Sunday, November 06, 2005

Emma Brockes, Retract Your Interview With Professor Chomsky

Note: This is a letter to the Guardian, who ran possibly the worst interview I've ever seen, supposedly with one of my heroes, Professor Noam Chomsky.,,1605276,00.html has the original "interview", really Ms. Emma Brockes mercilessly beating up a straw man. David Peterson's new blog post has resources.

Emma Brockes has violated the first rule of any interview: She has allowed her political opinions to eclipse the interview itself. Though she was ostensibly interviewing Professor Chomsky because of Chomsky's status as number one rated intellectual in an Internet poll, the piece is really a thinly veiled slander creed.

How blatant can it get? How about when Ms. Brockes quoted Chomsky's theory of media and then said, as if we were reading an article about an interview with Chomsky to hear the unsubstantiated driveby opinions of the interviewer, "I would argue individual agency overrides this..."? Do you imagine, Ms. Brockes, that Professor Chomsky never had this allegation lodged against him, that his and Edward Herman's model had never been prepared in the case that perhaps some young turk would ask the transparently obvious question? Throughout, we get a distinct impression that Brockes' intellectual caliber is superior to Chomsky's. Is the piece really just an attempt to prove her cutting wit as opposed to Chomsky's slow, plodding speech?

It is worthwhile given this article to note how the propaganda model would rebut Ms. Brockes' allegation. Of course, a propaganda model proponent argues, that each individual reporter has the ethical and intellectual responsibility to report the truth, which would be a good argument for Brockes' immediate resignation. But the "individual agency" of advertisers, publishers and editors matters quite a bit more than the same agency of reporters, such that reporters either learn to write what is wanted or are fired. Articles are filtered through a long, extensive, and sometimes quite subtle process from reporter to end-viewer to create a picture of the world that, while sometimes narrowly accurate, is favorable to powerful constituencies. Ms. Brockes' piece is in fact a proof of the second-order predictions of the model, which is that any critique of such a system will be answered with slime by the system's components, even ostensibly liberal ones such as the Guardian.

The critique of Brockes' letter has discussed how her allegation that Chomsky puts the word 'massacre' in quotes when discussing Srebrenica is blatantly false and plenty of evidence to prove the contrary is available. It is just worth noting that Chomsky's position is not that massacres didn't occur, but that those atrocities, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes not, were used as justifications for further NATO involvement (despite the fact that that NATO involvement rarely helped and, as Chomsky relentless documented with sources including Wesley Clark and the OSCE) and were further far overplayed in contrast to the crimes going on in Timor and Turkey, crimes that liberal newspapers like the Guardian could have done much good by reporting about.

And her allegation that Chomsky is a hypocrite is just another example of Brockes' apparent belief that her eminently unoriginal smears are brilliant examples of a superior mind. For one thing, it is an ad hominem (imagine a teenager such as myself having to educate a reporter for the Guardian on basic logic! Perhaps I deserve to snidely interview world-class intellectuals? I have some great questions for that apologist for war criminals, Chris Hitchens); Chomsky may be a hypocrite and also right. But, as Brockes' did not even attempt to rebut, Chomsky's point is that only complete extrication from the "system" of capitalism and imperialism, which also reduces one's potential impact on such a system to near zero, can possibly mean one is not impacted by proverbial "blood money". In fact, Chomsky had loudly declared that he feels personal responsibility (a mantra that an eighth grader confronted with Chomsky's work could discover is repeated ad infinitum by the Professor over several decades) for what his country does and does not feel his hands are clean in the slightest, which is why he fights selflessly for justice instead of being quiet like many intellectuals Brockes seems to prefer (including the arch-criminal Sharon, who Brockes put on kiddy gloves with; Ms. Brockes, do you only treat those with an army behind them and the support of American intellectuals with respect?), enduring interviews that take his comments out of context and seek to slander him in intellectual circles as an apologist for crimes. Because he feels that he is responsible for the predictable consequences of his actions and for what his community and his nation does, he tirelessly offers a substantive and informed critique of his own country instead of summoning up the utter lack of courage necessary to write about how horrible Serbs or Sunnis are.

The Guardian owes Professor Chomsky and its readers an apology as well as a full, unedited transcript of the original interview and critical debate about Chomsky's position. They cannot ever fully eliminate the slander they have perpetrated, but perhaps they can serve to shove it into the Memory Hole instead of Chomsky's work.

-Frederic Christie
University of California, Davis


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