[Marxism] Smearing Chomsky - The Guardian In The Gutter

Sudhir Devadas sudhirdin at gmail.com
Fri Nov 4 04:27:08 MST 2005

a model tar-and-feather job from an organ of 'liberal' opinion. greased
deceit masquerading as debate. faced with questions, the guardians of the
press lapse into... a majesterial silence.
_____________[[[ ]]]_______________
  MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
November 4, 2005



On October 31, the Guardian published an interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma
Brockes, 'The greatest intellectual?' (The Guardian, October 31, 2005;

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

The headline introduction to the article was:

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

"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

"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right to publish strongly enough when her book was withdrawn by the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,

This is how Brockes presented the discussion in her article:

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

"'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

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

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

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,

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. (

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

"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

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.


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
Email: Emma.Brockes at guardian.co.uk

Write to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger
Email: Alan.Rusbridger at guardian.co.uk

Write to Guardian readers' editor Ian Mayes
Email: ian.mayes at guardian.co.uk

Write to Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne
Email: Seumas.milne at guardian.co.uk

Please copy all emails to Media Lens
Email: editor at medialens.org

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