Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

Media Beat

by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
Washington, D.C.

Printable version of this story

WASHINGTON -- "If liberty means anything at all," George Orwell wrote, "= it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

From all indications, the gatekeepers for big media in the United States= don't want to hear what Noam Chomsky has to say -- and they'd prefer that = we not hear him either.

Mainstream journalists in other nations often interview Chomsky. Based a= t the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he's a world-renowned analyst = of propaganda and global politics. But the chances are slim that you'll eve= r find him on a large network here at home.

Chomsky is ill-suited to providing soundbites -- and that's not just a m= atter of style. A few snappy words are sufficient when they harmonize with = the conventional wisdom in a matter of seconds. It takes longer to intellig= ibly present a very different assessment of political realities.

No one d= isputes that Chomsky revolutionized the study of language more than 40 year= s ago. The rich and powerful have no quarrel with his work as the world's m= ost significant linguist. But as a political analyst, he's pretty much p= ersona non grata at big U.S. networks and influential dailies.

Meanwhile, overflow audiences of thousands are routine when Chomsky spea= ks on college campuses and elsewhere in the United States. For many years n= ow, community radio stations across North America have featured his speeche= s and interviews on political subjects. Progressive magazines publish his a= rticles.

But at major media outlets, most editors seem far more interested in fac= ile putdowns of Chomsky than in allowing space for his own words. Media att= acks on him are especially vitriolic in times of international crisis and w= ar.

Since Sept. 11, the distortions have been predictable: Although he's an = unequivocal opponent of terrorism in all its forms, Chomsky is portrayed as= an apologist for terrorism. Although he's a consistent advocate of human r= ights for all, Chomsky is accused of singling out the U.S. government for b= lame.

To some extent, Chomsky seems to bring the media salvos on himself. Even= when the brickbats are flying, the guy just won't keep his head down. He s= peaks bluntly when the Pentagon terrorizes far-away civilians in the name o= f fighting terrorism. And he points out that citizens of the most powerful = country on Earth have special opportunities and responsibilities to work ag= ainst deadly policies implemented in their names with their tax dollars.

= Chomsky's latest book, titled "9-11," is now arriving in bookstores. It's a= collection of interviews, serving as a badly needed corrective to news cov= erage of the present-day "war on terrorism."

The book will be very useful= in the months to come. Yet "9-11" just scratches the surface. For those wh= o want more depth, many superb Chomsky books are available -- including the= classic study "Manufacturing Consent" (co-authored with Edward S. Herman),= "Profit Over People" and "The New Military Humanism," as well as volumes o= f interviews conducted by David Barsamian.

In "9-11," Chomsky speaks without evasion: "We should recognize that in = much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist state, and wi= th good reason." Chomsky cites many examples of U.S. actions that resulted = in the killing of several million civilians during the past few decades. A = partial list of nations where those deaths have occurred includes Vietnam, = Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, East Timor, Sudan, Iraq,= Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

All in the past? Chomsky rips into the scam of wiping the U.S. governmen= t's slate clean. "If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusi= on," he said. "Or we can look at recent history, at the institutional struc= tures that remain essentially unchanged, at the plans that are being announ= ced -- and answer the questions accordingly. I know of no reason to suppose= that there has been a sudden change in long-standing motivations or policy= goals, apart from tactical adjustments to changing circumstances."

Choms= ky added wryly: "We should also remember that one exalted task of intellect= uals is to proclaim every few years that we have 'changed course,' the past= is behind us and can be forgotten as we march on towards a glorious future= . That is a highly convenient stance, though hardly an admirable or sensi= ble one."

For those whose window on the world is mostly confined to mainstream U.S= . media, some of Chomsky's statements may seem odd or absolutely wrong. B= ut you can't make an informed judgment based on a few quotes. Read a couple= of Chomsky's books and decide for yourself.

Noam Chomsky is not a lone ranger or ivory tower intellectual. For decad= es, he has worked closely with grassroots activists.

"Understanding doesn't come free," he commented a few years ago. "It's = true that the taskis somewhere between awfully difficult and utterly hopele= ss for an isolated individual. But it's feasible for anyone who is part of = a cooperative community."

And, he added, understanding the world "doesn't help anyone else, or one= self very much either for that matter, unless it leads to action."

Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." = His syndicated column focuses on media and politics.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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