I wrote at length last year on the ructions over the Guardian interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes. Chomsky complained that the article misrepresented his views on the Bosnian war, and specifically the massacre at Srebrenica. The newspaper's Readers' Editor, Ian Mayes, found in his favour. I and others have argued that this judgement was wrong, and that the interview was an essentially fair representation of Chomsky's position. A number of people with a close interest in Bosnia, including survivors of Srebrenica, have now signed an open letter in support of Emma Brockes and the cause of truth about Srebrenica. It can be read here. (While the signatories include Francis Wheen and me, this is not the same letter as the one Ian Mayes wrote about in The Guardian last month. That letter, from David Aaronovitch, Francis and me, is much longer and more detailed, and as yet is unpublished.)
Meanwhile, Chomsky's sometime co-author Ed Herman has a new article published in the far-Left Z Magazine that is relevant to this issue. Ostensibly it is a review of a book by Peter Brock entitled Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting—Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia. I have not read the book, but I am familiar with the background to Brock's arguments. In 1993 Brock published in the journal Foreign Policy an article entitled 'Dateline Yugoslavia: The Partisan Press'. The new book appears to be a reprise of Brock's argument that foreign media gave a distorted account of the Bosnian war. Referring to accounts of systematic rapes by Bosnian Serbs, Herman condemns the 'media role in this hysterical propaganda barrage'. There are many remarks of comparable indecency peppered throughout the review. On one occasion Herman uses the word "bloodbath" - and he appplies it not to any literal sheeding of blood, but to the coverage by foreign journalists of the photograph of an emaciated man at the Serb-run camp at Trnopolje.
Brock's original article was a professional and intellectual disgrace (his methods were exposed by letters in the succeeding issue of Foreign Policy, Spring 1994, and Charles Lane, 'Brock Crock', in The New Republic, 5 September 1994). More interesting is what Herman makes of Brock. The opening paragraph of Herman's review runs:
This important and valuable book complements perfectly the superb volumes on Yugoslavia by Diana Johnstone (Fools’ Crusade) and Michael Mandel (How America Gets Away With Murder). Johnstone provides essential history and context to the Balkan wars, analyzing the indigenous participants, their backgrounds, motivations and strategies, and the very important role played there by external interveners (the Croatian and Bosnian Muslim diaspora and PR firms, Austria, Germany, the United States, and the UN and Yugoslavia Tribunal [ICTY]).
Go back to The Guardian's 'correction' of Emma Brockes's interview with Chomsky. There, Ian Mayes stated:
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.
Aaronovitch, Wheen and I comment in our letter on this remarkable contention; here, note merely that Chomsky's co-author on Manufacturing Consent and The Political Economy of Human Rights, Ed Herman, speaks of Diana Johnstone in far more adulatory terms than her 'right to freedom of speech'. Herman is not Chomsky, and Chomsky cannot be held accountable for the views of a co-author. But Herman's account does raise the question of what Chomsky himself thinks of all this. That was, after all, the issue of contention in Emma Brockes's interview.
The question is not a new one, either. In his post-9/11 controversy with Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens wrote that some months earlier he had written to his old friend and been 'appalled by the robotic element both of his prose and of his opinions' concerning - of all the people for Chomsky to castigate - Vaclav Havel. Hitchens continued:
I then took the chance of asking him whether he still considered Ed Herman a political co-thinker. Herman had moved from opposing the bombing of Serbia to representing the Milosevic regime as a victim and as a nationalist peoples' democracy. He has recently said, in a ludicrous attack on me, that the "methods and policies" of the Western forces in Kosovo were "very similar" to the tactics of Al Qaeda, an assertion that will not surprise those who are familiar with his style. Chomsky knew perfectly well what I was asking, and why, but chose to respond by saying that he did not regard anybody in particular as a co-thinker. I thought then that this was a shady answer....
For a number of reasons, not restricted to the issue of The Guardian interview, I should like to know the answer to Hitchens's question. A direct answer, this time. If any of my readers is in touch with Professor Chomsky, I should be glad if the question were put to him, along with a request that he make his views public.