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Noam Chomsky — Saying What Media Don’t Want Us To Hear (Dec. 12, 2001)

“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 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he's a world-renowned analyst of propaganda and global politics. But the chances are slim that you'll ever find him on a large network here at home.

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

No one disputes that Chomsky revolutionized the study of language more than 40 years ago. The rich and powerful have no quarrel with his work as the world's most significant linguist. But as a political analyst, he's pretty much persona non grata at big U.S. networks and influential dailies.

Meanwhile, overflow audiences of thousands are routine when Chomsky speaks on college campuses and elsewhere in the United States. For many years now, community radio stations across North America have featured his speeches and interviews on political subjects. Progressive magazines publish his articles.

But at major media outlets, most editors seem far more interested in facile putdowns of Chomsky than in allowing space for his own words. Media attacks on him are especially vitriolic in times of international crisis and war.

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 rights for all, Chomsky is accused of singling out the U.S. government for blame.

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 speaks bluntly when the Pentagon terrorizes faraway civilians in the name of fighting terrorism. And he points out that citizens of the most powerful country on Earth have special opportunities and responsibilities to work against 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 coverage 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 who 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 of 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 with 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. government's slate clean. “If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion,” he said. “Or we can look at recent history, at the institutional structures that remain essentially unchanged, at the plans that are being announced — 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.”

Chomsky added wryly: “We should also remember that one exalted task of intellectuals 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 sensible 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. But 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 decades, he has worked closely with grassroots activists. “Understanding doesn't come free,” he commented a few years ago. “It's true that the task is somewhere between awfully difficult and utterly hopeless 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 oneself very much either for that matter, unless it leads to action.”


  1. Douglas Wayne Coulter September 20, 2021

    All That Fake News to the tune All My Lovin by The Beatles

    Close your eyes let us lead you
    Tomorrow we bleed you
    Pretend that our words may be true
    And while we’re here to stay
    Civil rights will fade away
    As we feed propaganda to you
    Propaganda we will spin for you
    All that fake news censored by our crew
    All that fake news, all that fake news
    Propaganda is easier to chew

    Guys like Manning and Snowden
    With Wikileaks exploding
    Exposing a war crime or two
    Can’t allow a free press
    To block corporate success
    When propaganda’s better for you
    Propaganda we will spin for you
    All that fake news censored by our crew
    All that fake news, all that fake news
    Propaganda is easier to chew

    It may seem kinda funny
    How our leaders own the money
    They promise to care for the poor
    Until your destitute in a bright orange suit
    Locked behind some big iron door
    Propaganda buries all the clues
    All that fake news censored by our crew
    All that fake news, all that fake news
    Propaganda is tyrannies favorite glue.

    By Douglas Wayne Coulter

  2. Mark Wilkinson Laszlo September 20, 2021

    Brilliant parody Coulter! Helps to explain and sum
    up some of Chomsky’s points, like lightning striking
    the same subject a second time. Provides humor to
    bear the truth.

    I’ve been driven since when Chomsky said this about
    9/11 to find out what’s really going on. I knew most information the public gets is false. Furiously opposed
    parties convince most people what they say is true
    and the other gives fake news, but both bury the
    People in the Everest of BS & HS. Since i dug up-
    ward far enough to emerge like a scarab grub on top,
    i perceive one revelation after another, illuminating
    the landscape with increasing frequency.

    As i read more Chomsky, he provides more of the clarifying flashes. Now i believe i see what ignorance via contrived confusion, deception, and distraction covers up most: True knowledge most vital to the People’s survival, against the
    Haves who extract everything from the People and environ-
    ment, even life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Now the People need safe havens in the country to
    survive w/o dependence on the system. For the more they
    provide today, the more they extract tomorrow.

  3. Douglas Coulter September 20, 2021

    Nothing pisses people off like inconvenient truth. Rush Limbaugh and Joseph Goebbels both understood the power of blame. Our problems are all someone else’s fault

  4. Rye N Flint September 20, 2021

    I am always amazed how little question was raised about how quickly the 500+ page patriot act was written up and voted into place. Except by Chomsky of course.

  5. Douglas Coulter September 20, 2021

    We hold these truths to be self evident
    That all white male Protestant land owners are created equal?
    That is the intent of the Declaration of Independence was to talk poor farmers into throwing off the crown that did not molest them. It molested the wealthy.
    Americas war against any block against Capitol gain began in Ernest
    The emancipation proclimation was against an economy system and had noting to do with civil rights.
    Keep the poor, keep the rich rich. This led to red October and the French Revolution.

  6. Mark Wilkinson Laszlo September 25, 2021

    Benjamin Franklin condemned the Braxton Boys for massacring Indians in Pennsylvania and the son of William Penn for approving of it. Franklin had 2 slaves but let them go. William Penn was very respectful and kind to Indians. When dispossessed Indians ripped up pregnant settler women in the Mississippi valley, settlers demanded every one of their tribe be hanged, but Lincoln pardoned some, not to wipe them out. Lincoln 1st met blacks when, some who were criminals attacked a group of traders he was with. Franklin and Lincoln lived in times when slavery was legally supported and Indians were thought to be savages, but in time became abolitionists. Franklin used a black surveyor as an example of an intelligent black when most whites
    denied any of them were. I saw the brass plaque on a pew at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, where he sat in a service of Thomas Ward Beecher, the foremost abolitionist. John Brown learned respect for other peoples from his parents on the frontier, who were respectful and friendly to Indians and gave his life to liberate black slaves before the civil war, as did many Union soldiers during it. Battle Hymn of the Republic
    was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It inspired Union soldiers to fight to free the slaves. As recently as the 1960s and ’70s, there was an earnest faith in equality of rights and a chance for most people to own land. Whatever is fundamentally wrong with the “Great Experiment” of a democratic republic, to make every citizen a ruler of their government, that lead to our present predicament, those are founding and normal principles from the start to just 2 or 3 generations ago. Yes, whites founded the USA on the backs of blacks and the bones of Indians, but some blacks and some
    Indians had slaves and used genocide too. We may need a New Experiment, but it can’t work if we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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