Oliver Kamm

What The Guardian published today–by no means a retraction of its earlier "correction"–though just as befuddling–was to be expected, I'm afraid. The fact that the three individuals whom The Guardian's Readers Editor (or ombudsman), Ian Mayes, listed as the source of the latest complaint–David Aaronovitch, Francis Wheen, and Oliver Kamm–had been in the process of assembling their complaint was tipped off by Oliver Kamm over his weblog in recent weeks.

"The real problem," to read Mayes's summary of the affair to date, acknowledging that he now faced no choice but to refer the Aaronovitch-Wheen-Kamm complaints about The Guardian's earlier correction to its "external ombudsman," is that a "correction intended to resolve a complaint by dealing with specific points in one article has raised an extraordinary storm of opposing passions."

Between ourselves, I suspect that Ollie Kamm is the prime mover behind the effort to prolong the Guardian affair. "For reasons I shall write about very shortly, I have been giving a lot of attention in the past week to the writings of Noam Chomsky," Kamm wrote in his weblog on October 12 ("Chomsky's finest"). And though I've never been able to figure out exactly what these reasons really are–at least not based on Kamm's explicit testimony–I do have my suspicions.

Ollie Kamm suffers from a very bad case of hatred for Noam Chomsky. By now, this hatred has become pathologically obsessive. What is more, Kamm's fixation on various objects from within Chomsky's work are now spilling over into Diana Johnstone's. Either after Emma Brockes's mock-interview with Chomsky ("The Greatest Intellectual?") served to bring the overlap between Chomsky's work and Johnstone's work into singular focus for Kamm. (See, e.g., Chomsky's The New Military Humanism as well as his A New Generation Draws the Line; and Johnstone's Fools' Crusade.) Or about which Kamm possessed prior knowledge that Brockes et al. had set out to perform the hatchet job on Chomsky that they did. And from which Kamm personally gets such big jollies, he isn't about to let it go.

Not yet. Anyway.

For example, Kamm writes: "The relevant question in the case of Diana Johnstone's writings is whether she systematically downplays the nature and extent of Serb atrocities in Bosnia. The relevant question about Chomsky's attitude to Ms Johnstone is whether he endorses her conclusions." ("Chomsky and balance," Nov. 28.)

Indeed. A cursory glance at Kamm's weblog reveals a pronounced–and contemptuous–obsession with Noam Chomsky. Thus, during the two month period between October 12 and today, December 12 (i.e., beginning with "Chomsky's finest" and extending through "Guardian and Chomsky – latest"–though it's bound to keep right on rolling), Oliver Kamm's weblog has mentioned the name 'Chomsky' no less than 309 different times (i.e., within the weblog's titles and text, and counting phrases such as "Chomskyite" and the like within the total). Also during the same period, Kamm has mentioned 'Johnstone' (referring to Diana) a total of 35 different times.

(Hell. For what it's worth, I've even run a count of the number of times that Oliver Kamm has mentioned 'Chomsky' in his current weblog, since its inception back on August 24, 2003: 1,052 is the total I've come up with. (Acknowledging that this total is only good through today, December 12.) And though I haven't run comparable searches for any other names from within the Ollie Kamm bête noire–the content of which is probably not much different from the David Horowitz bête noire, when you get right down to it–I think it's a safe bet than no other single name has appeared anywhere near as frequently as Noam Chomsky's. And I'll happily accept wagers on this. Without checking further.)

So Ollie Kamm's work suffers from a pronounced obsession with Noam Chomsky, and has dragged Diana Johnstone into its purview as a figure to be accused of "denying" atrocities committed by ethnic Serbs (and the like) in a manner that runs parallel with the kind of broader accusations that Kamm makes against Chomsky's work overall. Readers can see this for themselves simply by sticking to Kamm's weblog during the October – December, 2005 period:

Oliver Kamm – October, 2005 Oliver Kamm – November, 2005 Oliver Kamm – December, 2005 (By the way, Kamm's current weblog has been online since August, 2003 ("Welcome," Aug. 24). Kamm's also posted comments to an earlier weblog, which ran from June through August, 2003.)

I guess the only question that remains unanswered at this stage is, How many other members of the World-Wide-Circle-Jerk will pick up on Ian Mayes's exasperated comments in this morning's Guardian, and get-off in the same manner as Ollie? Believe it or not, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for The Guardian.

"Open Door: The readers' editor on … a complaint about a controversial correction," Ian Mayes, The Guardian, December 12, 2005 The Henry Jackson Society (Homepage), Cambridge University Oliver Kamm (Homepage) Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy, Oliver Kamm (Social Affairs Unit, 2005)

"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 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) "The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre," Edward S. Herman, ZNet, July 7, 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 "Smearing Chomsky – The Guardian in the Gutter," MediaLens, November 4, 2005 "Smearing Chomsky – The Guardian Backs Down," MediaLens, November 21, 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 "Humanitarian interventionists dig in," James Heartfield, SpikedOnline.com, December 16, 2005 "Counting Bodies at the World Tade Center," ZNet , June 14, 2004 "The Srebrenica Massacre," ZNet, July 10, 2005 "'Thick as Autumnal Leaves': The Guardian's Mock Interview with Noam Chomsky," ZNet, November 6, 2005 "'Serpents All': More on The Guardian's Mock Interview with Noam Chomsky," ZNet, November 12, 2005 "OOPS! The Guardian Retracts…," ZNet, November 17, 2005 "Oliver Kamm," ZNet, December 12, 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)

Postscript (December 19): For a nice review of Ollie Kamm's recent book:

"Humanitarian interventionists dig in," James Heartfield, SpikedOnline.com, December 16, 2005

Skipping over paragraphs 5 – 7 (little point in trying to shed empirical light on the propaganda of the Great Powers), Heartfield notes the centrality to Ollie Kamm et al. of the wars over Yugoslavia (to be precise, the centrality of a particular way of framing the variables involved), and later goes on to note (par. 16):

It is no good Kamm (or David Aaronovitch or Stephen Pollard) wringing their hands over torture in Abu Ghraib, or the continuing insecurity and loss of life in Iraq. Now that the policy has been put into practice it is no use continuing to talk about an ideal of humanitarian intervention: this is it.

Indeed it is. The principle at stake here is whether the world ought to be ruled by force. Ollie Kamm believes that it ought to be–so long as he can be on the side of the Rulers, inventing legitimations in their wake. This is the essential difference between Chomsky and him. A point which reminds me that whenever somebody feels the urge to play the “Why not in Sudan?” game (par. 19), we ought to remind him/her that this was exactly the principle that the “non-state actors” of "9/11" and "7/7" also purported to uphold: If in Iraq, if in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, if in Saudi Arabia, and so on, then why not in the United States? Why not in Britain? It will do the “liberal internationalists” (so called) no good to pretend that other people can't play the same game that, for generations, they and their forbearers have been such masters at.

Postscript (December 21): A gentleman who posts comments to my ZNet Blog "Oliver Kamm," and does so under the nom de guerre "Robinhood," called to my attention the fact that Ollie Kamm–along with David Aaronovitch and Francis Wheen, one of three people named by The Guardian's Ian Mayes to have lobbied it to "consider a complaint about the content of the correction" it published on November 17 in the case of Noam Chomsky–has been prolific in his criticisms of NC in a venue that I had not previously considered: The webpages that Amazon.com reserves for people who'd like to post comments on the books that this Internet bookseller markets.

So I checked. And–sure enough. At present, Amazon.com lists a catalog of no less than 86 reviews posted by Oliver Kamm. A close check shows that three of these reviews are duplicates or variations on the same comments. So Amazon.com archives reviews of a total of 83 different books by Ollie Kamm.

"RobinHood" characterizes Kamm's method as the "usual disinformation about Chomsky disguised in an Amazon 'review'" (December 21 at 03:18 PM). As "RobinHood" also puts it elsewhere, Kamm "automatically it seems praises all kinds of vile and improbable publications that support Israeli expansionism and justify its repressive policies, and gives low ratings to any that oppose them" (December 19 at 07:26 PM).

The accuracy of the second of these comments goes beyond what I myself have managed to determine. But the accuracy of the first is beyond doubt. Ollie Kamm has got some kind of thing against Noam Chomsky. And the Amazon.com website is one place where Kamm has exhibited it before the public. By my count, Amazon.com currently archives Ollie Kamm's comments on 19 different books either written by Noam Chomsky (e.g., The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians), collections of interviews with Noam Chomsky (e.g., 9-11), coauthored by Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent, with Edward S. Herman), or written about Noam Chomsky (Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, Robert F. Barsky). Of these 19 titles, Ollie Kamm gave all 19 of them one star–the lowest rating possible for a reader's review of a book at Amazon.com.

A glance at some of Ollie Kamm's Amazon.com "reviews" gives the game away. Noam Chomsky's Peace in the Middle East? is a "Speculative scheme of an imaginary movement;" The Fateful Triangle "Unreliable history and dubious politics;" Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World "Orwellian logic beyond parody;" Year 501 "A stark violation of the tenets of historical inquiry;" Towards A New Cold War "An ahistorical and unscholarly tirade;" 9-11 "Sophistry in the service of the indefensible." And so on. And so on. Including Kamm's review of Barsky's study of Chomsky ("A superficial and pointless hagiography"). And Kamm's review of Manufacturing Consent, written with Edward S. Herman ("Dated, derivative and erroneous").

All very bad to absolutely negative reviews. All one-star. About the book A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West (Verso, 2000), Kamm writes (see the sixth entry on Page Four):

The message – indeed, almost the entire content – of this book is the conceit that the military campaign of Nato countries in Bosnia and Kosovo is comparable to terrorists advancing their own aims by violence. It is difficult to believe that many critical readers would be impressed by this type of sophistry: there is, after all, a rather clear-cut moral and epistemic difference between practising genocide (Milosevic) and trying to prevent it (Nato). Chomsky has been coming up with this sort of stuff for decades, and – given that his polemics are never surprising in their hostility to the United States and Israel – it is tempting to assume that the extremism of his sentiments is intended more to shock than to illuminate. But that would be a mistake: this book takes on a new and sinister light after the mass murders carried out by Islamist terrorists in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. I am constrained by reviewer guidelines from quoting the relevant passage at length, but Chomsky maintains that, in light of Nato's intervention in the Balkans, moral consistency would require supporting a hypothetical bombing of Jakarta and western capitals in protest at Indonesia's annexation of East Timor. Astonishingly, Chomsky describes this as an "honorable course", and states that if western leaders were unable to countenance it, "they should have been leading honest citizens to do so themselves, perhaps joining the Bin Laden network." Read that sentence again, carefully; it's almost impossible to credit, but it really does say what it appears to say on first reading. One can only hope that outside the university campus, in the real world where terrorism kills and maims innocent men and women, this book will be taken with an appropriate lack of seriousness. The alternative and frightening hypothesis is that it is regarded by the theocratic fascist murderers of 4,000 civilians as a sober work of analysis.

Kamm gives other authors the same treatment. But one author in particular: The late Edward Said. Kamm reviews five different books by Edward Said. (See Page Two.) As with Chomsky's work, each of Said's receives insultingly negative reviews. Thus, Culture and Imperialism Kamm denigrates as "A case study in cultural incomprehension;" and Covering Islam "A trivial counter-example to scholarly criticism." Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitations of Jewish Suffering receives a similar treatment ("A highly familiar ideological bent"). As does Joseph Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents ("A disappointing and often inaccurate critique"). And William Greider's One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism ("An almost complete misunderstanding of economics").

While among the titles that Kamm lauds are the following:

– Caspar Weinberger, In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century ("Fine memoir of an exemplary public servant"), four stars
– Kenneth L. Adelman, The great universal embrace: Arms summitry–a skeptic's account ("A witty and percipient account of Reagan's arms policies"), four stars
– Merton H. Miller, Merton Miller on Derivatives ("Profound, economically rigorous – and hugely entertaining"), five stars
– Ronald Radosh, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left ("A notable activist's progress"), five stars
– Sidney Hook, Marxism and Beyond ("The intellectual legacy of an outstanding democrat"), five stars
– Sidney Hook, Philosophy and Public Policy ("Thought-provoking application of reason to human affairs"), five stars
– Sidney Hook, Convictions ("Fitting epitaph to an exemplary life"), five stars
– Edward S. Shapiro, Ed., Letters of Sidney Hook: Democracy, Communism, and the Cold War ("Spirited and erudite defence of democratic ideals"), five stars
– Robert Gordon Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (" A model biography of a good man"), five stars
– Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth As History ("A scholarly and brave work of critical inquiry"), five stars
– Gary Burtless, Globaphobia: Confronting Fears About Open Trade ("Excellent and necessary"), five stars
– Daniel Pipes, Conspiracy ("An original and important study of a perverse tradition"), five stars
– Harvey Klehr, The Soviet World of American Communism (Annals of Communism Series) ("A model of historical documentation and interpretation"), five stars

To zero-in on just one of these five-star reviews for Amazon.com, of Robert Gordon Kaufman's Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics, Ollie Kamm writes (see the fifth entry on Page Four):

Senator Jackson represented a distinctive, honourable and above all prescient tradition in American politics: that of the liberal hawk…. Kaufmann describes this political background with a sure touch. He is unflinchingly honest in his depiction of Jackson's personal flaws, such as periodic irascibility with aides, but the essential Jackson – a man of deep humanitarian impulses, evident in such causes as his campaign for persecuted Soviet Jewry, and searing moral insight into the nature of Communist totalitarianism – shines through. The book is a fine political biography, but also a most touching personal portrait. It depicts admirably and with fine insight the circle around Jackson, some of whom later held office in the Reagan administration. I was unaware, for example, that the common view that Jackson's adviser, Richard Perle, was responsible for Jackson's unwavering support for Israel has it exactly the wrong way round. In fact, Perle, a secular Jew, came to see the urgency of supporting Israel because of the influence of Jackson – a Niebuhrian Protestant who understood better than any post-war American politician the moral import of a liberal democracy's struggle for survival while assailed by totalitarian states and terrorist organisations.

As Ollie Kamm ranks among the founding members of the Henry Jackson Society at Cambridge University, I suspect that it was much less any Niebuhrian Protestantism than it was his State-of-Israel fanaticism that recommended the name of the "Senator from Boeing" (1953-1983) for this current batch of U.S.-U.K. hawks that includes among its "international patrons" Bruce Jackson, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Joshua Muravchik, Richard Perle, General Jack Sheehan, and James Woolsey.

Anyone interested in further pursuing Ollie Kamm's practice of disguising political smears and disinformation as "reviews" at Amazon.com can use the weblinks I've provided below. Note that all of Ollie Kamm's anti-Chomsky smears are to be found on pages one through four.

"Corrections and clarifications: The Guardian and Noam Chomsky," as posted by The Guardian, November 17, 2005 "Open Door: The readers' editor on … a complaint about a controversial correction," Ian Mayes, The Guardian, December 12, 2005 Reviews Written by Oliver Kamm (London United Kingdom), Amazon.com Ollie Kamm, Page One Ollie Kamm, Page Two Ollie Kamm, Page Three Ollie Kamm, Page Four Ollie Kamm, Page Five Ollie Kamm, Page Six Ollie Kamm, Page Seven Ollie Kamm, Page Eight Ollie Kamm, Page Nine "Oliver Kamm," ZNet, December 12, 2005

Postscript (December 22): Ollie Kamm I, II, III, IV, and V. Doubtless with much more to follow. (Though not necessarily to be reflected here.)

"We are All Complicit," Noam Chomsky, Prospect, January, 2006 (the unabridged version as posted to the Chomsky.Info website)

Postscript (December 23): My special thanks to "RobinHood" and to "Joshd" for their illuminating comments on what drives Ollie Kamm. (For "RobinHood's," see, e.g., December 19 at 09:02 PM; and December 21 at 03:18 PM. And for "Joshd's," December 23 at 05:29 AM; and December 23 at 05:52 AM.) Both of you have helped otherwise unsuspecting, innocent readers to see the labors of Ollie Kamm, David Aaronovitch, and Francis Wheen with respect to The Guardian and Noam Chomsky, as well as those of Ollie Kamm alone with respect to Prospect and Noam Chomsky, in a deservedly harsh and malignant light.

"Chomsky Answers Guardian," as posted to ZNet, November 13, 2005 "Corrections and clarifications: The Guardian and Noam Chomsky," as posted to The Guardian, November 17, 2005 "Open Door: The readers' editor on … a complaint about a controversial correction," Ian Mayes, The Guardian, December 12, 2005 "Global Public Intellectuals Poll," David Herman, Prospect, November, 2005 "For and Against Chomsky," Robin Blackburn, Ollie Kamm, Prospect, November, 2005 "We are all complicit," Noam Chomsky, Prospect, January, 2006. (For the full-length version of the same letter, as posted to the Chomsky.Info website) "Oliver Kamm," ZNet, December 12, 2005


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