LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-intels-intel-inside-campaign-changed-game-created-smit-joshi-/

Kornbluth, J. (2015, April 8). Judith Miller carried water for the USA’s worst debacle since Vietnam. Observer. https://observer.com/2015/04/judith-miller-carried-water-for-the-usas-worst-debacle-since-vietnam/

Lichtblau, E. & Sanger, D. (2004, April 10). August ’01 brief is said to warn of attack plans. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/10/us/august-01-brief-is-said-to-warn-of-attack-plans.html

Moore, M. (Director). (2004). Fahrenheit 9/11 [Film] Dog Eat Dog Films.

NBC News. (2002, September 8). Transcript of interview with Vice-President Dick Cheney on Meet the Press. https://www.leadingtowar.com/PDFsources_claims_aluminum/2002_09_08_NBC.pdf

Roy, A. (2003, May 13). Instant-mix imperial democracy (buy one, get one free). [Address]. Riverside Church, New York City. https://www.csun.edu/~sm60012/Roy/Roy%20-%20Instant%20Mix%20Imperial%20Democracy.htm

Stein, J. & Dickinson, T. (September/October 2006). Lie by lie: A timeline of how we got into Iraq. Mother Jones. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline/

Strategery. (2023, April 9). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategery

Waldman, P. (2013, March 19). Duped on Iraq war, has press learned? CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2013/03/19/opinion/waldman-media-iraq/index.html

Weisberg, J. (Ed.). (2007). The ultimate George W. Bushisms: Bush at war (with the English language). Fireside.