Well, let me begin with two recent events, both of them widely publicized.
The first has to do with the famous Salman Rushdie case. A couple of days ago, you may have noticed, the Prime Minister of Iran suggested a very simple way to resolve the crisis concerning Rushdie, he suggested that what should happen is that all the copies of his book, The Satanic Verses, should simply be burned. And I guess the implication is that if that happened then they could cancel the death sentence. That’s one case. Lots of coverage.
Second case had to do with an interesting thing that happened here. There was a- what some people are calling, a mega-merger of two media giants — Time Incorporated and Warner Communications Incorporated — each of them huge conglomerates, and putting- coming together they form, apparently, the biggest- the world’s biggest media empire. Now, that also had a lot of publicity, even outside the business pages, and there was concern over the effects of the merger, by increasing media concentration so effectively, the effects on freedom of expression.
Well these two events are- they seem rather remote from one another, and in a sense they are. But we can draw them together by recalling an event which was not considered important enough to be reported, but which I happen to know about because I was personally involved.
The title for this talk is, you may have noticed, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. That’s actually the title of a recent book that I was co-author of with- my co-author is Edward Herman, and the two of us have been working together for many years. We- the first- our first book was published in 1974, a book on American foreign policy and the media, in fact, and it was published by a publisher, a textbook publisher, flourishing textbook publisher, which happened to be a subsidiary of Warner Communications Incorporated.
Well, unless you’re a very rare person you never saw that book. And the reason was that when the advertising for the book appeared, after 20,000 copies were published, one of the executives of Warner Communications saw the advertising, and didn’t like the feel of it, and asked to see the book, and liked it even less, in fact, was appalled. And then followed a- an interaction which I won’t bother describing, but the end result of it was that the parent company, Warner Communications, simply decided to put the publisher out of business, and to end the whole story that way.
Now, they didn’t burn the books, they pulped them, which is more civilized. Also, books don’t burn very well actually, I’m told, they’re kind of like bricks, but pulping works. And it wasn’t just our book that was eliminated, it was all the books published by that publisher.
Well, there are a couple of differences between this and the case of the Prime Minister of Iran. One difference is that this was actually done, not just suggested. The second difference is it wasn’t just one book, it was all books, which happened to be tainted by being published by the publisher who had done this bad thing. A third difference is the reaction. The reaction in the case of Warner Communications putting the publisher out of business to prevent them from publishing our book, the reaction to that was zero. Not because it wasn’t known, it just was not considered of any significance. Whereas the Rushdie affair, of course, has had a huge furor, as it should, and the Prime Minister’s proposal was greeted with ridicule and contempt as a demonstration of what you can expect from these barbarous people. So there are some differences.
Well, let’s go back to the question about the mega-merger. Would the- will this new media empire restrict freedom of expression by excessive media concentration? Possibly, but the marginal difference is slight given what already exists, as is, perhaps, illustrated by this case. This is, incidentally, not the only case, far from the only case, which illustrates how hypocritical and cynical the reaction to the Rushdie affair is. The reaction is legitimate, but we can ask the question whether it’s principled or not. And if we look, I think we find that it’s not.
Well actually, this whole story that I’ve just told is kind of misleading. It’s accurate in identifying the locus of decision-making power — not only in publishing and in the media, but in political life and in social life generally — in that respect it’s accurate, but it’s very misleading with regard to how that power is typically exercised. This is a very unusual case. I wouldn’t want to suggest that this is what happens typically. It’s usually much more subtle than this, but no less effective. Now, I’m going to come back to some of the more subtle ways, and the reasons for them, and in fact if there’s time, or maybe back in discussion, I’ll talk about the aftermath of this particular incident, which is also kind of illuminating in this respect, though more complex.
Well, with that much as background let me turn to the main topic, manufacturing consent, a- a topic- and, thought control and indoctrination and so on. Now, there’s a- and, I’m going to discuss how this relates to the media.
Now, there is a standard view about the media and the way they function. The standard view is expressed, for example, by Supreme Court Justice Powell, when he describes what he calls the crucial role of the media in effecting the societal purpose of the first amendment, that is, enabling the public to assert meaningful control over the political process. So the idea is, this is a kind of an instrumental defense of the first amendment. The value to be achieved is the democratic process, and for the democratic process to function, it’s necessary for the public to have free access, open access to relevant information and opinion- a wide range of opinion, and it’s the job of the media to ensure that, and the first amendment has the instrumental function of guaranteeing that this is served, and the media then do it. That’s the standard view. And notice that it has a kind of a descriptive component and also a normative component. It says, this is what the media ought to be like, and this is what they are like.
Now, that they ought to be this way seems sort of obvious, in fact, kind of almost tautological, if democracy means- has something to do with the public having a capacity to shape their own affairs, it obviously presupposes information, and that means the information system in a free society would have to serve this function.
Since it seems so obvious, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a contrary view. And in fact, the contrary view is very widely held. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the contrary view is the dominant view among people over the last couple of centuries who have thought about liberal democracy and freedom, and how it ought to function. In any event, it’s certainly a major position.
This contrary view can be traced back to the origins of modern democracy in the 17th century English revolution, when, for the first time, the- there was a challenge to the right of authority — whether it was the gentry, or the king, or whatever — and there was actually the beginnings of a real, radical, democratic movement, with a commitment on the part of the people involved, who were very widespread in England, to public involvement and control over affairs. They didn’t want to be ruled by the king, and they didn’t want to be ruled by parliament, they wanted to run their own affairs. And they were defeated, the radical democrats were defeated, but not before doing some important things which had a lasting effect.
Well, what I’m interested in now is the reaction to this. The reaction to the first efforts at popular democracy — radical democracy, you might call it — were a good deal of fear and concern. One historian of the time, Clement Walker, warned that these guys who were running- putting out pamphlets on their little printing presses, and distributing them, and agitating in the army, and, you know, telling people how the system really worked, were having an extremely dangerous effect. They were revealing the mysteries of government. And he said that’s dangerous, because it will, I’m quoting him, it will make people so curious and so arrogant that they will never find humility enough to submit to a civil rule. And that’s a problem.
John Locke, a couple of years later, explained what the problem was. He said, day-laborers and tradesmen, the spinsters and the dairy-maids, must be told what to believe; the greater part cannot know, and therefore they must believe. And of course, someone must tell them what to believe. Now, there’s a modern version of that — and of course he didn’t just mean those categories, he meant the general public — there’s a modern version of that. This goes all the way up to the modern times, it’s discussed in the American revolution, and all the way through to the modern period. But let’s just come up to the contemporary period.
Now in the last- in the modern period you get a much more sophisticated development of these ideas. So, for example, Reinhold Niebuhr, who is a much-respected moralist and commentator on world affairs, he wrote that rationality belongs to the cool observers, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason but faith. And this na•ve faith requires that necessary illusions be developed. Emotionally potent oversimplifications have to be provided by the myth-makers to keep the ordinary person on course, because of the stupidity of the average man. That’s the same view, basically.
Walter Lippman, who was the dean of American journalists, is the man who invented the phrase manufacture of consent. He described the manufacture of consent as a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. This, he said, is quite important, this is a revolution in the practice of democracy, and he thought it was a worthwhile revolution. The reason is, again, the stupidity of the average man. The common interests, he said, very largely elude public opinion entirely, and they can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality. That’s Niebuhr’s cool observers. You can guess who’s part of them. The person who pronounces these views is always part of that group. It’s the others who aren’t. This is in Walter Lippman’s book Public Opinion, which appeared shortly after World War I. And the timing is important.
World War I was a period in which the liberal intellectuals, John Dewey’s circle primarily, were quite impressed with themselves for their success, as they described in their own words, for their success in having imposed their will upon a reluctant or indifferent majority.
Now, there was a problem in World War I. The problem was that the population was, as usual, pacifistic, and didn’t see any particular reason in going out and killing Germans and getting killed; if the Europeans want to do that, that’s their business. And in fact, Woodrow Wilson won the 1916 election on a mandate, which was, peace without victory. That’s how he got elected. And, not surprisingly, he interpreted that as meaning victory without peace. And the problem was to get this reluctant and indifferent majority, and get them to be- to create emotionally potent oversimplifications and necessary illusions, so that they would then be properly jingoistic, and support this great cause.
And the liberal intellectuals were convinced that they were the ones who had primarily succeeded in doing this, and they thought it was a very good task, for obvious reasons. And, in fact, they probably had some role. Whether they had as much role as they think you could question, but some role. They used all sorts of necessary illusions, for example, fabrications about Hun atrocities, Belgian babies with their arms torn off, and all sorts of things that were concocted by the British foreign service and fed to the educated classes in the United States, who picked them up and were quite enthusiastic about them, and distributed them. They used such devices as, what they called, historical engineering. That was a phrase proposed by Frederick Paxon, an American historian who was the founder of a group called the National Board for Historical Service. That was a group of historians who got together to serve the State by explaining the issues of the war that we might better win it. That’s historical engineering.
The Wilson administration established the country’s, I think, first official propaganda agency — it’s called the Creel Commission — which was dedicated to convincing this reluctant or indifferent majority that they’d better be properly enthusiastic about the war that they were opposed to.
That had some institutional consequences. In fact, there were a number of institutional consequences to this whole period. One was the institution of the national political police, the FBI, which has been dedicated to thought control and repression of freedom ever since; that’s it’s primary activity. And another development- institutional development was the enormous growth of the public relations industry.
A lot of people learned lessons from the capacity to control the public mind, as they put it — slogan of the public relations industry. One of the people who came out of the Creel Commission was a man named Edward Bernays, who became the patron saint of the public relations industry. That’s a big, substantial industry which is actually an American creation, though it’s since spread throughout other parts of the world. It’s dedicated to controlling the public mind, again quoting it’s publications, to educate the American people about the economic facts of life to ensure a favorable climate for business, and, of course, a proper understanding of the common interests.
Bernays developed the concept of engineering of consent, which, he said, is the essence of democracy. That’s- and of course he didn’t bother saying that there are only some groups who are in a position to carry out the engineering of consent — those who have the power and the resources.
He himself showed how this was done. Often. By, for example, demonizing the government of Guatemala, the capitalist democratic government that we were planning to overthrow with a successful CIA coup. He was then working for the United Fruit Company, which was opposed to the government because it was planning to take over unused lands of the United Fruit Company, and hand them over to landless peasants, paying the rates that the United Fruit Company had given as their value for tax purposes, which, of course, they regarded as very unfair, because they had, naturally, been lying and cheating about the value. So that was his achievement. And in fact the public relations industry in general has been dedicated to this project ever since.
The Creel Commission, incidentally, is a predecessor of a contemporary phenomenon that the Reagan administration constructed, it’s their Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy. That’s by far the largest propaganda agency in American history, and maybe one of the largest of any Western government. And it was also dedicated to controlling the public mind. It was dedicated, primarily, to controlling the debate and discussion over Central America, to demonizing the Sandinistas, as one of its officials put it, and mobilizing support for the U.S. terror States in the region. And it did it by framing the debate, by intimidating critics, by producing fabrications which were then happily repeated by the media.
So, for example, one famous one, just to illustrate some of it’s achievements, when Ronald Regan in 1986 read a spectacular and effective speech, which convinced Congress to vote a hundred-million dollars of aid for the Contras, right after the World Court had denounced the United- had condemned the United States for the unlawful use of force, and called upon it to end this aggression. This speech was extremely effective. It described all the- you know, whole litany of Nicaraguan crimes, and it ended up by saying that these communists actually concede that they are planning to conquer the hemisphere and undermine us all. They themselves say that they are carrying out a revolution without borders. That was the peroration, that’s the way he ended up, you know, big excitement, Congress voted the aid, the Reagan administration declared that this meant war, this was a real war, and everybody was excited and happy.
Now, that phrase, revolution without borders, actually had already been used. It had been used by a State department pamphlet that was called revolution without borders, describing Sandinista crimes. And there’s actually a version of that phrase that exists. The phrase appears, or something like it appears, in a speech by Sandinista commandante Tomas Borge. He had given a speech in which he said that the Nicaraguan- the Sandinistas hoped to construct a kind of a model society, a society which will be- which will work so well, and will serve the needs of the poor so well, that others will be inclined to try to do the same thing for themselves. And he went on to say that there- that every country has to- every country has to carry out its own revolution, there’s no way for one country to make a revolution somewhere else, but the model that the Sandinistas were constructing, he hoped, was to be so successful that others would want to do it, and he said, in this sense our revolution transcends borders.
Well, that phrase was immediately picked up by the Office of Public Diplomacy and turned into a threat to conquer the hemisphere. That fraud was at once exposed by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which sends out a weekly news analysis in Washington that journalists read. It was even exposed- it was even mentioned in the Washington Post, somewhere in the back pages. They noted that the phrase, revolution without borders, was not exactly what he had said. In fact it was nothing to do- it was the opposite of what he had said, but that didn’t make any difference. The phrase was useful, the construction was useful, and since then, the media — and when the State department document came out there was no criticism of it, when Reagan made the speech nobody pointed out that this was a fabrication, even the Washington Post, which had exposed it, referred to the Sandinista revolution without borders — the media have repeatedly- have repeated this over and over again, look they say themselves they’re going to have a revolution without borders, and so on.
Well, that’s the kind of thing that’s done by an effective propaganda agency, of course, if the media are willing to go along, because it wasn’t very hard to figure out that this was an incredible fraud. Well, that’s the kind of thing that was done.
All of these operations were completely illegal. There was a Congressional report done on them- General- GAO report, which simply pointed out that of course they’re illegal — they were run out of the National Security Council, and, not allowed to propagandize Americans. But it was very successful. When this was exposed during the Iran-Contra hearings, one top administration official described the activities of the Office of Public Diplomacy as one of their really great achievements. It was a, he said, a spectacular success. He described it as the kind of operation that you carry out in enemy territory. And that’s quite an appropriate phrase. I think the phrase expresses exactly the way in which the public is viewed by people with power: it’s an enemy, it’s a domestic enemy, and you got to keep it under control, and you have to make sure that the mysteries are not revealed, so that the people don’t become so curious and arrogant that they refuse to submit to a civil rule, to put it in 17th Century terms. And to control that domestic enemy, propaganda and fabrications, and so on, are important, and that’s what the public relations industry is for, for corporate purposes, and what the media are for if they properly serve the State.
Well that’s- notice again, we have a view that says the media should not function the way the standard rhetoric claims.
There’s also an academic twist to this — let’s come closer to home.
If you go back to the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences published in 1933 — days when people were a little more open and honest in what they said — there’s an article on propaganda, and it’s well worth reading. There’s an entry under propaganda. The entry is written by a leading- one- maybe the leading American political scientist, Harold Lasswell, who was very influential, particularly in this area, communications, and so on. And in this entry in the International Encyclopedia on propaganda he says, we should not succumb to democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests. They’re not, he said. Even with the rise of mass education- doesn’t mean that people can judge their own interests. They can’t. The best judges of their interests are elites — the specialized class, the cool observers, the people who have rationality — and therefore they must be granted the means to impose their will. Notice, for the common good. Because, again, because- well, he says, because of the ignorance and superstition of the masses, he said it’s necessary to have a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda. Propaganda, he says, we shouldn’t have a negative connotation about, it’s neutral. Propaganda, he says, is as neutral as a pump handle. You can use it for good, you can use it for bad; since were good people, obviously, — that’s sort of true by definition — we’ll use it for good purposes, and there should be no negative connotations about that. In fact, it’s moral to use it, because that’s the only way that you can save the ignorant and stupid masses of the population from their own errors. You don’t let a three year old run across the street, and you don’t let ordinary people make their own decisions. You have to control them.
And why do you need propaganda? Well, he explains that. He says, in military-run or feudal societies — what we would these days call totalitarian societies — you don’t really need propaganda that much. And the reason is you’ve got a- you’ve got a club in your hand. You can control the way people behave, and therefore it doesn’t matter much what they think, because if they get out of line you can control them — for their own good, of course. But once you lose the club, you know, once the State loses its capacity to coerce by force, then you have some problems. The voice of the people is heard — you’ve got all these formal mechanisms around that permit people to express themselves, and even participate, and vote, and that sort of thing — and you can’t control them by force, because you’ve lost that capacity. But the voice of the people is heard, and therefore you’ve got to make sure it says the right thing. And in order to make sure it says the right thing, you’ve got to have effective and sophisticated propaganda, again, for their own good.
So in a- as a society becomes more free — that is, there’s less capacity to coerce — it simply needs more sophisticated indoctrination and propaganda. For the public good.
The similarity between this and Leninist ideology is very striking. According to Leninist ideology, the cool observers, the radical intelligentsia, will be the vanguard who will lead the stupid and ignorant masses on to, you know, communist utopia, because they’re too stupid to work it out by themselves.
And in fact there’s been a very easy transition over these years between one and the other position. You know, it’s very striking that continually people move from one position to the other, very easily. And I think the reason for the ease is partly because they’re sort of the same position. So you can be either a Marxist-Leninist commissar, or you can be somebody celebrating the magnificence of State capitalism, and you can serve those guys. It’s more or less the same position. You pick one or the other depending on your estimate of where power is, and that can change.
The- and in fact the mainstream of the intelligentsia, I think over the last, say, through this century, have tended to be in one or the other camp. Either- there’s this strong appeal of Marxism-Leninism to the intelligentsia, for obvious reasons — I don’t have to bother saying. And there’s the same appeal of these doctrines to the intelligentsia, because it puts them in the position of justifying- of having a justified role as ideological managers, in the service of real power, corporate/State power. For the public good, of course. So you naturally are tempted to one or the other position.
Well, going on to the post Second World War period, the same ideas continue to be expressed. For example in 1948, when it was again necessary to drive the reluctant and indifferent majority to a new war fever — remember 1948, the war was over, everybody was pacifistic, they wanted to go home and buy refrigerators, and so on, and they didn’t want any more wars, they wanted to de-mobilize, we’re done with that stuff — but they had to be whipped up into a war fever, because there was a new war coming along, the Cold War, which was a real war, as the internal documents explain, and it was necessary to bludgeon them into a belief in the demands of the Cold War, as Dean Acheson put it.
The- a presidential- well-known historian, presidential historian, Thomas Baily, explained in 1948, that because the masses are notoriously short-sighted, and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests. Deception of the people may, in fact, become increasingly necessary, unless we are willing to give our leaders in Washington a freer hand.
In other words, if we continue this nonsense of trying to control them through elections, and that sort of thing, it’s going to be necessary to have deception of the people, because the masses are too stupid and ignorant to understand the danger that’s at their throat. And that’s the role of the media, to carry out the appropriate deception.
Coming up to the present, or near-present. In 1981, when we were launching a new crusade for freedom, in Central America, Samuel Huntington, who is a professor of government at Harvard, and a long-time government advisor, explained in a discussion in the Harvard journal International Security, that you may have to sell intervention or other military action in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union you’re fighting. That’s what the United States has done ever since the Truman Doctrine. And that’s what, of course, we’re now doing. We’re fighting Nicaragua, but you’ve got to create the misimpression that it’s the Soviet Union that you’re fighting. That’s the job of the Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy, and of the cool observers, and of respectable intellectuals, and of the media, and so on. Actually that remark of his is quite accurate. It gives a certain insight into the Cold War, and also the modern period.
Well, these concerns about controlling the public mind, rather typically they arise in the wake of periods of war and turmoil. There’s a reason for that. Wars, depressions, and such things, they have a way of arousing people from apathy, and making them think, and sometimes even organize, and that raises all of these dangers.
So for example, Woodrow Wilson’s red scare — a very harsh and effective repression — immediately followed World War I. And that’s when you get the- this revolution in the art of democracy, about the need for manufacture of consent, and you get the FBI to really do the job properly, by force if necessary, as they did. What we call McCarthyism — which is actually a poor label because it was actually initiated by the liberal democrats in the late 1940s, and picked up and exploited by McCarthy — but what we call McCarthyism was a similar effort to overcome the energizing effect of the war and the depression in mobilizing the population, and causing them to challenge the- to reveal the mysteries of government, and do all these bad things. And after the Vietnam war the same thing happened. The Vietnam war was one factor, a major factor in fact, in causing the ferment of the 1960s. And that caused a lot of concern, deep concern which still exists, incidentally, because they haven’t been able to overcome it.
The Vietnam- the 60s created what liberal elites called a crisis of democracy. That’s the title of a quite important book on all of these topics, the first, and in fact, only book-length publication of the Trilateral Commission, published in 1975, called The Crisis of Democracy. It’s about the problem of governability of democracies. And there was a problem of the governability of democracies because people were getting out of hand. The domestic enemy was getting out of control, and something had to be done about it.
The Trilateral Commission puts together liberal corporate/State elites from the three major centers of State capitalism — Western Europe, the United States, and Japan, that’s why the trilateral. And it is the liberal elites. This is the group around Jimmy Carter. That’s where he came from, in fact, and virtually all of his cabinet and top advisers. It’s that segment of opinion.
The American rapporteur, the guy who gave the report on the- for the United States, was, again, Samuel Huntington. And he pointed out that Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers. Then there was no crisis of democracy. That’s the way things are supposed to be.
Incidentally, this kind of vulgar Marxist rhetoric is not untypical of internal documents in the government, or in the business press, and so on, and this was intended to be an internal document; they didn’t really expect people to read it, but it’s worth reading. I’m sure the library has it. They should.
The- but now this crisis of democracy had erupted. What had happened was, during the 1960s all sorts of segments of the population that are normally apathetic and passive and obedient and don’t get in the way, began to become organized and vocal and raise questions and press their demands in the political arena, and that caused an overload. That caused a crisis of democracy. You couldn’t just govern the country with a few Wall Street lawyers and bankers any longer, you had all these other pressures coming from the general population, and that’s a problem. And we’ve got to overcome the problem. And the way to overcome the problem, they said, all three- the whole group, is to introduce more moderation in democracy to mitigate the excess of democracy. That means, in short, to return the general population to their apathy and passivity, and the obedience which becomes them. That’s the stupid and ignorant masses have to be kept out of trouble, and when you get these crises of democracy, you’ve got to restore the norm, what we had before.
Well, that’s a view that goes right back to the origins of the republic. If you read the sayings of the founding fathers, you will discover that that was essentially their view as well. They also regarded the public as a dangerous threat. The way the country ought to be organized, as John Jay put it, the president of the constitutional convention and the first supreme court- chief justice of the supreme court, his- one of his favorite maxims, according to his biographer, was that those who run- those who own the country ought to govern it. And if they can’t govern it by force, they’ve got to govern it in another way, and that ultimately requires deception, propaganda, indoctrination, the manufacture of consent.
Well, let me summarize. There’s a standard view- rhetorical view, a standard view in rhetoric is basically that of Justice Powell — the public ought to exert meaningful control over the political process, and it’s the role of the media to allow them to do it. That’s the rhetoric. There’s a contrary view, which is that the public is a dangerous enemy, and it has to be controlled for its own good. And that contrary view is very widely held. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the dominant view among sophisticated commentators on political theory, going back to the 17th Century- democratic commentators. So we’ve got these two views counterposed.
Well, with regard to the media, turning to the media, the standard view is, again, the one I just described by Justice Powell, they have to- the media have to serve- if you’re going to serve the societal purpose of the first amendment, they have to be free and open and so on, and then the descriptive part of that is that that’s exactly what they do. That view is expressed, for example, by Judge Gurfein in a important case where he permitted the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers, Nineteen Seventy-One or -Two. Gurfein’s decision says, that we have a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press, and it must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression, and the right of the people to know. So, granted, the press is a nuisance, but it’s important to allow it to maintain its adversarial and cantankerous ways, because it’s even, you know, serves an even higher purpose.
Well, at that point we begin to have a debate. The debate is between the people who say that the media are cantankerous and adversarial, and so on, and they’ve gone too far, and we’ve got to do something to control them and constrain them. In fact, the Trilateral Commission liberals also suggested that. They said the media have gone much too far in their adversarial ways, and we have to- if they can’t regulate themselves, probably the government will have to step in and regulate them. That’s on the liberal side. On the reactionary side, of course it’s much harder, you know, harsher ideas come along. So you have- the one side says that, we’ve got to curb the press, they’re too cantankerous, and then you’ve got the spokesmen for free speech, Judge Gurfein and so on, they say no, no, we agree, they’re pretty bad, but you’ve got to allow them to do this because of the higher purposes.
Well that’s the debate. And if you look over- there is a good deal of discussion of the media, and that’s the way it’s framed. Assumption: the media are adversarial, cantankerous, independent, and maybe even so much that they’re threatening democracy. And then comes the question: should we let them get away with it, or should we curb them? And the advocates of free speech say, sorry, you’ve got to let them get away with it, and the others say, no, there’s other values that are more important, like the governability of the country, and so on, so we’ve got to stop them.
Well, outside the spectrum of debate there’s another view. The other view says that the factual assumption is wrong — the factual assumption that’s taken for granted, not even argued, is just wrong. According to this alternative view, the media do fulfill a societal purpose, but it’s quite a different one. The societal purpose is exactly what is advocated by the elite view that I’ve described. The society inculcate and defend the economic and social and political agenda of particular sectors — privileged groups that dominate the domestic society, those that own the society and therefore ought to govern it — and they do this in all kind of ways. They do it by selection of topics, by distribution of concerns, by the way they frame issues, by the way they filter information, by the way they tell lies, like about revolutions without borders, by emphasis and tone, all sorts of ways, the most crucial of which is just the bounding of debate. What they do is say, here’s the spectrum of permissible debate, and within that you can have, you know, great controversy, but you can’t go outside it.
The right wing continually claims that the press has a liberal bias, and there’s some truth to that, but they don’t understand what it means. The liberal bias is extremely important in a system- in a sophisticated system of propaganda. In fact there ought to be a liberal bias. The liberal bias says, thus far and no further, I’m as far as you can go, and look how liberal I am. And of course it turns out that I accept without question all the presuppositions of the propaganda system. Notice that that’s a beautiful type of system. You donÕt ever express the propaganda, that’s vulgar and too easy to penetrate, you just presuppose it. Unless you accept the presuppositions, you’re not part of the discussion. And the presuppositions are instilled, not by, you know, beating you over the head with them, but just by making them the foundation of discussion. You don’t accept them, you’re not in the discussion.
So, in the case of the, say, the Vietnam war, which was a major topic of debate, if you look over the media, there was a big debate over the Vietnam war. There were the hawks who said that if we continue to fight harder, if we’re more violent, and so on and so forth, then we can achieve the noble end of defending South Vietnam and the free people of South Vietnam from communism. And then there were the doves who said it’s probably not going to work, it’s probably not going to be too- itÕs going to be too bloody, and it’s going to cost us too much, and therefore we’re not going to be able to achieve the noble end of defending the people of South Vietnam from communism.
Now, again, there’s another view, and that is that we were attacking South Vietnam. That other view has the merit of being true, obviously true, but it was inexpressible. That’s outside the spectrum of debate. You can enter the debate only if you accept the assumption. And if you check the media over the entire period as far as I can see — I’ve- Hermann and I in this book review the media from about 1950 to the present on Indochina, and I don’t think you can find an exception to this, even statistical error — that’s the spectrum, you’ve got to accept it. And the same is true- and there’s a liberal bias in the sense that towards the end of the war, like by about 1969 or 1970, after Wall Street had turned against the war, then you got a preponderance of doves, saying you probably aren’t going to succeed in defending freedom and democracy in South Vietnam, the country that we’re attacking.
Well, that’s- this conception of the media, which, notice, challenges the factual assumptions of the entire debate, that says that the media function in the way that Hermann and I call the propaganda model in this same book — they function in accord with the propaganda model. Now, propaganda sounds like a bad word, but remember that in more honest days, like in the International Encyclopedia of Social Science, propaganda was considered a perfectly good word, and in fact something that we ought to have. More of it. Because it’s needed for the reasons that Lasswell explained.
Well, notice that the propaganda model has lots of predictions. It predicts the way the media are going to behave. You can test those predictions. But it also has a prediction that’s kind of reflexive about the propaganda model itself. It predicts that the propaganda model can’t be taken seriously. And there’s a reason for that if you think it through. The propaganda model states that the debate has got to be within assumptions that are serviceable to powerful interests, and the propaganda model challenges those assumptions, so therefore it’s got to be out of the debate. Ok. That prediction is, incidentally, very well confirmed. It is outside the debate. So that’s one bit of positive evidence for the propaganda model.
Notice, incidentally, that this model has a kind of disconcerting feature to it, if you think about it. Obviously the claims of the propaganda model are either valid or invalid. If they’re invalid, we can dismiss them. If they’re valid, we have to dismiss them. Right? So one way or another, you can be sure that this model isn’t going to be discussed. And that’s, in fact, true.
Well, now the basic questions from this point on are factual. Is the factual assumption that bounds the debate correct, or is it wrong? That’s a factual assumption, you can study it. And the real topic, you know the topic that ought to be investigated is that. Now, there isn’t time to do that now, so I’ll just make a couple of comments about it, and give a few illustrations.
Three comments first.
First, notice that the propaganda model has a number of features. One feature that it has, is that it’s advocated by elites. That is, it conforms with the normative opinion — the proposal that the public is dangerous, you got to ensure that they don’t get out of control, they have to be controlled by deception and propaganda since you don’t have the means to do it by force — and the propaganda model simply says, well yeah, they work the way elites say they ought to work. So, one point about the propaganda model is that, in fact, it has elite advocacy.
A second point about the propaganda model is that itÕs- itÕs got a kind of prior plausibility. In fact it’s almost natural under completely uncontroversial assumptions. If you look at the structure of the society you’d almost predict the propaganda model without even looking at the facts. Why is that true? Well, simply ask yourself what the major media are.
Now, the way the media work, there are some media which kind of set the agenda, you know, the most important ones, like The New York Times and The Washington Post, big national media, they set the agenda. If the government wants a story to get into television that evening, what it does is leak it to get into the front page of The Washington Post and The New York Times, on the assumption that television will pick it up and say, ok that’s important, so we’ll give it the front news. The same is true of national television. It sets- it sets the agenda that makes people think. The New York Times front page is sent over the wire services the afternoon of the day before — there is a thing, if you read the- you know, you look at that stuff that’s ground out of the AP wire, you’ll notice around four o’clock comes something that says, The New York Times front page tomorrow is going to look like so-and-so. Well, if you’re an editor of a journal in some small town, you read it and you say, oh, that’s what the important news is, and you frame your own reporting that way. Now, you know, it’s not, sort of, a hundred percent, but there is a kind of an agenda setting media — New York Times, Washington Post, the three television channels, a few others that participate to some extent in this.
Well, ask yourself what those institutions are. Answer: those institutions are first of all major corporations, some of the biggest corporations in the country. Furthermore, they’re integrated with, and in many cases owned by, even larger corporations, you know, like General Electric, and so on. So what you have is major corporations and conglomerates. Now, like other corporations, they sell a product to a market. The market in this case is advertisers; that’s what keeps them alive. The product is audiences. They sell audiences to advertisers. In fact for the major media, they try to sell privileged audiences to advertisers. That raises advertising rates, and those are the people they’re trying to reach anyway.
So, what you have is businesses- corporations, which are selling relatively privileged audiences to other businesses. Well, just ask yourself the natural question: what do you expect to come out of this interaction — major corporations selling privileged audiences to other corporations. Well, what you expect to come out of it, on no further assumptions, is an interpretation of the world that reflects the interests and the needs of the sellers, the buyers, and the product. That wouldn’t be very surprising, in fact it would be kind of surprising if it weren’t true. So on relatively- and that, of course, means the propaganda model. So what you expect on relatively uncontroversial, sort of, free market assumptions, with nothing else said, is that you’ll get- the media will function in accord with the propaganda model.
Now, if you look more closely, there are many other factors which interact to lead to the same expectation. The ideological managers — the editors, and the columnists, and the, you know, the anchormen, and all that stuff — they’re very privileged people. They are wealthy, privileged people, whose associations and interests and concerns are closely related to those of the groups that dominate the economy, and that dominate the State, and in fact, it’s just a constant flow and interaction among all those groups. They’re basically the same group. They’re ultimately the people who own the country, or the ones who serve their interests. And, again, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to discover that these people share the perceptions and concerns and feelings and interests and, you know, attitudes of their associates and the people they’re connected with, and the people whose positions they aspire to take when they move on to the next job, and so on and so forth. Again, that wouldn’t be very surprising. And on and on, I won’t proceed. There are many other factors which tend in the same direction.
Well, that’s my second point. The second point is that the propaganda model has a kind of prior plausibility.
A third point, which is not too well known, is that the propaganda model is assumed to be true by most of the public. That is, in polls — contrary to what you hear — when people are asked in polls, you know, what do you think about the media, and so on, the general reaction is, they’re too conformist, they’re too subservient to power, you know, they’re too obedient. ThatÕs the either plurality or sometimes even the majority view. And they’re not critical enough of government, for example, that’s the standard view.
Well, we have three observations now. The propaganda model has elite advocacy — that is, elites believe that’s the way it ought to be- the media ought to be. It has prior plausibility, it’s very plausible on uncontroversial free market assumptions. And it’s accepted as valid by a large part, probably the majority of the population. Well, those three facts don’t prove that it’s valid of course, but they do suggest that it might be part of the discussion. It’s not. It’s off the agenda, exactly as the propaganda model itself predicts. That’s interesting. That’s an interesting collection of facts.
Well, what about the factual matter of how the media behave? On this there are by now literally thousands of pages of documentation, detailed documentation, case studies and so on, which have put the model to a test in the harshest ways that anybody can dream up. I’ll talk about some of the ways of doing it later, you know, in discussion if you want, but I think it’s been subjected to quite a fair test, in fact a very harsh test. There’s no challenge to it as far as I know. If there is, I’ve missed it. The few cases where there’s any discussion of it, the level of argument is so embarrassingly bad that it just tends to reinforce the plausibility of the model. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the best confirmed theses in the social sciences. But in accord with its predictions, it’s off the agenda. You can’t even discuss it.
Well, what I ought to do now is what has to be done in a course, actually, not a talk, and that is to turn to cases — you know, ask how you can test it, what the results are, and so on. And there’s plenty of material in print, and more coming out, which you can check and see whether you’re convinced that in fact it’s plausible, or accurate. My feeling is, it is. I’ll just give a couple of illustrative cases. And let me stress that I do this with some reluctance, because the illustrative cases are misleading, they suggest that maybe it’s a sporadic phenomenon. In fact, when somebody gives you a couple of cases, you rightly ask whether they’re an adequate sample, you know, maybe they were just selected to work. So you ought to be suspicious about isolated cases. That’s why the model has, in fact, been tested from many approaches. But that misleading necessity aside, because I can’t do more than that, let me give you a couple of cases to illustrate the kind of thing that I think you will find if you pursue the question of fact.
Let’s take something that you’d certainly expect the media to be concerned with, namely, freedom of the press; they’ve got a professional interest in that. And in fact there’s a good deal of discussion of freedom of the press in the media.
In the- keeping just to the last decade, the problems of the press in repressive societies has been very widely discussed. Many examples. The case that has been by far the most discussed, in fact I suspect it has been discussed more than all questions of media- of freedom of the press throughout the entire world during this period, is the one newspaper in Latin America that ninety-nine percent of the literate population would be able to name if they were asked to name a newspaper in Latin America, namely, La Prensa in Nicaragua.
There has been an overwhelming amount of reporting on the tribulations of La Prensa in Nicaragua. One media analyst, Francisco Goldman, who studied freedom of the press in these countries, pointed out that in four years he found about two hundred and sixty references to this in the New York Times. That’s an incredible amount of coverage. I’m sure — I don’t think anybody’s done the study, but try it, if anybody wants — I’m sure you’ll find that this is more coverage than has been given to all other problems of the freedom of the press, combined, all over the world, probably by a considerable factor. Anyhow, that’s the one- you know, that’s the famous case.
And this coverage has been very irate and angry because of the tribulations of La Prensa. For example, when- well, let’s go back to the moment when Ronald Reagan succeeded in convincing Congress to vote a hundred million dollars in aid so that we’d have a war a real war, in violation of the demand of the World Court that the United States consider its- stop- terminate it’s unlawful aggression. Right after that, after the government announced that we finally got a war a real war, the government of Nicaragua suspended La Prensa. And that caused tremendous outrage in the United States.
There’s a group- thereÕs a distinguished group of journalism fellows at Harvard, the Nieman Foundation, and they immediately gave their award for the year to Violeta Chamorro, the editor of La Prensa, to express their solidarity with her in this moment of crisis, to show how deeply committed they are to freedom of the press. The Washington Post had an editorial right after that called newspaper of valor, in which they said Violeta Chamorro should receive ten awards, not one award. The New York review of books had an article by a left liberal correspondent, Murray Kempton, appealing to people to contribute funds to keep, you know, La Prensa alive during this period. Those funds could then be added on to the CIA subvention that had kept the journal going since the Carter administration in 1979, right after the Sandinista revolution succeeded. And in fact in general there was great frenzy and hysteria about this terrible attack on freedom of the press.
Well, let’s look a little more closely.
First of all, what is La Prensa? La Prensa is a journal which calls for the overthrow of the government of Nicaragua by a foreign power, which funds it, and which is trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. It’s an interesting fact. You might check the history of the West to see whether there’s ever been any such thing.
For example, you might ask whether a major newspaper in the United States, you know, the wealthiest newspaper in the United States was funded by the Nazis in 1943 calling for the overthrow of the government of the United States, and you might ask yourself what would have happened if that was possible. Well, you can get the answer very quickly. Even tiny little newspapers which weren’t funded by anybody, and that raised questions about conscientious objection, and so on, they were censored and controlled and suppressed, and so on. During the First World War it was even more vicious, we even actually put a Presidential candidate in jail for ten years after the First World War because he had- because he had declared opposition to the draft. The- so- and in fact there’s nothing comparable to this in the history of the West, or in world history altogether.
Now, La Prensa is described in the United States as the journal that opposed Somoza. In fact there was a journal called La Prensa which did oppose the Somoza regime, courageously, its editor was, in fact, murdered, and it had the same name as this journal, La Prensa, and it’s described as the same journal. But is that true? Well, now it’s a little tricky at this point. It certainly has the same name.
In 1980 the owners of La Prensa decided to convert the journal into a- into a journal dedicated to the overthrow of the government. At that point they fired the editor — the brother of the editor who had been murdered under Somoza — and there was a split in the staff. Eighty percent of the staff left with the editor and formed a new journal, El Nuevo Diario, which is the successor of the old La Prensa, at least if a newspaper is defined by its editor and its staff, not- of course if it’s defined by the money that’s behind it supplied by the CIA, then you have a different answer to what’s the old La Prensa. That, incidentally, is also something that’s never discussed.
But suppose that’s true, let’s suppose it’s just a CIA journal, and in fact that there’s no parallel to it in the history of the West, all of that being true, calling for the overthrow of the government, funded by the outside power- superpower that is trying to overthrow the government. Well, nevertheless a true civil libertarian would defend La Prensa from harassment. I think that somebody who really believes in civil liberties should say, yes, England should have permitted the press to be dominated by Nazi Germany in 1942, and if they didn’t do it, that shows they don’t believe in freedom. That’s the position of a real civil libertarian. And that’s the position of the American intellectual community with regard to La Prensa.
And now at this point we ask the obvious question: is this passionate commitment to freedom of the press based on libertarian enthusiasms and passions, or is it based on service to the State?
Well, there’s a way of answering that question. In fact we all know the way of answering that question. It’s a question that we regularly ask — or don’t even bother asking because the answer’s so obvious — when we look at propaganda of our enemies. So you take a look at productions of, say, the World Peace Council, which is a communist front peace organization, or the East German Peace Committee, you know, the Government Peace Committee. You read that material, and youÕll find that there’s all sorts of descriptions there, generally valid descriptions, of crimes and atrocities and repression in the United States or committed by the United States and its agents, and so on, and great outrage over these horrors. Often that material is accurate, and often in fact it’s material that’s not reported here. Well, do we praise them for their, you know, libertarian passions? No, we first ask a question. We ask, how do they deal with repression and atrocities carried out by the Soviet Union and its clients, where they are, the ones they’re responsible for? Well, as soon as we get the answer to that question we dismiss the whole story with contempt and ridicule, properly, even if their charges are accurate. That’s a fair test, and we ought to have the honesty to apply the same test to ourselves. So let’s do it.
We now ask the same question about the defenders of liberty of the press in the case of La Prensa — New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Review of Books, the educated community, and so on, the Nieman Fellows, and so on. How do we test that? Well we look at- same test, we look at cases of repression of freedom of the press in our domains, and we ask how they reacted, and there are many such cases, very close by in fact.
So take El Salvador. El Salvador had independent newspapers at one time. It doesn’t have them any longer. These were not newspapers funded by a foreign power trying to overthrow the government in El Salvador. They were not newspapers supporting the guerillas. In fact, they were mildly liberal newspapers calling for mild reforms, like, land reform and things like that, raising questions about the concentration of land, and so on. Those newspapers don’t exist anymore. They were not censored. They were not harassed. Rather, another technique was used by the government that we installed, trained, directed, and armed. The technique was, in the case of one newspaper, the security forces picked up an editor and a photojournalist in a San Salvador restaurant, took them outside and cut them to pieces with machetes, and left them in a ditch. The owner then fled. That took care of one newspaper without censorship.
The second newspaper, it took a couple of bombing attempts, three assassination attempts, finally the military that we train support and arm surrounded the premises of the newspaper, entered it, smashed the place up. At that point the editor then fled. That took care of the second newspaper.
So that’s the end of the free press in El Salvador.
Well, now we ask the question. Where- how would- did the American press respond to this? Well, that was actually investigated by F.A.I.R., Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting — media monitoring organization — they checked eight- I guess it was eight years of The New York Times to see what there had been- what had been said about this. Well it turns out there was not one word in the news columns of The New York Times about this. I checked the editorials. There was not one phrase in the editorials about this. In fact the only reference to these two things in The New York Times was that the editor of one of the journals who’d fled was allowed an op-ed, in which he described what had happened. And that’s important, because it means all the civil libertarians knew about it — the ones that read The New York Times, like the Nieman Fellows, and the editors of the New York Review, and the editors of The New York Times — they all knew about it, it just wasn’t important enough to report or to comment on. Well, that tells you where the commitment to the freedom of the press is.
Turn to the neighboring country of Guatemala. There, too, there was no censorship. They took care of freedom of the press by simply murdering about fifty journalists in the early eighties, including people, you know, journalists murdered right when they were on radio and television announcing. Somehow that took care of freedom of the press without any censorship. Virtually no discussion — a few words here and there. Well now this- but this was the government that we supported- that we supported, remember. Supported enthusiastically. That government is supposed to now be a democracy. They had an election that we all proudly hail and so on. And after the democracy was established, one of the editors who had fled returned, this was last year, just a year ago, to try to open a small newspaper. Again, wasn’t funded by a foreign power, you know, wasn’t calling for the overthrow of the government, nothing like that, just a small, very small, limited capital, sort of left liberal newspaper. La Epoca, it was called.
He- as soon as he came back to the country, the death squads, which are just adjuncts of the security forces, threatened him with death if he didn’t leave the country. But he continued, he started up the newspaper. It ran a couple of issues. Then, fifteen armed men, surely from the security services, broke into the offices, fire bombed them, destroyed the premises, kidnapped the night watchman. The editor called a press conference the next day in which he announced that this shows that there can’t be any freedom of the press in the so-called democracy of Guatemala. Some members of the European press came, I don’t think any American reporter came. There was- he then received another death threat warning him to leave the country or be killed. He did flee the country. He was taken to the airport by a Western ambassador so that he wouldn’t be killed along the way, and he went back into exile in Mexico.
Well, how much coverage did that one get? In The New York Times and the Washington Post, which are the two that I checked, the amount of coverage was zero. Not a word about it. And it’s not that they didn’t know it. They did know it. And you can prove that they knew it, because if you look in the small print you’ll find oblique references to it. So for example, in the culture section of The New York Times a couple of weeks later, there’s a report — somebody went down to some, you know, meeting in Mexico, and met this guy, and he sort of refers to the facts. So they knew about it, it just wasn’t important enough to report.
Let’s take the other major client of the United States, in fact, the major client of the United States, the State of Israel. That’s the major subsidized country of the United States, so you want to find out what American elites think about freedom of the press, let’s take a look at the way they react to freedom of the press in Israel.
Now, here history was kind enough to set up some controlled experiments for us. Literally. The week- let’s go back to the week when La Prensa was suspended — remember, right after the United States had declared war against Nicaragua, as the administration said, in violation of the World Court ruling and they suspended this newspaper funded by the United States and calling for the overthrow of the government. Well, that- just- right then Israel closed two newspapers in Jerusalem, two newspapers in Jerusalem were closed, permanently. That’s not the first time that had happened. The case went to the Supreme Court, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was legitimate to close the two newspapers, because the security services had claimed, without providing any evidence, because they don’t have to, that these newspapers were funded by hostile elements, which presumably means the PLO. And the court declared, high court declared that no government would ever permit a business to function, however legitimate it may be, that’s funded and supported by a hostile power. Freedom of press, they said, exists in Israel, but it’s limited, and is not permitted to undermine the security of the State. That’s the high court.
Well, how much coverage was there of those two things while everybody was hysterical about La Prensa? Answer: zero. Or, to be precise, there was a reference. In a letter to The Boston Globe, in which I was commenting on the total hypocrisy of Harvard University and the Nieman Fellows, I mentioned it. But that, as far as I know, is the total- is the total references in the United States.
Now, the week after the Central American peace accords went into operation, October 1987, La Prensa was opened again, and it returned to its task of calling for the overthrow of the government, and so on, and identifying itself with the Contras, and so on. The week that La Prensa was reopened, history again ran a nice experiment for us. That week, the State of Israel closed a newspaper in Nazareth — that’s inside Israel — and closed a news office in Nablus. The newspaper in Nazareth was closed because the State had again alleged, without providing any evidence, that it was associated with a hostile group. And the courts went- again, went to the courts, and the courts declared that this was legitimate, even though the editor had stated — which, of course, was true — that everything that appeared in the newspaper had gone through censorship, because they have heavy censorship. Didn’t matter. The news office in Nablus was closed on the same pretext, you know, some connection with a hostile group. As far as I know it never went to the courts.
So how much coverage was there of those two things? Well, the usual answer: zero.
I could go on, but these facts show very clearly, they answer very clearly the first question. The concern over freedom of the press in Nicaragua is a total fraud. It does not have anything to do with concern for freedom of the press, it simply has to do with concern for serving the State. In fact, the number of people in the United States who believe in freedom of the press, and who, I don’t mean ordinary- of the people who write about such topics or speak about them, the number who believe in freedom of the press, I think they could easily fit in somebody’s living room, or maybe in a telephone booth in fact. And they would include virtually nobody who’s gotten hysterical on this topic, or even mentioned it.
Well that’s the kind of thing you’ll discover if you look closely. I’ll just give you one final example.
When I talk about this topic I like to use this morning’s New York Times, and you can always find a perfectly good example there on the front page, but today, unfortunately, I didn’t have- I got up at five o’clock in the morning in Eau Claire in a snow storm and had to drive here, and I didn’t have time to find the Times, so I’ll have to use yesterday’s. I apologize. Last one I’ve looked at.
The lead story in The New York Times yesterday, you know, major story on the left- right hand side of the front page is a story entitled: U.S. Envoy Urges Hondurans To Let The Contras Stay. And then comes, as the Bush administration is trying to convince Honduras to let the Contras stay there, and it goes on, and you get down to the middle of the second page, you know, the continuation page, and you find the following sentence: on its face, the administration proposal to keep the Contras in place would seem to be inconsistent with the spirit of the regional peace agreement which calls for their relocation, but administration officials say there’s no inconsistency. Ok. There’s a forthright critique of the government. Let’s look at the facts that lie behind that.
It’s not that the proposal seems to be inconsistent with the spirit of the regional peace agreement, it’s that it’s flatly inconsistent with the wording of the regional peace agreement. And it doesn’t matter which regional peace agreement you’re referring to. If you’re referring to the Central American Peace Accords of August 1987, they identify one indispensable element, they call it, for bringing peace to the region, and that’s the termination of any aid — logistical, technical, propagandistic — any aid whatsoever to the irregular forces, meaning the Contras, attacking from another country. There was a more recent agreement, just a couple of weeks ago, in which the Central American Presidents committed themselves, all five of them, to remove the Contras within- to work out plans for removing the Contras within ninety days. So, this is not- does not seem to be inconsistent with the spirit of the agreements, it’s flatly inconsistent with their precise wording.
And it goes on, the point goes on. There’s going to be a vote in Congress about humanitarian aid to the Contras, who we’re convincing Nicaragua to leave in- to Honduras to leave in Nicaragua, and the press is going to refer to this as humanitarian aid, as they’ve been doing all along. Well, the term humanitarian aid has a meaning. In fact the meaning was made very precise by the World Court, the highest authority on such issues, in the very same judgment in which it condemned the United States for its aggression in Nicaragua. They defined humanitarian aid as aid which meets- it says, to qualify as humanitarian aid, aid must meet the hallowed purposes of the Red Cross, that is, must serve civilians in need and suffering. And furthermore, to qualify as humanitarian aid, aid must be given to civilians on both sides of the conflict without discrimination, otherwise it just doesn’t qualify as humanitarian aid. So, by the ruling of the World Court — in fact that’s the standard definition — what the media call humanitarian aid isn’t humanitarian aid at all, it’s just military aid. It’s aid to keep the military force in- present in a- so that they can continue to pose a threat to Nicaragua.
I should add, incidentally, that it’s very likely that the United States is sending military aid to Contras inside Nicaragua, illegally, from the Ilopango air base in San Salvador, exactly as they’ve been doing all along. That was- that’s what’s called the Hasenfus Group, because it was exposed when the American mercenary Eugene Hasenfus was shot down.
Now that had been going on for years, and the media knew about it for years and they weren’t reporting it. The scandal came when they were forced to report what they’d always known. And then some of the more honest of them admitted, yeah, we knew it all along, we weren’t reporting it. In fact, they were being informed all along, by Nicaraguan intelligence, that these flights were coming, they were told how many there were, where they were, you know, they got radar sightings, it just wasn’t the kind of story you report if you’re a good commissar. So none of it was reported until the plane was shot down with the American mercenary, and then, you know, you can’t stop reporting.
Well the same Nicaraguan sources that were ignored before, and were accurate, as everyone concedes, are once again reporting that Nicaraguan radar is starting to pick up Contra flights from Ilopango air force base into Nicaragua. And there’s no particular reason to doubt that those reports are accurate now, but I don’t think there’s a single reference to these reports in the media, at least, I haven’t been able to find one. And it’s not because they don’t know it. They came across the AP wire, which means that everybody knows it. And it’s not that it’s an obscure fact, after all that’s all the Iran-Contra hearings were about. It’s just that a disciplined press doesn’t report things like that.
Now this is a free country, so you can find out about it. All the readers of Barricada Internacional, the Sandinista newspaper that’s put out in, you know, that’s distributed from San Francisco, so that’s about fifteen-hundred people, and so on, they could find out. So fortunately, you know, nice not to be in a totalitarian country, but the readers of the news — or people who happen to have access to the AP wires and read them all day, you know, they could find out — but people who are looking at the tube, or reading their newspaper are not going to find out, though it’s pretty important.
Well, continuing with humanitarian aid, there’s going to be a vote on it in a couple of weeks, and probably they’ll vote it. The so-called humanitarian aid that’s been given is in violation of the Central American agreements. It’s actually even in violation of the very Congressional legislation that legislated the aid. In other words, there’s- it’s internal self-contradiction, which nobody will point out in the media. How’s that work? It works as follows.
The congressional legislation last year to give humanitarian aid stipulated that that aid must be in accord with the Central American agreements, and with the cease-fire agreement that had been just settled between the Contras and the government of Nicaragua. That’s the legislation. Well, that cease-fire agreement is quite explicit about the point. It says, aid may be given to Contras in designated cease-fire zones, inside Nicaragua, for the purpose of relocating them and reintegrating them into Nicaraguan society. Now that’s what the- so that means the Congressional- the- according to the Congressional legislation, that’s the only aid we can give. Furthermore, it says that the aid has to be given by a neutral carrier. Well, Congress immediately voted to violate its own legislation that it had just passed, by designating US Aid as the carrier. By no stretch of the imagination is that neutral, in fact — I don’t have to bother talking about that, that’s a State department affiliate which has often functioned as a front for the CIA. Furthermore the aid was to go to Contras in Honduras, not cease-fire zones inside Nicaragua, and to maintain them, not to assist in their relocation and reintegration into Nicaraguan society.
So Congress at once voted to violate its own legislation. Furthermore, the same cease-fire agreements designated a responsible authority to determine how the agreements should be met. The authority was the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Secretary-General Suarez of the Organization of the American States. As soon as this happened, he wrote a letter to George Shultz, condemning the United States for carrying out this violation of the cease-fire agreement. In fact, we even violated the Congressional legislation. None of this has ever been reported as far as I know. Try to find it somewhere.
So, even the fact that the responsible authority at once said the aid was illegal, even the fact that the Congressional aid that- is violating even its own stipulations, let alone the cease-fire agreement of the regional peace accord, none of this is reported, and I’ll make a prediction, when the issue comes up in a couple of weeks about renewing it, you’re not going to find any of this reported again.
Well, that’s the kind of thing you find when you look, and you find it all over the place, in fact I think you find it near universally. I mean, it would be hard to find an exception to it. It’s to be expected. That’s the way you’d expect the media to function on pretty plausible assumptions.
Let me return finally to the prediction of the propaganda model that I mentioned.
However well confirmed it may be, it’s not going to be part of the discussion, it’s going to be outside the spectrum of discussion, it’s very validity guarantees that for the reasons that I mentioned. And that conclusion, again, is quite well confirmed, and one can assume with reasonable confidence that that will continue to be the case.
[Discussion follows below.]
NOAM CHOMSKY: Is there somebody standing at the mike? Why don’t we- let’s just make it mechanical. Start over there, then go over there, and then go up there. Ok? And then we’ll go around. Ok. Because I can’t see-
QUESTIONER: Professor Chomsky?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
QUESTIONER: I have listened with great interest to many of your theories considering political systems and the ideologies behind them. However, a number of statements which you have made in the past are of great concern to me. First and foremost among them is your claim that the Soviet Union is, in fact, a dungeon. And to my way of thinking, such blanket condemnation of an entire society can only be regarded, to say the least, as inappropriate. Moreover, I believe that these kinds of statements can become quite destructive in serving to propagate inadequate and outdated notions of the communist enemy, and I- I just wonder if your- if these ideas- I’ve been waiting three years to respond to that statement of yours, and I wondered if in the light of the changes that have- that have come about with glasnost and perestroika, openness and restructuring — arguable- it’s arguable how significant they are — but if you- I don’t know if you still maintain that strict view on the subject.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. Well, first of all I didn’t say that the society is, I said that the State is, the government, and the, you know maybe people living in their homes are not. But, I said it because I think it’s true. I mean, I think that the Soviet Union is a dungeon, and I also don’t think it has anything to do with communism or anything to do with socialism. As to the changes, I think, you know they’re, one hopes that they’ll work. What’s happened is that the jailers have decided to relax it a little bit. Notice that those changes are coming from the top. Which is good, you know, better than having no changes. But, in fact, Gorbachev has concentrated more power into his hands than the leadership had in the past, and he’s using that power in something like the manner of Peter the Great, to try to liberalize the society from above, which means to cut back the restrictions, to open it up a bit, and I think that’s all to the good. I mean, I have a feeling that those changes will — they have already set forth lots of, you know, they have- when you introduce changes like that, lots of things begin to happen. Popular forces do begin to develop, and you get all kind of conflicts, and interesting things happen, and it remains to be seen where it will lead. So I’m glad to see that the, what I- as I see it, if you want to continue with the metaphor, that the jailers have decided to open the cells a little bit, and to allow a little more freedom in the society, I think that’s very good, and I hope that other forces get them to continue to do it. But as to- I mean we could discuss whether this is an accurate perception of the society or not. I guess you think it isn’t. I think it is — I’ll explain why if you like — but to get to your- to the point you raised, suppose I think that it is. I think I should say it. I don’t see any reason not to say it if I think it’s true.
QUESTIONER: I guess my only real question is, there’s political repression in the United States too
NOAM CHOMSKY: Sure
QUESTIONER: does that make the United States a dungeon?
NOAM CHOMSKY: No,
NOAM CHOMSKY: because the United States is a much freer- in fact the- what I’ve said about the United States, and I’ll say it again, it’s in many ways the freest society in the world. Sure there’s repression here, but it’s also a, by comparative standards, a very free society. In fact I think that’s one of the reasons it has such sophisticated thought control, as I tried to explain.
The capacity of the- the capacity of the State to coerce in the United States is relatively limited. You’re quite right that there’s plenty of oppression. I mentioned the FBI, which is the national political police, which is dedicated to oppression. That’s its job. It’s been doing it ever since it was founded. Well, you know, that’s inconsistent with the free society. But, again, by comparative standards, remember I’m talking about comparative standards, the United States is quite a free society. The capacity of the State to coerce, I think, is limited, probably- more so than any other society I know at least. So I don’t think that it would be correct to call it a dungeon.
QUESTIONER: Well thank you.
QUESTIONER: Yes, Professor Chomsky,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
QUESTIONER: if you walked two blocks back from where you’re standing right now, you’d come across a marvelous example of what I’ve described on various- various occasions as an excellent example of above-ground bunker neo-fascist
NOAM CHOMSKY: Of a what?
QUESTIONER: of above-ground bunker neo-fascist architecture, called Vilas Hall. Vilas Hall is the school of communications, the com-arts building, the school of journalism. I imagine there are a number of journalism students in the audience tonight. I imagine there are a good number of people who, well, they filter in, they become middle-echelon apparatchiki for the media empire that you discussed. They come out imbued with the ideology of value-free objective reporting. It’s the major ideological offensive against the kind of model that you want to pose as an alternative. I wonder if you could talk to the audience here about the ideology of objectivity and value-free reporting within this system.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there is such an ideology, and it’s interesting to see how it’s interpreted. Objectivity means, you take what people in power say and you report it accurately without distorting their quotes, and then, sort of down at the bottom of the column, you know, down at the bottom of the column you may say things like what I quoted, if you’re really an intrepid reporter, you say, well this may seem to be inconsistent with the spirit of the peace agreement. That’s, you know, that’s objective reporting. If the State department announces that Nicaragua has called for a revolution without borders, then even if you know it happens to be a lie, an objective reporter just reports it, because they said it after all, it’s true that they said it. And it wouldn’t be objective- it would be introducing opinions to say it’s a lie, I suppose.
So there is an ideology of objectivity, and I wouldn’t just scoff at it, incidentally. The fact of the matter is that, by and large, American reporters- if you had two, you know, a bunch of reporters describing something they saw, I would tend, by and large, to trust the American reporter at least as much, maybe more, than those who come out of other traditions, because this business of objectivity is not completely to be scoffed at. The effort to try to keep your reporting to the facts and not to introduce opinion is a worthy effort, and sometimes it shows up in accurate description. And there are some reporters, I should say, who do it extremely well, and have a very good record of it. And in fact this even includes reporters who work for the journals that, in my view, are right at the core of the propaganda system.
So take, say, John Kifner of The New York Times. I think you can tell when The New York Times editors want some story to be reported accurately for their own purposes. That’s when they send John Kifner to report it, because he’s going to report it accurately. Now when they don’t want it reported accurately anymore they take him off and put him back at the metro desk. That’s one test as to what the editors have in mind. And there are times when they want stories reported accurately, and there are some journalists who really do it.
On the other hand when they send Thom Friedman out, their current chief diplomatic correspondent, you know what they want is propaganda. You want somebody who’s going to say, as he just said after he was advanced to this august post, that the United States is now, you know, sort of, under the Bush administration, planning to support the Central American peace accords which were introduced and proposed and advanced by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Omission there, but that’s part of the game. That’s what happens when you send Thomas Friedman to report a story. And I presume that the editors understand these things. That’s incidentally, I presume, why Thomas Friedman is chief diplomatic correspondent and John Kifner isn’t. But you’d have to ask the editors about that.
The- so, to get back to your point, the objectivity- it’s a good thing, it’s a good value, to be objective in reporting, and the people who do it honestly do very good journalism. But, as you’re implying, that ideology can be used to be a distorting mechanism, and quite commonly is.
QUESTIONER: Is George Bush’s hands-off policy just a cover, and all the action of the executive branch will be handled covertly? Or is it an opportunity for the legislative branch and the American people to take back the reins of power?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, I don’t- first of all, what makes you think George Bush has a hands-off policy?
QUESTIONER: That’s how it’s reported. That’s what I,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, ok. But.
QUESTIONER: that perception of
NOAM CHOMSKY: Right, but that’s,
QUESTIONER: a hands-off policy
NOAM CHOMSKY: that’s not very good evidence
QUESTIONER: I think the perception isn’t-
NOAM CHOMSKY: The fact- the fact of the matter is, Ronald Reagan had a hands-off policy. In fact, Ronald Reagan didn’t- probably didn’t even know what the policies were. This is an interesting fact about the last eight years, which, again, should not be laughed at. The fact of the matter is, for the last- I mean the media had to put on a big pretense about this, but everybody knew, you know, everybody with their eyes open knew, and most of the population knew, that for the last eight years the country hasn’t had a chief executive. Now, that’s an important fact. In fact, I think that’s a step forward in manufacture of consent, and in fact it’s maybe a sign of the future of political democracy. I think the United States made a leap into the future in the last eight years. If you- they have sort of retracted a little, but I think they’ll go on, and I think other industrial democracies will follow us.
If you could get to the point where voting is simply the matter- a matter of selecting purely symbolic figures, then you would have gone a long way towards marginalizing the public. And that pretty well happened in the last eight years. You know, you had somebody who probably didn’t know what the policies were. His job was to read the lines rich- written for him by the rich folk — what he’s been doing for the last thirty or forty years. And he seems to enjoy it and he gets well paid for it, and everybody seems happy, but to vote for Ronald Reagan is like voting for the Queen of England. And that’s an advance.
I don’t really mean this as a joke, I think that’s an advance, you know, it’s progress in marginalizing the public. Part of marginalizing the public is, taking the formal mechanisms of participation which exist, and ensuring that they don’t lead to a crisis of democracy by being substantive. And what better method can you think of that simply reducing them to the selection of symbolic figures. I think that happened, and I think the press hasn’t covered it, though they doubtless know it.
But as for George Bush, I think you’ve got to return to a, you know, to a sort of more normal situation. I don’t have any reason to believe that there’s any hands-off policy. If- there will be the same kind of resort to covert activities that there’s been in the past.
When does the government resort to covert activities? Well, typically, when the domestic enemy doesn’t allow it to carry out the activities in public. That’s when a government resorts to clandestine activities. Clandestine activities are difficult, complex, expensive, they carry the danger of being exposed. It’s much easier and more efficient to carry out violent activities overtly. And a government typically, our government in particular, when it resorts to clandestine activities, it’s usually because it’s afraid of the public.
Those activities are not much of a secret from anybody else. They’re certainly not a secret from the victims. They’re not a secret from other- from the various mercenary States that we have involved in it, like the whole stuff in the Iran-Contra hearings. That wasn’t a secret to Nicaragua, it wasn’t a secret to Israel, it wasn’t a secret to Taiwan, or Saudi Arabia, or Brunei, you know, nobody- it wasn’t a secret to anybody out there. It wasn’t a secret to the whole array of shady businessmen who were in it to make a buck, like Richard Secord and Albert Hakim and so on. Fact of the matter is, it wasn’t even a secret to Congress and the media. As I said, they knew about the Contra flights, they just weren’t reporting it. They also knew about the arms sales to Iran through Israel, and they weren’t reporting it. They couldn’t suppress any of that any longer after a plane was shot down with an American mercenary, and after the Iranian government revealed the fact that the national security advisor was wandering around Teheran giving out bibles and chocolate cakes. At that point you couldn’t suppress it any longer so it became public, and then comes a cover-up operation.
But the point is, it wasn’t really secret to anybody much, and I think you can easily document that. I was, for example, writing about it from public sources throughout this whole period. But the point is, you can keep it secret from the public. It was at a low enough level so you could keep it secret from the public, and that means the domestic enemy didn’t get too outraged over it. Remember that you’ve got to control enemy territory, and that’s what covert operations are for. If the government happens to be committed to activities — to violent or terroristic or subversive or other activities — that the domestic public, the domestic enemy will not tolerate, it’ll move to covert actions. That’s what they’re for, and there’s no reason to believe that the Bush administration will be any different from others in this respect. Especially, you know, in fact less reason, after all what’s Bush’s background?
QUESTIONER: Dr. Chomsky, you- a statement in the recent [inaudible] interview regarding the feminist movement, that it has had- been the most important in the actual effects it’s had on social life and cultural patterns. You’re quoted accurately, it’s been a lasting important movement [inaudible] impact on everything. Why is it that not only the left has trouble with, you know, in some ways, working with the feminist movement, but perhaps tolerates, to what I feel is an unacceptable degree, anti-feminist individuals and perspectives within its mix? That’s one question, and the second question,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Did- could you be more specific about what you had in mind? I mean,
QUESTIONER: Well, I- I don’t know, that’s a tough thing, because I’d rather not go on,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Ok.
QUESTIONER: but, another one I’d like to throw out for you is that you are a world-class linguist, and I’m wondering how this kind of blends in or interfaces with your political work.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, well, I mean the- actually the issues of feminism- the context of that remark was my expression, if I recall correctly, was my- was an answer to a question of what happened to the movements of the ’60s. And there is a propaganda story about this. The story is that movements of the ’60s had all this idealism, and so on and so forth, it all faded, and after that everybody’s just interested in themselves, and it all just disappeared. And I think that’s nonsense. I think that’s propaganda, and it’s, in fact, an attempt to make people feel that they ought to give up.
But the fact of the matter, if you look objectively, at least as I look, it seems to me that the movements of the ’60s just expanded and grew in the 1970s, and expanded and grew even more in the ’80s, and they now reach into much wider areas of the society than ever before. Groups like this, for example, would not have been around, and certainly wouldn’t have listened to a talk like this twenty years ago. But now they do all over the country, and not just in universities, also in, you know, small towns, and churches, and so on and so forth. I think the movements just expanded. That’s why the Reagan administration was forced into clandestine activities, in fact. Enemy territory was out of control.
But as for the- the reason I mentioned the feminist movement specifically is because that’s a product of the ’70s. And in my view, as you quoted, accurate, I think it- in terms of its overall impact, it’s probably the one that had the greatest impact on cultural patterns, and relations, and structures of authority, and so on and so forth, of any of them, and that’s the ’70s and the ’80s.
Now to get back to your point about the left. A large part of the origins of the contemporary feminist movement were in the left, and they were in reaction to the sexism inside the left. That was a big issue in the late ’60s, you know, big issue, and a very emotional and complicated issue. And that was one of the roots of the modern feminist movement. Of course, you know, feminist movements go way back. And it could be that the left still tolerates sexism and sexist individuals, I’m sure it does. If- to the extent that it does, that’s just something to be overcome. Not just on the left, everywhere else as well. I don’t see that it has anything special to do with the left.
QUESTIONER: My name is Nancy, and I work with the international socialist organization, and I just want to start by saying I, like I’m sure many, many, many, other people who are here tonight are deeply indebted to your work. It’s been absolutely essential in helping us cut through the kind of garbage that we’re faced with every day when we try to figure out what’s going on in the world. But I think
NOAM CHOMSKY: Here comes the but.
QUESTIONER: But I think there’s also, if I could continue, I think there is also a problem in the analysis that I’ve seen in your works, and that you presented tonight, in the sense that, I think we can tend to lose the forest for the trees — that you present so many, you know, astonishing details about what is wrong with the system, and about what is wrong with the media, that we can tend to lose sight of what I think the really key question is, which is, why is this control necessary in the first place. And I would submit, at least, that I think it’s because there’s — I’ve got a minute and a half, I swear to God it’s no longer — it’s because there’s antagonistic interests involved. They didn’t talk about milkmaids and dairy- whatever it was, dairymaids, and spinsters, and laborers in the seventeenth century for no reason, it was because they were the working class. And what we see today in this country, I think, is quite frankly, let’s speak bluntly, a ruling class which tries to control a working class population. And that’s what it’s about, is holding on to that power.
If that’s the case, then it seems like to me the question that we face is how to organize to change that system, to challenge capitalism. And I think in that effort you do a disservice to your listeners, and to the people who respect your work, when you equate Lenin with Stalinism as blithely as you did tonight. I say that, and I think it’s also important to point out that that is an unquestioned assumption, and also an easy applause-getter, we saw, that you share with the mainstream media. And I think if it were actually that simple, the horrific kinds of measures that even bourgeois historians describe as a counterrevolution under Stalin would not have been necessary if they were all the same to begin with.
Now, in short, to sum up, the situation that you have outlined tonight I think is extremely serious, and I think it’s important that we all take it seriously. What we’re talking about is literally the fate of millions of lives around the world, as particularly in the international politics that you describe. That being the case, then I think we need a full, and a serious, and a fair discussion of various different alternatives, not just talking about the horrors of capitalism, but actually how to change it to end the stuff once and for all.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well I think you made, yeah, I think- well, there’s several questions there. One is about the discussion of the United States, and I think what I said is approximately what you said, except I didn’t use some of that rhetoric. The- I, you know, which I don’t particularly think is particularly helpful, to tell you the truth, either analytically or to understand or whatever. But it’s the same picture. John Jay had it straight, the people who own the country ought to govern it — and the people who own the country have, basically, now are a network of corporations and conglomerates, banks, and so on — they ought to govern it, and the way they do it is by the methods we’ve described.
Now as far as the Soviet Union is concerned, I didn’t happen to talk about it tonight, but I’ve written about this topic. I haven’t just made the charge, I’ve written about it, and explained why I think it’s true. And it doesn’t bother me if I happen to agree with the mainstream media on this. Trotsky, to pick somebody who you remember, once- he was charged in the 1930s with agreeing with the fascists in his condemnation of the Soviet Union. And he pointed out that his critique was- to be true, he didn’t- wasn’t going to abandon it if somebody else happened to say it for different reasons. So the question is about the Soviet Union, and particularly about Lenin.
So, what was Leninism?
Well, in my- here we have to look at the facts. Now, you know, you look at the facts, I think here’s what you find. Lenin was a right wing deviation of the Socialist movement, and he was so regarded. He was regarded as that by the Marxists, by the mainstream Marxists. We’ve forgotten who the mainstream Marxists were because they lost, and you only remember the guys who won. But, if you go back to the- to that period, the mainstream Marxists were people like, for example, Anton Pannekoek, who was head of education for the Marxist movement. And a serious- he’s the one- one of the people who Lenin later denounced as an infantile leftist. But he was one of the leading intellectuals of the actual Marxist movement. Rosa Luxembourg was another mainstream Marxist, and there were others. And they were very critical — in fact Trotsky was one, up until 1917 — they were all very critical of Leninism, because of this, what they regarded, as this opportunistic vanguardism. The idea that the radical intelligentsia were going to exploit popular movements to seize State power, and then to use that State power to whip the population into the society that they chose.
Now that was quite inconsistent with Marxism as understood by the mainstream, sort of, I’d say left Marxists. From this point of view, Bolshevism was a right-wing deviation. Trotsky made the same points up until 1917.
Now, when Lenin came back to Russia, in April 1917, he took a different line, quite a different line from the one he’d had in the past. You take a look at Lenin’s work, it shifted character in April ’17. In April 1917 it became kind of libertarian. That’s when he came out with the April Theses, and that’s when he wrote State and Democracy, it came out- it came out a year later, but that’s when it was written, and these were — State and Revolution — these were basically libertarian works. They were very much more in the mainstream of, sort of left, libertarian-socialism, from sort of, you know, this range that goes from Anarchism over to left Marxism of the Pannekoek/Luxembourg variety. And he talked about Soviets, and the need for, you know, workers organization and so on, and in fact came really closer to what the essence of socialism was always understood to be, after all the core of socialism was understood to be workers control over production. That was the core. That’s where you begin with. Then you go on to other things. But the beginning is control by the workers over production. That’s where it begins.
Then Lenin took power in October 1917 in what’s called a revolution, but in my view ought to be called a coup. And the- then- and things followed that coup, or revolution, if you want to call it that.
One of the things that followed it was the immediate moves to destroy the soviets and the factory councils. Those were some of the first moves of Lenin and Trotsky after they took — Trotsky joined at that point — after they took State power.
In fact if you look at what Lenin wrote after that period, or did, you’ll find it’s a reversion to the earlier position. This sort of left deviation, is that, a deviation. You could ask why. In my view it was just opportunistic. He knew that in order to gain power he was going to have to go along with the popular currents that were developing, which were, in fact, spontaneous and libertarian and socialist, as most popular movements are, have been, in fact, since the 17th century. And being an astute politician, which he was, he sort of went along with that, and talked the line that the people wanted to hear. It’s just like when an American politician goes somewhere, and his pollsters tell him, say so and so, he says it. It doesn’t mean he believes it. And I think Lenin was doing the same thing without polls.
In any event, whatever your interpretation is, when he took power he reverted to the former vanguardism, and moved at once to eliminate the organs of workers control. Now that meant he was moving to destroy socialism, if socialism has as its core workers control over production. The soviets and the factory councils were instruments of workers control. And same- you could say they’re defective instruments and they had to be worked out better, and so on, yeah, no doubt, but they were the instruments that had been developed in the course of popular struggle, for- to implement, basically, workers control. And those were the first things to go.
By early 1918 — this is now- this is still really before the civil war set in — Lenin’s view was pretty clearly expressed. It was the view that- both he and Trotsky took the position, that what you need is what Trotsky called a labor army, which is submissive to the control of a single leader. He says modern, you know, progress and development and socialism requires that the mass of the population subordinate themselves to a single leader in a disciplined workforce.
Well, that has absolutely nothing to do with socialism. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of it, and was criticized for that by the — in a sense, in a spirit of some solidarity because, you know, the revolutionary forces were still operative — he was criticized for that by people like Rosa Luxembourg and by Pannekoek and Gorter and the other mainstream, sort of, left Marxists. And that- and I think they were right. It seems to me that- and then it just goes on from there. I mean, Lenin reconstructed the Tsarist systems of oppression, often more efficiently — Tscheka, KGB, and other techniques of control and oppression — I think from that point on there was nothing remotely like socialism in the Soviet Union. I think it was in fact a- in my view it was a precursor of later forms of totalitarianism.
Now, you know, you could- that’s what I think happened, and I think that’s what you’ll discover if you look at the facts. Now, why is it called socialism?
Well, I think there- see- I think that’s complicated, and we should look at it. There’s two- the Soviet Union calls it socialism. And, you know, after they took control of the- they did take control pretty soon of most of the international socialist movement, because of, primarily, the prestige of having created something, sort of, socialism.
Incidentally, just a side remark, Lenin remained, despite it all, a sort of an orthodox Marxist in many respects. And as an orthodox Marxist he didn’t believe that it was possible to have socialism in the Soviet Union. This was supposed to be- up to his death, or, you know, shortly before his death, when he was still writing, you know, speaking lucidly, he took- kept the view that the Soviet revolution was a holding action. They’re just going to hold things in place until the real revolution took place in Germany, because the revolution, according to Marxist doctrine, was going to take place in the most advanced sector of modern industrial capitalism, you know, for all the reasons that you read about in Marx. That’s where the revolution had to take place. Obviously that wasn’t the Soviet Union, so there couldn’t be socialism there, it was just some kind of holding action. And that, presumably, gave some sort of justification for eliminating the socialist institutions. I don’t think it’s a real justification, but probably that was the internal justification. And again, in taking that view he was in accord with the mainstream Marxist tradition.
Well, after that comes the view that all of this is socialism. And why should the communist parties take that view? I think the reason is because they wanted to, sort of, exploit the moral force of socialism, which was quite real. You know, it’s kind of hard to remember that today, but at that time it was very real. This was regarded as a, you know, as a progressive, moral force, and by associating their own destruction of socialism with the aura of socialism they hoped to gain credit, in the working classes and other progressive sectors.
Now, the West also identified that with socialism. And they did it for the opposite reason. They wanted to associate socialism with the brutality of the Russian State that undermined socialism. So what you had is that the two major world propaganda agencies, for their own quite different reasons, were claiming that this is socialism — that this destruction of socialism is socialism. And it’s very hard to break out of the control of the world’s two major propaganda agencies when they agree. They agreed for different reasons, but they basically agreed, and that then became doctrine and dogma.
Well, I think people should ask whether that’s true. Take a look back and see whether the moves that Lenin took, and that Trotsky supported him in taking, and that they both advocated, had anything to do with socialism as it was understood by the, say, in the Marxist tradition, or in the left libertarian tradition. And I think the answer that you’ll discover when you look at that is that they didn’t. In fact, this was a destruction of socialist institutions.
Well, you know, this may be true or it may be false. But if it’s true, and I think the evidence pretty strongly supports it, then I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t express that fact. And I certainly don’t think that we should be deterred in expressing this fact if other people whose, you know, fascists, whatever, happen to condemn the Soviet Union, just for the same reasons that Trotsky mentioned in the 1930s.
QUESTIONER: Getting back to losing the forest for the trees, could we have part two of the book pulping story please?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Pardon?
QUESTIONER: Part two of the- your book pulping story. You promised during the question and answer it might come up. You had said you had some further
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, the aftermath of that pulping incident, yeah. Is that what you meant?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of a little more subtle and complex, which is why I didn’t talk about it, but here’s what actually happened. We- the book was- later we decided to rewrite and update it. And we did, and it came out from South End Press, which was then in existence — a small, radical press run by- a cooperative, run by a couple of young people — and it was published as The Political Economy of Human Rights, a two-volume book that came out in 1979. Well, South End Press wasn’t going to pulp it, so it exists, in fact you can even buy it.
Now, what happened at that point? You can’t pulp the book any longer, so how do you react to it? Well, there are two ways of reacting to it. The main way is to ignore it. There are a lot of things in the book — you can read it and see what was there — but for example, there was a discussion of- it was a discussion of U.S. foreign policy and the media. Basically, that’s what it was. And extensive case studies of both topics, and so on and so forth. Mostly it was ignored, as you’d predict. But it wasn’t entirely ignored. There was one exception. And a very interesting exception. Let me give you the background. It explains some of the more subtle ways in which the system works.
In this- one of the things we did in this- in order to put the propaganda model to a test — we didn’t call it the propaganda model then, it’s the same thing — in order to put it to a test, we tried to compare, sort of, pared historical incidents, kind of like I was doing in connection with the freedom of the press issue. I mean, history doesn’t create exact, controlled experiments, but there are enough cases that are similar enough so you can test how the media are going to deal with them.
Well we looked for such cases. We- in particular we looked for atrocities. And we divided the atrocities we looked at into three categories, what we called, constructive bloodbaths: meaning, ones that are good for U.S. power and the corporate class, so they’re constructive, benign bloodbaths: one where U.S. power probably doesn’t really care very much one way or another, it’s sort of irrelevant, and nefarious bloodbaths: those are the ones carried out by official enemies. So we had various types of benign, constructive, and nefarious bloodbaths. And we gave quite a number of examples of these.
Well, our prediction was that he media would welcome the constructive bloodbaths, that they would ignore the benign bloodbaths, and that they would become outraged over the nefarious bloodbaths. And in fact in the case of the nefarious bloodbaths they would invent all sorts of fantasies, and so on and so forth, to make them look even worse than they were. That was the prediction. And we gave a bunch of cases, and we showed that, I think- we tried to show, and I think did show, that the predictions were correct.
Now there’s actually another prediction that comes out of that model, which we didn’t make, but it’s implicit, if you think about it. And that has to do with the way that this exposure will be responded to. What you’d predict, if you think it through, is that our discussion of the constructive bloodbaths would be ignored, because to reveal the fact that the media welcomed huge bloodbaths, as they did, would not be very conducive to the interests of power or to the media. It would also expose the fraud about the apparent anger over nefarious bloodbaths. So you’d expect the constructive bloodbaths to be ignored.
As far as the benign bloodbaths are concerned, you might expect an occasional statement, since it’s- the fact that the media ignored the benign bloodbaths doesn’t show too, you know, such terrible things, it doesn’t- at least they didn’t applaud them. And as long as you can exclude the role of the United States in being involved in them, not terrible, maybe a few odd comments.
With regard to the nefarious bloodbaths, what you’d expect is fury and venom over the fact that the media- that the fabrications over bloodbaths of the enemy were exposed as a fraud. And that’s important. And that can be used. It can be used, in fact, to defame the critics. See, if you show that people are lying about the crimes of official enemies, then you can easily distort that into a defense of those crimes. Right?
Ok, now what happened?
Well, let me take two cases which were very close. Two cases that we were- that we discussed were the slaughter in Timor from 1975 to 1979, and the slaughter in Cambodia from the- in the same years, 1975 to ’79, and we compared those two cases.
The one in Timor, we called a benign bloodbath — the United States didn’t care much one way or the other. So, hundreds of thousands of Timorese get killed, you know, it’s not very interesting. The case in Cambodia was, of course, a nefarious bloodbath. That was the bad guys doing it. And we gave a very detailed account of what evidence was available about these two- they’re in the same area of the world, the same years, the same time-frame, the evidence available was comparable, the slaughters were, apparently, comparable in scale — the one in Timor was considerably greater relative to the population, but probably roughly comparable in scale. The difference was, that in Cambodia it was carried out by the enemy, Pol Pot, whereas in Timor it was carried out by a friend, Indonesia. And furthermore, it was carried out by Indonesia with American arms, which were provided by the Carter administration, which were expanded- the arms flow was expanded by the Carter administration as the atrocities increased.
Well, how did the media deal with this. First- fact number- we went through this in detail. The media dealt with the Timor bloodbath by suppressing it. There was considerable coverage of Timor, believe it or not, in 1974 and ’75. This was all in the context of the breakup of the Portuguese empire. In- as the- as Indonesia attacked Timor, and the massacre started, with U.S. support, coverage began to drop. When the massacre hit its peak in 1978, when it was really approaching genocide, with increasing U.S. support, coverage dropped to zero. Literally zero. That’s the way they dealt with the Timor massacre.
What about the Cambodia massacre? Well, within weeks after the Khmer Rouge took power, they were already being accused of genocide by The New York Times. About a year later they were being accused of carrying out auto-genocide, and of having murdered two million people, in fact even of having boasted of having murdered two million people. That became the conventional line. There then came a huge outcry, ranging from The Reader’s Digest and T.V. Guide, over to The New York Review of books, and including just about everything in between — vast outcry of outrage over the communist monsters who were carrying out this horrifying bloodbath, and so on and so forth.
Interestingly, in all of- there was a tremendous amount of fabrication. Just, plain fabrication of evidence. For example, I’ll just give you one example, take this two million- boast of two million killed. You know where that- that’s what everybody’s heard- you ask people, how many people had Pol Pot killed, by, say, 1977, they’ll say two million. Here’s where it comes from.
In- there was a book published by a French priest, Franois Ponchaud is his name — he’s from Cambodia, he wasn’t there then, but he knew about Cambodia — he published a book in French. The book was, of course, not available in English, it was in French. It was reviewed by a French journalist, a journalist named Jean Lacouture. It was reviewed in France. That review was immediately picked up and translated in the United States; it appeared in The New York Review of Books. That’s the fastest translation of a review of a French book that’s ever appeared. In the review, Lacouture said this. He said, according to Ponchaud the Khmer Rouge boast of having murdered two million people, auto-genocide, horrifying, and so on. He gave a whole bunch of quotes from the book about the horrifying things the Khmer Rouge said, and so on and so forth. That was immediately picked up by the rest of the media, it was all over the place, newspaper articles, oh my god look what they’re doing, and so on and so forth.
Well, I was curious at the time, because that didn’t, you know, I didn’t- I hadn’t seen the evidence about that. I just wanted to know what was going on. So I- the book was unavailable, so I wrote to friends in France and asked them to send it to me. And I got the book, and I was probably the only person in the United States who had read it, although it was being quoted all over the place on the basis of this review, and I quickly discovered that the whole review was a total fraud. Whatever was going on in Cambodia that’s not what the book said. The book didn’t say anything about a boast of two million people. The quotes that were given in the review either didn’t appear in the book, or they were- or you- maybe you could sort of figure out what they were from, you know, some wording a little bit like them, though they were grossly distorted, some of them didn’t even- weren’t even quotes from the Khmer Rouge they were quotes from Thai- and so on. But- and in fact, every factual statement in the review was just totally false.
Here’s the way the two million figure came. Ponchaud, in the book, says that about eight hundred thousand people were killed in the American war, ’70 to ’75, meaning, primarily by American bombing and the war that the United States ran from ’70 to ’75, that’s eight hundred thousand people. He then said, that according to the American embassy in Bankok, one point two million had died, not been killed, since the war was over. Well, Lacouture during the review just added those two numbers together, called them the Khmer Rouge killings, and then added the boast for good effect. Well that’s- that’s where that figure comes from.
Anyhow, after I read the book, I wrote a letter to Lacouture, and I — who I know — and I told him, look I don’t know what the facts are about Cambodia, but the relation between your review and the book is zilch, and I think you ought to correct it because your review is being quoted all over the place. Well, he actually published corrections in The New York Review. You know, he said, yeah made a couple of mistakes, he said, well, maybe the number killed wasn’t two million, maybe it was just in the thousands, he said. A slight difference, you know, a factor of a thousand difference. But he said, it really doesn’t matter, you know, it’s terrible anyway, and so on. Well, after his corrections appeared, they were dismissed, and people kept repeating the two million figure that he had invented, almost half of which was attributed to the American war notice.
Well, that’s one example, but it’s just typical. If you read our chapter on this, you’ll see a level of fabrication which, you know, is mind boggling, I mean, it’s just mind boggling. Now, this has nothing to do with the fact- of course there was a massacre. In fact, as we pointed out, the massacre was probably comparable to the massacre in Cambodia, which was a huge- in Timor, which was a huge massacre. We also pointed out that of all the evidence available there was one part that was being suppressed systematically by the American press, interestingly. That part was the information given by State department intelligence.
Now, the State department Cambodia watchers, you know State department intelligence, they were the only people with any evidence about what was going on in Cambodia. And they apparently had pretty good intelligence — they claimed to be able to pick up radio transmissions and all sorts of stuff — and they were giving a totally different story. They said that what was going on- that there was, you know, big slaughter, but they said it was in the tens or hundreds of thousands, and it was not mass genocide, but it was, rather, mostly harsh conditions and, you know, brutality and so on. That was the position of the only people who knew anything. And that was systematically excluded. It was just the wrong picture. You know, it wasn’t bloody enough for the purposes.
Well, we went through all of this stuff — the suppression of the Timor massacre, the vast amount of lying about the Cambodia massacres — and we gave that as a- an example of treatment of paired massacres, the way they were both treated. Now here’s the one place the book was not ignored. What we said about constructive bloodbaths, totally ignored. What we said about Timor, almost totally ignored — to the extent that it was mentioned, the U.S. role was excluded. What we said about Cambodia, however, that elicited a huge new outrage over the fact that we were defending Pol Pot. Well, we were defending Pol Pot by saying that he was carrying out a slaughter comparable to the major slaughter that the United States was backing in Indonesia, and pointing out that, in fact, that was the picture given by American intelligence, the only people who knew anything about it, and then talking about the way this was distorted in the interests of the propaganda system.
But that didn’t matter. Here- this- see, what we were doing was challenging the right to lie in the service of the State. And that’s a very important right to maintain. So, therefore the standard view is — and you can read this all over the place now — is that we, or usually it’s me for some reason, I don’t know where they decide it’s me, but we were defending Pol Pot, and you know, sort of apologists for Pol Pot. You take a look back, and you’ll see that we started- we described it as a major massacre, we said a lot is uncertain, you know, just described the facts as they were, and compared them with the media fabrications.
And you’re not allowed to do that. You’re not allowed to expose media fabrications. And the reason why that was discussed, the one part of the book — there’s virtually nothing about Timor ever is discussed — the reason why that one part is discussed, is because that can be used by further lies to defame and undermine critics. So, therefore that’s done.
Well that’s the more subtle way in which the propaganda system works.
I should say, incidentally, that some of this stuff is really kind of amusing. Those of you who read this stuff will have seen it. William Shawcross wrote a book a little after that, in which he claimed — The Quality of Mercy it’s called, very favorably reviewed all over the press, everybody fell in love with it — in the book he claims that there was silence over the Pol Pot atrocities, and then he asks the question, how could this happen, you know, it’s called Holocaust and Modern Conscience.
Well, first of all, was there silence over the Pol Pot atrocities? No, there was a vast uproar over the Pol Pot atrocities. That started a couple of weeks after- at the time when they were being accused of genocide they had probably killed a couple of thousand people at the most. Within a year, as I said, it was being- everywhere from T.V. Guide to Reader’s Digest over to the New York Review, and then it went on like that. Huge amount of- huge chorus of protest, furthermore, tons of fabrication. But it’s flattering to- it’s useful, it’s serviceable to say there was silence. Why is it serviceable? Because if you can claim that there was silence, then you can raise the profound question of why the West was silent over this massacre, and that means that from now on, we must be even more diligent in exposing the crimes of official enemies to overcome the fact that we were silent this time.
So, immediately Shawcross is quoted all over the place, and every newspaper was saying, oh my god we were silent, how could we have been silent, and so on. Then Shawcross goes on to explain the silence. Take a look at his book, he explains the silence — first this was in The Washington Post, then in his book — he says, the reason for the silence, the primary reason for the silence is the skepticism of the left, primarily me.
See, in other words, by my skepticism I silenced all the U.S.- all the Western media and governments. That’s a lot of power. Furthermore, this- and remember what that skepticism was, it was a skepticism about documented lies. Furthermore he then- he- then he cites an alleged statement in a footnote. He doesn’t date it, or identify the source. There’s two good reasons for that. One is that the citation is fabricated. The other is that the source, to the extent that there’s a source, it’s in a book- it’s in exactly this book, which appeared- which went to press after the fall of Pol Pot, and came out almost a year after the fall of Pol Pot.
So what he’s claiming is, that in a book that appeared- that went to press after Pol Pot was overthrown, and that appeared almost a year after, in that book we succeeded, retrospectively, in silencing the entire Western media and governments for four years. Well that’s, you know, not only were we powerful enough to scare the entire West into silence, but we even could do it by magic.
Now that was quoted. That was quoted all over the place with great awe. The point is, there is no absurdity so extreme that it won’t be quoted with respect if it’s useful. And here it’s useful for several purposes: one, to protect the right to lie in the service of the State, two, to undermine and defame critics who you can’t answer, and three, to claim that we didn’t look hard enough we were silent over this atrocity.
Well, there was an atrocity that the West was silent over. It’s the one we documented. Timor. And they were silent over it because the West was doing it, and therefore you’re silent over it. That’s the real, you know, question of holocaust and the modern conscience, but nobody will discuss that one.
Well, these are all examples of more subtle ways of controlling thought, more subtle and complex. That’s the aftermath I had in mind. It’s a very interesting story. We review it in Manufacturing Consent.
Who’s next? I lost track.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: I’m Liz Chilsen, and I’m the executive director of the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua. I think that most people here probably know that Wisconsin and Nicaragua have been sister States for twenty-five years. And the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua has led in transforming what was originally a symbolic relationship, to a vital tool for peace. And we just published a book which will just mention, called Friends In Deed: The Story of U.S.-Nicaragua Sister Cities, which is about the over one hundreds U.S.-Nicaragua sister cities that have formed since the revolution.
One of- my question has to do with that movement and some of your insights on it. Because I think that recently the popular opposition to the war in Nicaragua has fallen out of the major news media. It’s been identified, I think, as a non-issue, and that kind of effect of the media has a very fragmenting effect on movements for social change.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah
QUESTIONER: And I think that sister cities is one way we can begin to institutionalize
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, I think you’re quite right. The coverage of Nicaragua altogether has dropped very significantly. And I assume that that’s, as usual, on command. The New York Times, in fact, removed its bureau chief, Stephen Kinzer. And if you look at coverage, it’s in fact dropped very fast. Well, I think that’s connected with U.S. policy.
There is a shift in policy after the Reagan period. And here you have to look back a little bit. Back- as far as back as 1980- there has been a debate over Nicaragua — like over Vietnam — the debate is, how you strangle and destroy Nicaragua. Now, the hawks say you do it by terror and violence. The doves say you do it by what are now called kinder gentler methods. You do it by economic strangulation, you know, by maintaining a low level terrorist force, by mobilizing on the border so they can’t demobilize and turn resources to reconstruction from the destruction, and so on. That’s the other way.
And by 1986, about eighty percent of those who are identified as leaders in the polls — that means elites, basically, you know, managers, executives, political figures, those guys — about eighty percent of them were opposed to the Contras. They thought that the terror option pursued by the Reagan administration was just stupid. Stupid for a number of reasons. One is, it was stirring up protest at home. You know, overt violence does have a way of stirring up protest among these unwashed masses who don’t like, you know, murdering children, and you know, raping women, and cutting peoples heads off, and so on. There’s all these un-reconstructed people, and they get annoyed by that kind of stuff. So you stir up disruption at home when you have- when you direct your terrorist army to attack defenseless targets, soft targets as they were called, as the U.S. terrorists were doing at that time. Openly, in fact. It wasn’t a secret. So that stirs up too much protest, so it’s dumb.
Also it makes the United States look bad internationally. I mean, the United States is in overt violation of the World Court decision, and you know, it doesn’t look good in our international relations, and so on. And finally, it’s kind of useless. I mean, there are much better ways to strangle and destroy a tiny country, which, for all kinds of obvious historical reasons, is totally dependent on its relations with the United States for survival. Just do it in smarter, quieter ways. That was the major, you know, that was the dominant position among elites by- already by 1986.
Now the Reagan administration is not off the spectrum of American opinion, but it’s at an extreme. It’s at an extreme position on the spectrum. It’s extreme- I mean the people around Reagan were people who were deeply committed to violence for its own sake. I mean, it’s as if you kind of like torture in itself, rather than using it as an end for some, you know, as a tool for some other purpose. Well, that’s kind of counterproductive, and rational people don’t do that — you use torture when you need it, but it’s not an end in itself. There’s no gain in itself to torture, inflicting pain, and terror, and so on. And their conclusions are a rational conclusion, was it’s just not useful, it’s bad, it’s stirring up protest, and so on an so forth. So the more rational thing to do is the policy that the Bush administration is now turning to, I think.
That policy is — here’s what it looks like to me — maintain the economic strangulation, which, incidentally is also unlawful. I mean, we talk about the — or we should talk about — the World Court having condemned the Contra attack. It also condemned the economic warfare as illegal. Illegal violation of treaties. Again, this is never reported, but that was the World Court decision. The violation of treaties- the embargo was unlawful. It’s also a criminal act. And the World Court demanded that it be terminated. But the point is, you can assume that nobody’s going to talk about that. So you continue the strangulation, keep the Contras- keep- it’s interesting that the United States, with all the huge amount of resources that were poured into maintaining a mercenary force inside Nicaragua, they were unable to do it. That’s a pretty remarkable fact. There’s no guerilla movement in history that had a fraction of the support that the Contras had. It’s just unimaginable. I mean, they were getting three supply flights a day just to keep them going. They were armed at a level- you know, they were better armed than the Sandinista army. They were better armed than units of the American army, in fact — that’s actually true. They had advanced communication equipment in the field, which allowed them to get information from U.S. surveillance flights — it’s always under surveillance, the country, by, you know, high-tech aircraft — which could give them information on the actual disposition of the Sandinista forces so that they could attack defenseless targets with impunity, and carry out terror there in accordance with the orders of the State department. That’s not secret incidentally. Now, you know, that kind of level of support- there’s just no guerilla army in history that could dream of anything like that. With all of that stuff, they couldn’t keep them in the field. The minute the level of support began to drop, they all broke for the border.
The contrast to El Salvador is fantastic if you bother to look at it. You know, El Salvador you had an indigenous guerilla force, no support from outside, as far as anybody knows. They were- their arms were mostly gotten from the Salvadoran army, or purchased internationally, so they’re using American arms, like, you know, they’re using M-16s.
Incidentally, just a side remark, for the first time now, the guerillas in El Salvador are, apparently, being aided by Nicaraguans, so Eliot Abrams can finally be happy. What’s happening is that as the Contras broke for the border, and went across, because, you know, the game was over they figured, they began to sell their arms to corrupt Honduran army officials who were selling them off to the Salvadoran guerillas. So for the first time, the Salvadoran guerillas are beginning to show up with Soviet arms — AK-47s, and so on and so forth — and the reason is, that those are the arms that the CIA supplied to the Contras. So instead of having just M-16s, like they used to have, you know, American arms they got from the Salvadoran army, they now got Soviet arms sent to them by- sent by the CIA to the Contras, now sold off to the Hondurans who are selling them off to the Salvadoran guerillas. So there is, finally, aid from Nicaragua to El Salvador like they’ve been claiming all along.
Incidentally this- here’s another — side remarks, I’m sorry — but, this information comes from a very good source. So good, in fact, that the press totally censored it. This information comes from the head of Contra intelligence, who defected in Honduras, went to Mexico, was widely interviewed in the Mexican press. His name is Horacio Arce. Like most of the Contras, he has a nom de guerre, you know, a pseudonym. His pseudonym was mercenary — Mercenario, you know, they don’t kid around when they’re- for the American press- they know who they are. He was the chief of Contra intelligence.
He was the guy who became chief of intelligence in 1985, replacing a man named Ricardo Lau, who was beginning to be an embarrassment, because it was beginning to be pretty obvious that he was involved in terrorist activities throughout Central America, including probably the murder of Archbishop Romero — he was identified by a chief of Salvadoran intelligence, who defected, as having been involved in that — this guy was getting to be an embarrassment. So he disappeared. He was probably killed. And they needed a new chief of intelligence, and this guy came in.
Well, he’s been chief of intelligence since 1985. He defected last November. That’s the most important defector yet. Far more important than, you know, the defectors who get huge publicity when they come from Nicaragua with all kind of fabricated stories. This guy was ignored. He had totally the wrong stories, you know, he was telling about how they were advised, you know, they were directed- he told, for example, about how he was trained illegally in Elgin air force base, somewhere in Florida or someplace like that, where he was flown in, illegally of course, trained in the United States by green berets, and the 82nd airborne, and so on and so forth. He talked about- he identified people in the American embassy by name in Honduras, who were posing as aid officials, but were actually working with the CIA, and were, you know, giving tactical advice and support to the Contras. He mentioned their names. He described the way the Honduran army- the Honduran military is directly involved in Contra military activities in Nicaragua, both by intelligence, and participation, and so on. He went through all- he described how they were- how their task was to attack defenseless targets for the purpose of ensuring that Nicaragua cannot carry out social reform. He describes this. And all sorts of stuff which is just useless, and he also describes what I just said, how the Contras, now that they’ve broken for the borders, are selling their arms to the Salvadoran guerillas.
Well, you know, all of this stuff is news, and in fact, important news, in fact so — and from a very good source — so important that, as far as I know, there isn’t a word about it in the American press. You might look, and check and see. Well, that was kind of a digression.
So the Salvadoran — coming back — the Salvadoran guerillas had no support from outside as far as anybody knows. They’re indigenous to the country. They’re facing a military force which, on paper at least, is the most powerful in the region — much more powerful on paper than the army of Nicaragua — and they’re somehow ineradicable. In contrast, the Contras, who involve all sorts of mercenaries including Nicaraguans, Hondurans who are bribed, Honduran peasants who are bribed with big bribes by their standards, like five hundred dollars — that’s a couple of years income — to join, all sorts of things, huge amount of support, tremendously high level of military equipment, and so on — they just can’t keep them in the country. I mean, I think you could keep a guerilla force in the United States with that kind of support, and I’m not kidding. I think you could probably maintain a guerilla force in the mountains of Kentucky with the kind of force that was- with the support that was given to the Contras. They couldn’t keep them there.
There’s a lesson in all of this. There’s an obvious lesson in this comparison. So obvious that nobody in the press is ever going to draw it, because it’s the wrong lesson. You can figure it out, so I won’t draw it.
Well, alright, so what is the- back to the Bush administration plans. I assume that they can maintain a low-level terrorist force inside Nicaragua. It’s inconceivable that they can’t do that. So probably they’ll keep, you know, that’s why I think- that’s one of the reasons, I think, that those reports about the illegal Contra flights from El Salvador are probably accurate, apart from the fact that the sources were accurate in the past. Presumably the Bush administration will keep some low level of support for mercenaries and terrorists inside Nicaragua. They assume that the level will be so low, that the cooperative press will be silent about it, as they’ve been so far. That’s important, because that means Nicaragua can’t demobilize. And it’s important to keep them mobilized. For one thing, because when you mobilize, the society is repressive — just like the United States during World War II, which was virtually totalitarian. And if they’re repressive, you can use that for propaganda. So you can get, you know, the Nieman fellows to cry about repression, and so on, in the manner that I described. So you want to do that, you want to make them repressive, you want to keep them mobilized, you want to make sure that they can’t divert their extremely limited resources to reconstruction from this fantastic damage.
Second thing the United States will try to do — if Congress and the press goes along what they will do — is maintain a Contra force on the Honduran border. That’s what all this humanitarian aid nonsense is about. You want to maintain the force on the border, in violation of everything, as I’ve pointed out, and the reason, again, is you maintain a threat. As long as you maintain a military threat, you can ensure that the government won’t demobilize. Ok? And that’s important, because we want them to suffer. But of course, that’s less- at a lower level than terror. You know, the idea is precisely, here I get back to your point- also you continue the economic warfare, and the pressure on international lending institutions, you intimidate the allies so they won’t give them aid, and so on.
All of this was abetted, incidentally, by the hurricane. The hurricane was a devastating blow. Close to a billion dollars in damage. The United States, of course, doesn’t give them a penny. In fact they love it, you know, they’re gloating over it. The allies, the U.S. allies are giving them a pittance — like Canada, and Western Europe, are giving them virtually nothing. Partly because they’re intimidated by Big Brother, and partly because they’re a lot more colonized than they like to believe. You know, they like to believe that they’re all independent, and free thinkers, and so on. Mostly the European intellectuals believe every bit of nonsense they read from the American press. The amount of cultural colonization is very high, though they don’t- they’re not aware of it. So, you know, they’re all upset about Sandinista repression, although the repression in El Salvador and Guatemala, which is a thousand times worse, that doesn’t bother them at all. So they keep giving them aid. So there’s that.
And, you know, this combination of operations, it is assumed, will prevent Nicaragua from recovering. And after all, that’s the point. The point is to prevent what Tomas Borge- Tomas Borge had it right on the nose — you’ve got to prevent them from constructing a society that works, because if they do, others are going to emulate it. And pretty soon, U.S. domination of the region is going to erode. And besides, that kind of rot can spread to other places, where people have similar problems, and decide to use their resources for their own ends, and so on you get in real trouble. So you’ve got to prevent it from working. And the United States certainly has the means to do that short of the Reaganite absurdity of just inflicting pain and terror for its own sake.
Well, that’s the kinder, gentler methods.
And one part of that is that you’ve got to cut back the coverage, you know, part of that is the role of the media. Stop reporting it, so people forget about it, and don’t notice it, and so on. And the idea is, the effect will be you’ll quiet the domestic dissent. You’ll return the public to apathy and obedience by stop- by not reporting this stuff anymore. So I think you’re point is precisely accurate. The role of the media in this system is precisely, to keep quiet about what’s going on. And I expect we will find less coverage.
I mean, you know, you’ll find coverage when you can, you know, you can find something you’ll call Sandinista oppression. Or when- if there’s mass starvation, as there may well be because of the hurricane, that’ll be covered, and it’ll be attributed to Sandinista incompetence, you know, or mismanagement, or something. So that kind of thing will be covered.
Or here’s another thing that’ll be covered. The next big move — it’s already been announced — is for the Contras to demand that- they’ve asked for ten million dollars to establish an independent television station in Nicaragua. Well, if Nicaragua allows, what’s called, an independent television station, that means it’s telling the United States, you take over our television. There is no way in the world in which a small country can compete with the United States in television. I mean, that’s just out of the question, you know. I mean, if Nicaragua continues to do what most countries do, and have State television, then of course, they can be denounced as totalitarian. Notice, we don’t denounce Israel as being totalitarian because it has only State television, but that’s the usual dichotomy.
So the idea is, now we demand that Nicaragua have a television station run by the United States, with beginning capital of ten million dollars, which by, I mean, Nicaraguan standards there’s- I- you don’t even know how to discuss it. It’s out of- you know, it’s off the wall. I mean, the United States already dominates the media in much of the country. Much of the media, the only thing you hear is U.S. radio from powerful radio transmitters in Honduras and Costa Rica, and even television. If they can- if the United States can put a television station right in Managua, with all the resources the United States can pour into it- I mean, they just- you know, that’s the propaganda agency for all of Nicaragua. So, that’s the next thing, and the media will be all excited about this. And that’ll be the test of freedom, you know, they’re only free if they allow the total communications system to be run by the United States, otherwise they’re totalitarians. That’ll be the next line that comes along. And there will be that kind of coverage, but no coverage about what’s going on. That’s got to decline, precisely so that the American movement will decline, and people will go back to the passivity and obedience that becomes them, as I said. So I think your point is quite accurate. And the question, as usual, is whether the American population is going to allow them to get away with it. You know, that’s the device, we don’t have to let it work.
QUESTIONER: Bravo, professor Chomsky, you are very brave. This is about the U.N.. I don’t get information from The New York Times, and ABC, NBC, all the news, when I want information, I go to the specialized agencies of the U.N.. And there you can find- nowhere did they know that the population of the world was five billion, the U.N. got that information, information on the radioactivity of the air, and so forth, we have a vast amount of information. They also had information about Cesium in milk products which were going to highly populated areas, Boston and New York, for two years. The U.N. had this information. Citizens groups badgered the media to bring this information. It was never there. At the U.N. we were able to get that information.
So what we did is we wrote a proposal which was presented to the General Assembly, because we felt that we as parents have a right to vital information about the food and the water and the air, and the U.N. has that information and it just sits there. So, we wrote this proposal calling for a two-way global information service. We presented it to the General Assembly, very well in ’87 at the international conference on the relationship between disarmament and development, it was a very important conference. It received very good support. A year later, we tried to present the proposal again. This time we had gained the support of the Swedish government, the Australian government, and Costa Rica. There was violent, violent opposition to the proposal, to the point where two ambassadors were told that they would be terminated if they in any way supported any proposal asking for a global information service.
Now in September the U.N. is meeting again, and we’re going to try to push the proposal. We were shocked by the opposition that this proposal got, because after all it’s a very modest proposal. We’re just asking for vital information, and we tried to get- anyway, terrible the opposition. So we’re going to present the proposal again in September. Do you have any ideas on strategy?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Was that a question or a statement? Well, it wasn’t a question, so I don’t really have to answer it, but let me just say in response to the non-question, that I- actually I have a book coming out- I like these phrases like manufacture of consent and necessary illusions, and so on. They’re too good to let drop. So, I have another book coming out called Necessary Illusions, thanks to Reinhold Niebuhr, and in it, one of the things — it’s more of this kind of stuff — one of the things I discuss is the coverage of the U.N., and it’s extremely interesting.
It’s not that the U.N. is never covered. Whenever the U.N. passes a resolution denouncing the Russians for the invasion of Afghanistan, big story, you know. If the U.N. condemns the United States for violation of international law, there’s no story. The coverage is extremely interesting, when you look closely. I actually- if- for those of you who were there this afternoon I mentioned one example, the terrorism thing, which is very important. But let me take one case which is illustrative of the kind of thing you’re talking about.
That same U.N. session, in 1987, there was a big series of disarmament resolutions. And they were very interesting, because they came out right at the time that Ronald Reagan was being hailed in the front pages as a peacemaker. That was the summit in Washington, December 1987, the summit in Washington, Reagan the peacemaker, you know, very excited, and so on. Well, right at that time the U.N. passed a series of disarmament resolutions. Here’s what they were. There was a resolution opposing militarization of outer space, Star Wars, 154 to 1, no abstentions. You never get a vote like that in the U.N.. You can guess who the 1 was. A vote against- a vote in favor of a- of- opposed to the development of new weapons of mass destruction, a hundred- I think it was 135 to 2. The United States picked up France on that one. A vote for a comprehensive test ban, which is, incidentally, supported by something like 75% of the American population, the vote on that was like, I don’t know, 140 to 3, something like that; France and England picked up on that one. That’s the way the resolutions were.
Well, they were not reported, because that just wouldn’t fit with the idea of the United- of Ronald Reagan the peacemaker. On the other hand, other things were reported, like, for example, the resolution condemning the Russians in Afghanistan. Big story on that. And there was a lot of coverage of the U.N., but this is the way it was. Now, this has been going on over the years, for many years.
You go back to the 1940s and the early 1950s, and the U.N. was everybody’s darling. Tremendous coverage of the U.N., it was marvelous, it was magnificent. And the reason was that, or let’s say the correlation is, I assume the reason, that at that point the United States had an automatic majority at the U.N.. Anything the United States proposed, the U.N. voted. That just had to do with the relations of power at the time. The Russians were obnoxious. They kept vetoing things. And there were all- you take a look back at the discussion at that time, the leading American scholars, you know, anthropologists and so on, had all kind of deep theories about why the Russians are vetoing everything at the U.N.. The- I was a graduate student at the time, and, you know, we used to make fun of- the three or four of us who sort of thought this was idiotic, made fun of this. One of the main proposals, which came from people like Margaret Meade, and others, was that the reason that Russians were so negative and obnoxious at the U.N. was because they raised their children in swaddling clothes, and that makes them negative. And then when they get up at the U.N., they just say no all the time. Diaperology is what we called it. Anyhow that was the big, you know, profound theory.
Well, over the years, the thing has changed, you know, by now the United States is isolated at the U.N.. The United States vetoes everything. We veto way more resolutions than anybody else. These- the votes I just reported are not untypical, you know. So what happened? Well, it turns out that the U.N. has lost its moral authority. You find articles, like The New York Times Magazine had a big story, about why the world is out of step. Literally. You know, how come the whole world is against the United States? What’s wrong with them? I mean, it’s not that we raise our babies wrong, you know, it’s that they, the rest of the world, is doing something wrong. And then comes the profound analysis of why the world is out of step, and you know, what’s the matter with the world culture, and so on and so forth. And the U.N. has lost its moral authority, the United States doesn’t pay its dues anymore, you don’t report it, and now they- the U.N. is, you know, is obnoxious, because they’re not following orders.
Well, you know, that’s a dramatic example of how the media fall in line. And what you’re talking about is another case of it. And, again, as you, just the way you’re doing- the reason you’re getting such outraged reaction is that, implicitly at least, you’re exposing all of this. And that’s no good. So therefore, the outraged reaction, which is just all the more reason to keep doing it.