“Thick as Autumnal Leaves”: The Guardian’s Mock Interview with Noam Chomsky

When I found The Guardian's mock interview with Noam Chomsky on Halloween morning, I forwarded copies of it along to a number of friends, noting that as has been true perhaps forever—and certainly since those days when Satan and his legions first awakened in hell, their limbs all tangled together in a knot (Paradise Lost I, 301-304)

Angel Forms, who lay intrans't Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks In Vallombrosa, where th' Etrurian shades High overarch't imbow'r….

the establishment news media can't touch a subject like Chomsky without resorting to lies, smears—and more lies. And, I added: At least Satan rejected the chance to serve great and indeed ultimate Power. This being a fact for which we all should be eternally grateful. As far as I'm concerned. I just called The Guardian's October 31 interview with Chomsky a mock interview. Indeed. This was what it was. Clearly, in any real interview, The Guardian‘s readers would have been provided with the interviewer’s questions and Chomsky’s answers. Instead, The Guardian provided readers with one Emma Brockes’s manufactured contexts and serial insults of the very subject with whom she had sat down in his office on the MIT campus and ostensibly interviewed. "How much does the Guardian's hit-and-run job on Chomsky matter?" Alexander Cockburn asks in the November 5/6 issue of CounterPunch. "Enough," he answers, "to warrant detailed inspection. Chomsky's enemies have often opted for these artful onslaughts in which he's set up as somehow an apologist for monstrosity, instead of being properly identified as one of the most methodical and tireless dissectors and denouncers of monstrosity in our era. Their contemptible tactics should be seen for what they are." You can say that again, Brother. Evidently, The Guardian is still fighting ideological turf-battles from several imperial wars ago. Count them: Not Iraq. Not Afghanistan. Not even the protean "War on Terror." But all the way back to the 1990s' wars to prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide—the U.S.-led NATO-bloc powers having played the breakup of the former Yugoslavia like a fiddle, with The Guardian tapping its foot, humming right along. Until Halloween, I had thought that only Christopher Hitchens, Snoopy, and the assorted Monkey Boys in the American Congress and New Labour in the U.K. had descended to the comic-strip mode. My mistake. Entirely. At one point in The Guardian's mock interview, Brockes took issue with Chomsky’s view of how major institutions operate—including the one for which Brockes herself works, please note well. The exchange may have gone something like this (though it's hard to say, since we are working from Brockes's corrupted text after all):

[Chomsky's] daily news intake is the regular national press and he dips in and out of specialist journals. I imagine he is a fan of the internet, given his low opinion of the mainstream media (to summarise: it is undermined by a "systematic bias in terms of structural economic causes rather than a conspiracy of people". I would argue individual agency overrides this, but get into it with Chomsky and your allocated hour goes up in smoke).

To repeat: "[I]ndividual agency overrides" institutional factors, Brockes counters. You don’t suppose, do you, that anyone holding the reins at The Guardian will prove sufficiently honest to apply Brockes's analysis to the dirty hands that Brockes and her editors displayed in this mock interview? Somehow, I doubt it.

"The Greatest Intellectual?” Emma Brockes, The Guardian, October 31, 2005 "Yes, this appeaser was once my hero," Norman Johnson, The Guardian, November 5, 2005 "Smearing Chomsky – The Guardian in the Gutter," MediaLens, November 4, 2005 "Storm Over Brockes' Fakery: Guardian Fabricates Chomsky Quotes in Bid to Smear World's Number One Intellectual," Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, November 5/6, 2005. [When reading this article, be sure to read the material from Diana Johnstone as well as Phillip Knightley, reproduced within the body of Cockburn's text.] "Kulturkrieg in Journalism: Using Emotion to Silence Analysis. The Origins of the Guardian Attack on Chomsky," Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch, November 14, 2005 Srebrenica And the Politics of War Crimes, Srebrenica Research Group, July, 2005 "Morality's Avenging Angels," Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ZNet, August 30, 2005 "Srebrenica Revisited: Using War as an Excuse for More War," Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch, October 12, 2005 "The Political Economy of Sham Justice: Carla Del Ponte Addresses Goldman Sachs on Justice and Profits," Edward S. Herman, MRZine, November 6, 2005 "Counting Bodies at the World Tade Center," ZNet , June 14, 2004 "The Srebrenica Massacre," ZNet, July 10, 2005

UPDATE (May 25, 2006):  

"Readers' editor right to publish apology, external review finds," The Guardian (unsigned), May 25, 2006
External Ombudsman Report," John Willis, May 8, 2006 (as posted to The Guardian, May 25, 2006)

FYA ("For your archives"): In its regular Media Alerts, the outstanding U.K.-based MediaLens group always suggests certain actions that people might take with respect to offensive media practices—and The Guardian's performance this past week has been second to few. Currently, MediaLens suggests writing to The Guardian, and asking it (for example) "to provide the source for Brockes's claim that 'Srebrenica was so not a massacre' in Chomsky's view." MediaLens also posts the following contacts:

Emma Brockes: Emma.Brockes@guardian.co.uk Alan Rusbridger, Editor: Alan.Rusbridger@guardian.co.uk Ian Mayes, Reader's Editor (ombudsman): ian.mayes@guardian.co.uk Seumas Milne, Comment Editor: Seumas.milne@guardian.co.uk Norman Johnson: norman.johnson@guardian.co.uk

Like I said above: Dirty hands. Postscript (November 11): Anyone curious to observe what I was first tempted to call the workings of power and ideology with respect to the wars over the breakup of Yugoslavia, but have decided instead to settle on a vicious-circle-jerk, ought to check out the back-slapping cross-referencing among the following clique, all taking their start from what one of them calls "Emma Brockes's laudably tough-minded interview" with NC: Oliver Kamm –> David R. Adler –> Bill Weinberg –> Oliver Kamm –> –> –> –>. (With other assorted links along the way to Marko Attila Hoare, the lunatic Balkan Witness webite, and even to the granddaddy loonies of them all—the folk behind the so-called Anti-Chomsky Reader.) These guys make the dirty-handed behind the Brockes's smear at The Guardian look impeccably clean. Believe it or not. Postscript (November 13): I'm told that the exchange from which the following little excerpt derives (reproduced in English here) was published in the November 11, 2005 edition of the Croatian journal Globus. The title of the interview was: "Novinar koji ruši ministre – Peter Preston." Can't tell you who the interviewer was. But the interviewee was one Peter Preston: A long-time journalist, editor—and the editor-in-chief at The Guardian until 1995, when he was replaced by its current editor, Alan Rusbridger—and above all, a mucky-muck at the U.K.-based Guardian Media Group.

Question: "In an interview to the last week's Guardian Noam Chomsky stated his opinion about the crime against the Bosniaks in Srebrenica, supporting those who hold that that crime is exaggerated. What do you think of that?" Preston: "I don't agree at all with Chomsky's opinion. I think it's impossible to rewrite history that way. After all, about Srebrenica speak mostly mass graves that were discovered and are still being discovered. I think to deny the crimes like that one in Srebrenica is in vain and wrong, because there is a clear position in the political and intellectual circles about them, to what, I must say, my colleagues from the Guardian have contributed a lot. That position is based on irrefutable facts and known scenes from Srebrenica." Question: "Why does Noam Chomsky has a need to revise those facts?" Preston: "I have to admit I don't know. Perhaps it's his need to be controversial? I think the crime in Srebrenica has become part of planetary humanity, like Nazi crimes in the WWII, and it is really strange to draw the attention to oneself by denying that fact. I think that a much more important public duty would be to point out the fact that those who ordered that crime, Karadzic and Mladic, are still at large."

Clearly, The Guardian's principals—as with so many of its contemporaries elsewhere, in the States especially—remain devoutly wedded to the "irrefutable facts," the "clear position in the political and intellectual circles," and the incantatory power that the term 'Srebrenica' exercises over "planetary humanity, like Nazi crimes in WWII." Indeed. Over all of the planets and the stars, too. Emma Brockes' Halloween-day interview with Noam Chomsky was but an instantiation of this magical realm. I should add, however, that I find it very troubling that some people have been arguing that Norman Johnson's “Yes, this appeaser was once my hero” (The Guardian, November 5) was a satire on Johnson's part, and that the target of this satire, rather than being Chomsky, was what one person described to me as the "Hitchens-Aaronovich clan." Were Johnson's November 5 commentary a satire of the "Hitchens-Aaronovich clan," then why did it make Chomsky look so bad in comparison to the otherwise unnamed Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovich? Why, in other words, if one is satirizing Parties X, Y, and Z, does one's satire skewer Party NC instead? Doesn't make any sense to me. Postscript (November 14): Let's see whether the following weblink works for you—and, if it does, for how long (because in the past it has worked for me for only very short periods of time, but then just as quickly failing):

"War-related Deaths in the 1992–1995 Armed Conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Critique of Previous Estimates and Recent Results," Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak, European Journal of Population/Revue européenne de Démographie, June, 2005

This happens to be one and the same International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – Office of the Prosecutor’s report that Diana Johnstone cites in her recent piece for CounterPunch ("Kulturkrieg in Journalism," Nov. 14). Of course, I can't vouch for the researchers' methodology. But their numbers are just as Johnstone reports them. What is so interesting, I think, is that here we have a case where the Office of the Prosecutor's own official investigation has reported back to the ICTY a total of 102,622 people killed on all sides during the conflict over Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992 – 1995), and the researchers in question, Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak, are employed by the Office of the Prosecutor to provide “expert” testimony before the Tribunal—and yet their dramatically lower estimate of the number of people killed (i.e., one-half that of the hysterical 200,000 figure that has been in circulation for the past 10 – 12 years) aren’t reported anywhere. What is more, I pretty much guarantee you that the next time one of the new humanitarian crusaders writes anything about this conflict—he will cite the same old 200,000 – 250,000 figures that have been in circulation for the past decade-plus. No matter what. Postscript (November 17): This morning greeted me with the news (among other items forwarded to me by friends in the U.K.) that The Guardian not only has issued a formal retraction of Emma Brockes's deceitful Halloween-day interview with Noam Chomsky ("The Greatest Intellectual?" Oct. 31)—though in The Guardian's parlance, the retraction takes the form of a correction and a clarification. But, more strikingly, that the editorial mucky-mucks at The Guardian have decided to remove Brockes's mock interview from their website—a fact that you can easily confirm, if you click any of the several links that I have been providing to it over the past 18 days. ("Sorry," The Guardian's website now tells us. "We haven't been able to serve the page you asked for.")

"Corrections and clarifications: The Guardian and Noam Chomsky," as posted to The Guardian, November 17, 2005 "Chomsky Answers Guardian," as posted to ZNet, November 13, 2005

Postscript (November 18): Some of our friends in the Comments section to this particular blog have been exploring the issues of cults, so-called Chomsky-fans and Chomsky-haters, and the like. For some concrete examples of cults as they translate into Chomsky-haters, see:

- FrontPageMag.com - The Anti-Chomsky Reader, Ed. Peter Collier and David Horowitz - Oliver Kamm

Of course, the actual total of cultish institutions and anti-Chomsky figures extend far, far beyond this minor sample. But these individuals and groups don't just feed off attacks on Chomsky. They also affirm certain principles as well. I think teasing these commonly held principles from the lot of them would be a worthwhile exercise to undertake. Here's where The Guardian also comes into play, I think. Notice that The Guardian went after Chomsky over questions about the former Yugoslavia. On every fundamental question about the breakup of Yugoslavia, The Guardian's mucky-mucks and principal reporters (Emma Brockes aside—her "interview" having been the work of a mere mercenary) share the version of history long in the process of codification by the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Namely, that the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia broke apart because the rise of ethnic Serb racists and fascists within the SFRY's political ranks, who sought to build a "Greater Serbia" in its place, and who therefore launched a series of wars of aggression against the ethnic non-Serb populations of the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and, ultimately, Bosnia and Herzegovina, impelling these republics to defend themselves against the aggressor Serbs, to seek independence from the SFRY, and to seek international aid and protection along the way. If we could ask one of The Guardian's mucky-mucks, or one of the principals employed by the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY, or one of the former secretaries of state or UN ambassadors of the Clinton regime (1993-2000) to provide us with a thumbnail sketch of the breakup of Yugoslavia in 100-words or less, their response would read something like what I just gave you. Institutionally speaking, The Guardian is as wedded to this version of the SFRY's breakup as are the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY and the major policy architects during the Clinton years. Hence the fanaticism betrayed by the Brockes smear. Hence also The Guardian‘s lame effort to climb back down from it now. Postscript (November 22): First, get a load of these two commentaries:

"Chomsky’s Srebrenica Shame – and The Guardian’s…," Marko Attila Hoare, The Henry Jackson Society, November 21, 2005 "Chomsky and that 'correction'," Oliver Kamm, November 22, 2005

Now get a load of the rats' nest that helped to spawn them:

The Henry Jackson Society, Cambridge University

As a friend of mine called to my attention earlier today, besides Oliver Kamm, the other signatories to this Jackson Society's Statement of Principles (March 11, 2005) include Richard Dearlove, Denis MacShane, and Jamie Shea. Furthermore, its complete list of "International Patrons" is Bruce Jackson, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Vytautas Landsbergis, Michael McFaul, Joshua Muravchik, Richard Perle, Jack Sheehan, and James Woolsey. All in all—a combination of cranks, madmen, and professional assassins whose common thread appears to be the care and nurturing of Great Power. My goodness. Postscript (November 24): Very little in circulation these days on the topic of body-counts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But for two wire-service reports, see below. By the way, it might interest you to know that, to date (Nov. 24), the only mention of Mirsad Tokaca's claims that I've been able to find in the English-language print media was a blurb in the November 24 Irish Times. Based on the November 23 Reuters item that I've reproduced below, the Irish Times's blurb in its totality read as follows:

SARAJEVO – The death toll from the Bosnian war, which ended 10 years ago this week, was half of the widely used figure of about 200,000, a leading Bosnian war crimes researcher has said. "This is still an extremely high figure but there is a big difference now that people cannot irresponsibly use inflated numbers for their political goals," said Mirsad Tokaca, who heads the Sarajevo-based Investigation and Documentation Centre. Mr Tokaca estimated the number of victims at between 100,000 and 150,000 a year ago.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur November 21, 2005, Monday Bosnian war "claimed 100,000 lives" The confirmed death toll in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia appears to be closer to 100,000 dead than the often- quoted figure of 200,000, a Norwegian news agency reported Monday, quoting the head of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center (RDC). "In October we had 93,000 names on our lists and the numbers are increasing slightly. But the final tally will likely be around 100,000," Mirsad Tokaca was quoted as saying. The centre was set up in April 2004 "to investigate and gather facts, documents and data on genocide, war crimes and human rights violations, regardless of the ethnic, political, religious, social, or racial affiliation of the victims." It has received funding from among others the Norwegian government. A similar estimate has also been used by population statisticians at the United Nations war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The estimate published by researchers Ewa Tabeau and Jacub Biljak was 102,000. All of the casualties listed by Tokaca and his co-researchers have been identified by name. "Our research suggests that about 70 per cent of those killed were Bosniacs (Bosnian Moslems), 25 per cent of the killed were Bosnian Serbs and 5 per cent were Bosnian Croats," Tokaca said. Tokaca said the number of 250,000 or even 300,000 dead has "never been based on research". Reuters Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:07 PM ET Research halves Bosnia war death toll to 100,000 By Nedim Dervisbegovic SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The death toll from the Bosnian war, which ended 10 years ago this week, was half of the widely used figure of about 200,000, a leading Bosnian war crimes researcher said in an interview on Wednesday. "Let me be clear, this is still an extremely high figure but there is a big difference now that people cannot irresponsibly use inflated numbers for their political goals," said Mirsad Tokaca, who heads the Sarajevo-based Investigation and Documentation Center (IDC). He said work to establish the exact number of Muslims, Serbs and Croats killed in the 1992-95 war should be completed in early 2006. Tokaca estimated the number of victims at between 100,000 and 150,000 a year ago. "We are at 93,000 now and that should rise to 100,000, give or take," said the ethnic Muslim (Bosniak) who has headed the 450,000-euro project funded by the Norwegian government since early 2004. "We should come out with full preliminary results by March after which the number could be changed … but only slightly," he told Reuters. The ethnic breakdown of the victims of the war, for which the term "ethnic cleansing" was coined to describe large-scale killings and expulsions of members of other ethnic groups, remained unchanged from Tokaca's estimate a year ago. "It is about 70 percent Bosniaks, slightly under 25 percent Serbs, slightly under five percent Croats and about one percent of the others," he said. He said the multi-ethnic team of 12 professionals and several volunteers combed military, civilian, non-governmental and a number of other records and sources throughout Bosnia. The initial, computerized, database included about 300,000 names as many people appeared on several different records listed either as soldiers, police officers or civilians that were killed or missing. Once it has established the full database, which will be made available on the Web, Tokaca's team will produce an analysis with ethnic, regional, age, sex and time breakdown. "I can only say now that it will produce some stunning conclusions but it is too early for me to go into details," said Tokaca, who has investigated war crimes for 13 years and cooperated closely with U.N. investigators. Tokaca has said the project is of invaluable importance for the Balkan country's reconciliation process.

Postscript (December 4):

Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions, Diana Johnstone (Monthly Review Press, 2003) “Diana Johnstone on the Balkan Wars” (book review), Edward S. Herman, Monthly Review, February, 2003 How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, Michael Mandel (Pluto Press, 2004) “How America Gets Away With Murder” (book review), Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, July/August, 2004 Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting—Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia, Peter Brock (Graphics Management Books, 2005)

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