The readers’ editor has considered a number of complaints from Noam Chomsky concerning an interview with him by Emma Brockes published in G2, the second section of the Guardian, on October 31. He has found in favour of Professor Chomsky on three significant complaints. Principal among these was a statement by Ms Brockes that in referring to atrocities committed at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war he had placed the word “massacre” in quotation marks. This suggested, particularly when taken with other comments by Ms Brockes, that Prof Chomsky considered the word inappropriate or that he had denied that there had been a massacre. Prof Chomsky has been obliged to point out that he has never said or believed any such thing. The Guardian has no evidence whatsoever to the contrary and retracts the statement with an unreserved apology to Prof Chomsky.
The headline used on the interview, about which Prof Chomsky also complained, added to the misleading impression given by the treatment of the word massacre. It read: 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.
No question in that form was put to Prof Chomsky. This part of the interview related to his support for Diana Johnstone (not Diane as it appeared in the published interview) over the withdrawal of a book in which she discussed the reporting of casualty figures in the war in former Yugoslavia. Both Prof Chomsky and Ms Johnstone, who has also written to the Guardian, have made it clear that Prof Chomsky’s support for Ms Johnstone, made in the form of an open letter with other signatories, related entirely to her right to freedom of speech. The Guardian also accepts that and acknowledges that the headline was wrong and unjustified by the text.
Ms Brockes’s misrepresentation of Prof Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica stemmed from her misunderstanding of his support for Ms Johnstone. Neither Prof Chomsky nor Ms Johnstone have ever denied the fact of the massacre.
Prof Chomsky has also objected to the juxtaposition of a letter from him, published two days after the interview appeared, with a letter from a survivor of Omarska. While he has every sympathy with the writer, Prof Chomsky believes that publication was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false. Both letters were published under the heading Falling out over Srebrenica. At the time these letters were published, following two in support of Prof Chomsky published the previous day, no formal complaint had been received from him. The letters were published by the letters editor in good faith to reflect readers’ views. With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint and that is regretted. The Guardian has now withdrawn the interview from the website.
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