I said I would leave the subject of Emma Brockes's Guardian interview with Noam Chomsky for the time being, pending further developments. But I should direct your attention to this comment on the affair, published today by the South African Mail & Guardian, which published (and rightly still carries) the interview. Apart from the author's exactly mistaken belief that "Chomsky has been a force for good in the world", it is a first-rate assessment of the emptiness of Chomsky's complaints and - by implication, but the implication could scarcely be harsher if it were stated directly - the poor judgement of The Guardian's Readers' Editor, Ian Mayes. Drew Forrest, of the M&G, writes (emphasis added):
Two findings of The Guardian readers’ editor -- relating to the headline and the publication of a letter by Chomsky -- do not apply to the M&G. The third was that in referring to atrocities in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war, Brockes apostrophised the word “massacre”, incorrectly suggesting that Chomsky denied a massacre had occurred.
This we published. But it is far from clear that Brockes ascribed a flat denial to Chomsky -- elsewhere she cites him as believing the massacre “was probably overstated”. In a lengthy quotation which Chomsky nowhere denies, he attributes the overstatement to “a hysterical fanaticism about Bosnia in Western culture”.
In short, Chomsky does try to minimise the Srebrenica atrocity, contrary to the finding of The Guardian correspondent in the Bosnian town whom [sic] he concedes is “a good journalist”. Brockes cannot be accused of misrepresenting his essential position.
This is right and important. It is also a minimal claim. As I mentioned in my last post on this vexed subject, I and two other writers with experience of Chomsky's methods and arguments have been examining this case, in which The Guardian has published a 'correction' that in fact perpetrates a serious misunderstanding of Chomsky's position. I will not at this stage be setting out the evidence here, because the proper course is for us first to present it to the newspaper in the hope that this will generate a real correction to Mayes's own misconceived statements. I will at least say that the evidence supporting my judgement that this was a fine interview by a journalist who, so far from 'misunderstanding' Chomsky's position, understood it (from Chomsky's standpoint) inconveniently well, is still stronger than I had initially thought. I can only think that my willingness always to think the best of Chomsky and give him the benefit of any doubt caused me to underestimate the disrepute of his position; for this, I apologise. I will report on developments in due course, and at the right time.