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The Guardian In The Gutter
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Dan Clore
2005-11-04 09:51:57 EST
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
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*****

ZNet | Mainstream Media
Smearing Chomsky -- The Guardian In The Gutter
by David Edwards
November 04, 2005

Introduction

On October 31, the Guardian published an interview with Noam
Chomsky by Emma Brockes, 'The greatest intellectual?' (The
Guardian, October 31, 2005;
http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,6000,1605276,00.html)

The article was ostensibly in response to the fact that
Chomsky had been voted the world's top public intellectual
by Prospect magazine the previous week. Chomsky describes
his treatment by the paper as "one of the most dishonest and
cowardly performances I recall ever having seen in the
media". (Email copied to Media Lens, November 2, 2005)

The headline introduction to the article was:

"Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica
massacre was exaggerated?

"A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough."

Remarkably, and very foolishly, this answer attributed to
Chomsky was actually in response to a different question
posed during the interview. In a letter to the editor
published in the Guardian on November 2, Chomsky explained:

"I did express my regret: namely, that I did not support
Diana Johnstone's right to publish strongly enough when her
book was withdrawn by the publisher after dishonest press
attacks, which I reviewed in an open letter that any
reporter could have easily discovered. The remainder of
Brockes's report continues in the same vein. Even when the
words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I
take no responsibility for them, because of the invented
contexts in which they appear.

"As for her personal opinions, interpretations and
distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I
would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds
that she makes quite clear she does not understand.

Noam Chomsky" ('Falling out over Srebrenica,' The Guardian,
November 2, 2005)

This is how Brockes presented the discussion in her article:

"Does he [Chomsky] regret signing it [a letter in support of
Johnstone's work]?

"'No,' he says indignantly. 'It is outstanding. My only
regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough. It may be
wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work.'"

Brockes's headline mis-matching of questions with answers in
this way is a genuine scandal -- a depth of cynicism to
which even mainstream journalism rarely sinks.

In the third paragraph of the article, Brockes wrote that
Chomsky's "conclusions remain controversial", namely:

"that practically every US president since the second world
war has been guilty of war crimes; that in the overall
context of Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge weren't as bad
as everyone makes out; that during the Bosnian war the
'massacre' at Srebrenica was probably overstated. (Chomsky
uses quotations marks to undermine things he disagrees with
and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic
than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a
massacre.)"

We wrote to Brockes:

"What is the source for your claim that Chomsky has
disagreed with the idea that there was a massacre at
Srebrenica? Where, for example, has he used quotation marks
in referring to the massacre?" (Email, November 2, 2005)

It is an important question because Chomsky is adamant that
no such source exists. He wrote to us of Brockes:

". . . her piece de resistance, the claim that I put the
word 'massacre' in quotes. Sheer fabrication. She and the
editors know perfectly well that there is nothing like that
in print, or anywhere, certainly not in the interview:
people don't speak with quotation marks. That's why they
allowed her to refer vaguely to the phrase she invented, so
as to insinuate that it is in print -- which she knows, and
the editors know, is a lie. Just ask them to produce the
source". (Email to Media Lens, November 2, 2005)

We have received no reply from Brockes.

It took just minutes searching the internet for us to find
numerous quotes that flatly contradict Brockes's claims. For
example, in his January/February 2005 article, 'Imperial
Presidency,' Chomsky described the November 2004 US assault
on Falluja as involving "war crimes for which the political
leadership could be sentenced to death under US law". He added:

"One might mention at least some of the recent counterparts
that immediately come to mind, like the Russian destruction
of Grozny 10 years ago, a city of about the same size. Or
Srebrenica, almost universally described as 'genocide' in
the West. In that case, as we know in detail from the Dutch
government report and other sources, the Muslim enclave in
Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base
for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated
reaction took place, it was horrendous. The Serbs drove out
all but military age men, and then moved in to kill them."
(Chomsky, 'Imperial Presidency,' Canadian Dimension,
January/February 2005)

Clearly, then, Chomsky considers Srebrenica nothing less
than a counterpart to crimes "for which the political
leadership could be sentenced to death under US law".

Similarly, on p.208 of his book Hegemony or Survival (Hamish
Hamilton, 2003), Chomsky also refers to the Srebrenica
massacre -- no quotation marks were used either there or in
the index.

These are not the words of someone who insists in
"witheringly teenage" fashion: "Srebrenica was so not a
massacre." They are not the words of someone who believes
that the term massacre should be placed between quotation
marks in describing Srebrenica. And yet this is what Brockes
claimed in a national newspaper.

So why has Brockes not replied to our challenge? Is she
unable to answer? If so, is the Guardian not morally obliged
to correct this slur, or to allow it be corrected in full by
Chomsky? Why have the Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger, and
the paper's ombudsman, Ian Mayes, also refused to answer
repeated emails from us and others?

Chomsky's critics are ever-present in Brockes's piece, his
admirers notably absent. The critics claim that Chomsky
"plugs the gaps in his knowledge with ideology". We learn
that "of all the intellectuals on the Prospect list, it is
Chomsky who is most often accused of miring a debate in
intellectual spam, what the writer Paul Berman calls his
'customary blizzard of obscure sources'".

Book reviewer George Scialabba commented on the "obscure
sources" criticism in The Nation:

"After the Indochina war, Berman writes, Chomsky had no way
to explain the atrocities in Cambodia. He therefore set out,
basing himself on his 'customary blizzard of . . . obscure
sources' (an ungracious remark, this, coming from the author
of so lightly documented and empirically thin a book as
Terror and Liberalism), to demonstrate that 'in Indochina,
despite everything published in the newspapers . . . that
genocide never occurred,' or if it did, was all America's
fault."

Scialabba explained that what Chomsky and Edward Herman
actually set out to do in The Political Economy of Human
Rights was "to show how differently the crimes of official
enemies are treated in mainstream American media and
scholarship than are those of official allies or of America
itself. Accepting without argument the existence of
'substantial and often gruesome atrocities' in postwar
Cambodia, Chomsky and Herman reviewed the sources
uncritically relied on in the mainstream, showed how
inferior they were to sources that told a less convenient
story and pointed out that equally credible sources that
told of roughly equivalent atrocities within the American
sphere of influence (for example, Indonesia's in East Timor)
were generally ignored. Not the one-dimensional soundbite
Berman alleges."

But Berman is hardly alone in misrepresenting The Political
Economy of Human Rights, Scialabba noted: "Dealing fairly
with the book's argument requires a modicum of
discrimination, attention to detail and polemical scruple,
courtesies rarely accorded Chomsky by his critics."
(Scialabba, 'Clash of Visualizations,' The Nation, April 28,
2003)

And certainly not by Brockes in the Guardian.

In reality, what is so impressive about Chomsky is that he
relies on impeccable sources -- recognised authorities in
their fields, released government documents, establishment
journals and the like -- all meticulously referenced so that
readers can check his accuracy for themselves. It cannot be
any other way, as Chomsky has noted many times -- dissidents
challenging established power +must+ achieve far higher
standards of evidence and argument than mainstream writers
because they are guaranteed to be targeted for fierce attack.

Brockes asked Chomsky if he had a "share portfolio". Chomsky
"looks cross", we are told. From her lofty peak of wisdom
and virtue, Brockes advised one of the world's most
principled and selfless opponents of oppression: "people
don't like being told off about their lives by someone they
consider a hypocrite".

Carefully Paired Letters

On November 1, the Guardian published two letters intended
to support Chomsky. Chomsky comments:

"I have to say that these letters disturb me as much or more
than the original deceit -- which worked, as the letters
show. Both writers assume that there is a 'debate,' as the
editors falsely claimed, in which I question the massacre
(or as they pretend, 'massacre') in Srebrenica. That is all
fabrication, as the editors know well. They labored mightily
to create the impression of a debate in which I take the
position they assigned to me, and have succeeded. Now I'm
stuck with that, even though it is a deceitful invention of
theirs." (Email copied to Media Lens, November 3, 2005)

As noted above, Chomsky was allowed a letter in response to
Brockes's article on November 2. On the same day, the
Guardian was fortunate to be able to publish an ideal letter
by a survivor from Bosnia supporting Brockes's criticisms of
Chomsky and praising the paper's own journalists.
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,3604,1606321,00.html
)

We asked the editor and the comment editor if anyone
associated with the Guardian had in any way solicited this
letter -- we have received no reply.

The paper also provided a link to an interactive guide
titled "Massacre at Srebrenica".
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,5860,474564,00.html )

Chomsky comments on this sordid affair:

"Someone sent me the letter the Guardian printed [November
2], paired very carefully with a letter from a survivor from
Bosnia, which, as the editors certainly know, is based
entirely on lies in the faked 'interview' they published.

"Same with their title: 'Falling out over Srebrenica.' There
was no Srebrenica debate, and they know it perfectly well. I
never mentioned it, except to repeatedly try to explain to
Brockes that I opposed the withdrawal of Johnstone's book
under dishonest press attacks that were all lies, as I
showed in the open letter I mentioned. And it had nothing to
do with the scale of the Srebrenica massacre, as again they
all know.

"As I think I wrote you, their legal department insisted
that I delete the word 'fabrication,' [from Chomsky's
November 2 letter to the Guardian] and I agreed. Mistakenly
I now realize, after seeing how low they can sink. I should
have insisted on the word 'fabrication,' and given the most
obvious example: her piece de resistance, the claim that I
put the word 'massacre' in quotes. Sheer fabrication. She
and the editors know perfectly well that there is nothing
like that in print, or anywhere, certainly not in the
interview: people don't speak with quotation marks. That's
why they allowed her to refer vaguely to the phrase she
invented, so as to insinuate that it is in print -- which
she knows, and the editors know, is a lie. Just ask them to
produce the source. Apparently that's OK by the standards of
their legal department, and their journalistic ethics.

"As for LM [Living Marxism magazine], it had nothing to do
with Srebrenica at all, as they know perfectly well. Rather,
with a photograph of an emaciated person behind barbed wire
elsewhere in Bosnia, long before Srebrenica. But that's not
the issue at all, and they all know it. The issue, as I
stressed over and over when she repeatedly brought the
scandalous LM affair up, is whether a huge corporation
should put a tiny publisher out of business by a libel suit
that they know requires huge resources to defend under
Britain's grotesque libel laws. That's quite independent of
what the actual facts under discussion are, but
incomprehensible to people who do not even have a minimal
grasp on the concept of freedom of the press.

-- Noam" (Email to Media Lens, November 2, 2005)

Although the Prospect poll was largely a joke, it did bring
Chomsky's name to the attention of thousands of people who
would otherwise never have heard of him. But anyone who read
Emma Brockes's article in the Guardian can only have come
away with one conclusion about Chomsky. Namely, that he is
an idiot -- an angry, flaky fanatic given to denying obvious
crimes against humanity.

This is one of the most shocking and appalling media smears
we have seen -- and we have been shocked and appalled many
times in the past.

We spend our time well when we reflect that the source is
not some rabid, right-wing, Murdoch organ but this country's
"leading liberal newspaper" -- the Guardian.

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion
and respect for others. When writing emails to journalists,
we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite,
non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Ask the Guardian to provide the source for Brockes's claim
that "Srebrenica was so not a massacre" in Chomsky's view.
Ask them why they have so far failed to respond to emails.

Write to Emma Brockes
mailto:Emma.Brockes@guardian.co.uk

Write to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger
mailto:Alan.Rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Write to Guardian readers' editor Ian Mayes
mailto:ian.mayes@guardian.co.uk

Write to Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne
mailto:Seumas.milne@guardian.co.uk

Please copy all emails to Media Lens
mailto:editor@medialens.org

This is a free service but please consider donating to Media
Lens:
http://www.medialens.org/donate.html

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and then, thereafter, in our archive at:
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Visit the Media Lens website:
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*****

--
Dan Clore

Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
http://www.wildsidepress.com/index2.htm
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1587154838/thedanclorenecro
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
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"Don't just question authority,
Don't forget to question me."
-- Jello Biafra

















The World Wide Wade
2005-11-04 13:20:23 EST
Even without reading all this, you could tell the article was a
hatchet job. It just didn't fit together or ring true.

Dan Clore
2005-11-04 13:43:31 EST
The World Wide Wade wrote:

> Even without reading all this, you could tell the article was a
> hatchet job. It just didn't fit together or ring true.

Pretty much what I thought, too.

--
Dan Clore

My collected fiction, _The Unspeakable and Others_:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1587154838/thedanclorenecro/
Lord We├┐rdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

Strange pleasures are known to him who flaunts the
immarcescible purple of poetry before the color-blind.
-- Clark Ashton Smith, "Epigrams and Apothegms"


Sue Howard
2005-11-05 08:51:54 EST
Dan Clore posted:
> ZNet | Mainstream Media
> Smearing Chomsky -- The Guardian In The Gutter
> by David Edwards

I regarded Emma Brockes's article as unsympathetic towards Chomsky and
ignorant in places. But the author of the above ZNet article suggests
(to me at least) that the Guardian editors conspired to smear Chomsky.

> We asked the editor and the comment editor if anyone
> associated with the Guardian had in any way solicited this
> letter -- we have received no reply.
(from ZNet article)

Sinister, no? Perhaps, or perhaps not. I'd prefer to see *evidence*
that the Guardian editors (as opposed to writer Brockes) have been "in
the gutter" on this.

> This is one of the most shocking and appalling media
> smears we have seen (from ZNet article)

I dig the (over?)statement.

> Chomsky describes his treatment by the paper as "one
> of the most dishonest and cowardly performances I recall
> ever having seen in the media". (from ZNet article)

Have these guys at ZNet been "encouraging" Chomsky to join in the
(over?)statement? Dark forces everywhere? Or should one avoid meetings
so as to prevent stupidity contagion?

I disliked Brockes's article. But I also dislike the moral outrage in
the ZNet article. "Impeccable" character Chomsky versus "in the gutter"
Guardian editors? "We're moral; you're immoral", not various degrees of
ignorance, stupidity, misinterpretation, misunderstanding?


Martin
2005-11-07 14:18:21 EST
In article <1131198713.990803.280930@g14g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,
"Sue Howard" <nospam.susan.howard@nspco.org.uk> wrote:

> I disliked Brockes's article. But I also dislike the moral outrage in
> the ZNet article. "Impeccable" character Chomsky versus "in the gutter"
> Guardian editors? "We're moral; you're immoral", not various degrees of
> ignorance, stupidity, misinterpretation, misunderstanding?

When journalists get caught fabricating quotes you'd expect some kind of
apology.

It's official Guardian policy in fact:

"It is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon
as possible. Please quote the date and page number. Readers may contact
the office of the readers' editor by telephoning +44 (0)20 7713 4736
between 11am and 5pm UK time Monday to Friday excluding public holidays.
Send mail to The Readers' Editor, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER.
Fax +44 (0)20 7239 9997. Email: reader@guardian.co.uk The Guardian's
editorial code incorporates the editors' code overseen by the Press
Complaints Commission: see www.pcc.org.uk"


But they've ignored the numerous complaints that they've received.
Instead, they print a letter from Chomsky and pair it with another to
perpetuate the fabrication from the original artlcle.

Then on Saturday the journalists have a little more fun by using another
Guardian fabrication: Norman Johnson.

<http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/comment/story/0,,1634970,00.html>

"But, believe me, I feel their pain. It wasn't easy for me, either, when
I realised the brilliant academic whose linguistics lectures had once
held me spellbound, that the political theorist I'd revered for his
unsentimental computation of Mao Zedong's balance sheet, and firm
evaluation of Pol Pot's achievement in creating modern Cambodia, had
morphed into an unfeeling appeaser to whom the murder of Milosevic's
victims could be assessed with an amoral sophistry that might have been
lifted, with barely an adjustment, from the speeches of Douglas Hurd."


Problem for The Guardian is that they don't have any journalists who can
do humour. Leaving Norman Johnson's column nearly indistinguishable from
the rest of the humourless drivel churned out by the *real* journalists.

Refusing to apologise. Carefully choosing and editing the letters that
they received in response. Commissioning staffers to write about it
using a sock puppet.

Certainly "stupid", but definitely no misunderstanding or
misinterpretation.

--
Martin

Sue Howard
2005-11-08 04:42:39 EST
Martin, on Guardian/Chomsky article:
> Certainly "stupid", but definitely no misunderstanding
> or misinterpretation.

The way I look at it, it still seems open to interpretation. Possibly
very conscious, purposeful, intentional fabrication on the part of
Brockes and Guardian editors - a conspiracy to smear Chomsky with
obvious lies. But not certain.

One could take Chomsky's own arguments against certain 9-11 conspiracy
theories - and apply them here. Why, for example, would the Guardian
editors conspire in such a way, when the "fabrication" would so easily
get exposed by Chomsky and his admirers (including myself)?

Seumas Milne, the Guardian comment editor, seems sympathetic to many of
Chomsky's views, judging by columns he has written both in the Guardian
and on ZNet. Where does he figure in the conspiracy to smear Chomsky?


Martin
2005-11-08 05:26:39 EST
In article <1131442959.380909.32610@g14g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,
"Sue Howard" <nospam.susan.howard@nspco.org.uk> wrote:

> Martin, on Guardian/Chomsky article:
> > Certainly "stupid", but definitely no misunderstanding
> > or misinterpretation.
>
> The way I look at it, it still seems open to interpretation. Possibly
> very conscious, purposeful, intentional fabrication on the part of
> Brockes and Guardian editors - a conspiracy to smear Chomsky with
> obvious lies. But not certain.
>
> One could take Chomsky's own arguments against certain 9-11 conspiracy
> theories - and apply them here. Why, for example, would the Guardian
> editors conspire in such a way, when the "fabrication" would so easily
> get exposed by Chomsky and his admirers (including myself)?
>
> Seumas Milne, the Guardian comment editor, seems sympathetic to many of
> Chomsky's views, judging by columns he has written both in the Guardian
> and on ZNet. Where does he figure in the conspiracy to smear Chomsky?

I don't hold with the idea of a *conspiracy*.

It's just an example of a shit article in a publication that people
expect better from.

Refusing to apologise when you've been caught lying just reinforces the
point that most of us are well aware of - The Guardian is a toothless
and spineless *leftish* newspaper.

It beggars belief that they should ever question a person's integrity.

Norman Johnson embodies theirs...

--
Martin

Sue Howard
2005-11-08 05:58:58 EST
Martin: "definitely no misunderstanding or misinterpretation."
Me: "The way I look at it, it still seems open to interpretation"

Or to put it another way, you could follow Robert Anton Wilson's
recommendation that in matters such as these you rate things on a scale
(say of 1 - 10), rather than force the matter into a Yes/No binary
choice.

On the notion of Brockes and the Guardian editors conspiring to smear
Chomksy, with all the things you mention (lack of apology, "carefully
choosing and editing the letters", spoof "Norman Johnson" piece, etc)
being part of the conspiracy, I'd give that less than 1 out of 10 (but
greater than zero).

The idea that Chomsky, you, and all the complaints sent to the Guardian
have it completely wrong, and that Brockes merely made a few innocent
errors, I'd similarly give less than 1 in 10.

Possibly a Guardian editor or two felt defensive (or annoyed, etc)
after receiving all the complaints, which led to lack of apology (and
even motivations of spite behind the spoof?). But no conspiracy between
Brockes and the editors to smear Chomsky. I'd give that greater than 5
out of 10.

Or various other scenarios. Anything but the notion of "Chomsky moral,
Guardian immoral", which I wouldn't bother rating on any scale, as I
find it virtually meaningless in terms of reasonably effective 21st
century communication.


Martin
2005-11-08 06:26:41 EST
In article <1131447538.167004.282800@g14g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,
"Sue Howard" <nospam.susan.howard@nspco.org.uk> wrote:

> Or various other scenarios. Anything but the notion of "Chomsky moral,
> Guardian immoral", which I wouldn't bother rating on any scale, as I
> find it virtually meaningless in terms of reasonably effective 21st
> century communication.

Naturally - it's the same old story - Chomsky is an individual and
therefore accountable for his actions.

The Guardian is a business which hides the interests of many individuals
(and their advertisers and there pals in government) and protects them
from being accountable for the lies that they write.

Bullshit disclaimers and voluntary codes of conduct are used to obscure
the fact that they can print anything they want about people who are
less powerful than them and there is fuck all you can do about it.

Regards

--
Martin

Sue Howard
2005-11-08 07:40:11 EST
Martin:
> The Guardian is a business which hides the interests of many individuals
> (and their advertisers and there pals in government) and protects them
> from being accountable for the lies that they write.

Funnily enough, "a group activity which hides the interests of the
individuals involved and which involves lying" almost sounds like a
good definition of "conspiracy".

Q: When is a conspiracy not a conspiracy? (I put three of those words
in quotes, but it looked typographically ugly).

A: (Insert a witty punchline here).

Winner of best entry recieves a signed copy of 'Chomsky on
Miseducation' (ed. Donaldo Macedo).

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