CHOMSKY on Corporate Journalism
Telephone interview by Bernie Dwyer for www.cubadebate.cu
Professor Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
28th August 2003
The agreed theme of the interview was ĎCorporate Journalismí but,
like all good interviews, the topic spread to take in many other themes -
always with the rigorous political analysis that we are used to from
[Bernie Dwyer] A couple of
new popular books have recently been published such as Weapons of Mass
Deception and Stupid White Men. Do you see them as a
viable alternative to the corporate media?
[Noam Chomsky] No, they are
not trying to be an alternative to the corporate media. They are just books
among the many books written about the way the corporate media function and
there is by now, in the United States, more than any other western country that
I know, a rather significant popular movement concerned with the corporate
media, which is virtually all the media within the United States, and the way
they function as a kind of propaganda system.
There is also a lot of popular protest against efforts to increase the
concentration of the media in fewer and fewer hands so as to prevent even the
limited diversity that exists. The books that you mention are just two of the
many. The books themselves, the critical literature Ė Iíve written on
it too- arenít an alternative to the corporate media but rather a part of an
on-going effort to construct alternatives or to compel them to function in a
more honest fashion.
The recent war on
and the current
occupation was fully supported by the mainstream press in the
to the extent that the media became the political wing of the Bush
administration. Isnít that pushing the power of the press beyond all limits?
[Noam Chomsky] Itís hard to answer that. An independent press, of
course, would not function in that fashion. You are quite right. The press
became essentially an instrument of state policy, but there is nothing new about
that. That happens during just about every military conflict and in fact during
any general confrontation. The press tends overwhelmingly to function within the
framework of state-corporate policy and those are very closely linked.
During the Vietnam War, which went on for years remember, the press was almost
entirely supportive of the war. Toward the end, when it started getting costly
to the United States and the business world then you started getting timid
criticisms about how it was going to cost us too much and so on and youíll
find that criticism now too: itís costing us too much. This goes back as far
as you would like. The First World War was the same. And itís pretty much true
in other countries too.
The mass media, the business world, and the intellectual community in general,
tend to line up in support of concentrated power - which in the
is state and corporate power. And the same is true on the issues of
. For example almost nobody knows the history of US
since 1959. Terrorism is a big word. Everybody talks about it. You wouldnít
find a person in a thousand or maybe a hundred thousand who is aware of the fact
that the Kennedy administration intensified the on-going terrorist operations
(against Cuba) and pressed them to such a point that they almost led to a
terminal nuclear war and then they went on for years after that. In fact they
are still going on. Almost no one knows that. Itís not covered.
[Bernie Dwyer] The
media has branded several nations as terrorist nation or as harbouring
terrorists or as being perpetrators of terrorist attacks.
has been pigeonholed as falling into one if not all of these categories when we
has suffered more terrorist attacks against it than any other country. How
serious do you take these accusations against Cuba? Is the drum beat getting louder?
[Noam Chomsky] Louder than when? Not louder than when Kennedy invaded Cuba
and then launched Operation Mongoose leading right to the missile crisis which
practically destroyed the world. But, yes, itís picking up. The fact that the
label other countries as terrorist states itself is quite remarkable because it
not a secret that the
incontrovertibly a terrorist state.
is the only country in the world that has been condemned by the
for international terrorism. The words they used were: ďunlawful use of
forceĒ in their war against Nicaragua. Thatís international terrorism. There were two Security Council resolutions
supporting that judgement. The
of course vetoed them. And that was no small terrorist war. It practically
destroyed the country. US terrorism against Cuba has been going on since 1959
and the fact that the US can label Cuba a terrorist state when it has been
carrying out a major terrorist campaign against Cuba since 1959, picking up
heavily in theí60s and peaking in the Ď70s in fact, thatís pretty
But I think if you do a careful study of the American media and intellectual
journals and intellectual opinions and so on, you will find nothing about this
and not a word suggesting that there is anything strange about it. And if you
look at the scholarly literature on terrorism by people like Walter Laqueur and
other respected scholars, and take a look at the index, you find Cuba mentioned
often and if you look at the page references, what is mentioned is suspicions
that Cuba may have been involved in some terrorist actions, but what you will
not find is a reference to the very well documented US terrorist operations
And that is not controversial. We have reams of declassified government
documents on it. There is extensive scholarship on it, but it cannot enter into
public discourse. Itís a pretty remarkable achievement, not just of the media
but of the intellectual community altogether. Itís not very different in
Europe. If you did an
you would probably find pretty much the same.
[Bernie Dwyer] The
and the people of the
have nothing to fear from
is not a threat. So why is the government doing such a closed job on
[Noam Chomsky] The
United States, to its credit, is a very free country, maybe the freest country in the world
in many respects. One result of that is that we have extremely rich internal
documentation. We have a rich record of high level planning documents which tell
us the answer to your question. And thatís an achievement of American
democracy. However, almost nobody knows about it and that is a failure of
So the information is there. Itís in the scholarly literature. Itís in the
declassified record and it answers your question very clearly. So when the
Kennedy administration took over, for example, it immediately organised a Latin
was going to be a
centre piece of the Kennedy administration policy. It was headed by a well-known
American historian, Arthur Schlesinger, who was adviser to the president.
Schlesingerís report of the Latin American mission has been declassified for
the last number of years and the mission explains to Kennedy the importance of
overthrowing the government of Cuba.
The reason is that they are concerned about, virtually quoting, the spread of
the Castro idea of taking matters into oneís own hands which will have a lot
of appeal to suffering and impoverished people around the hemisphere who are
facing very similar problems. We donít want that idea to spread. If you go on
in the declassified records, you find descriptions by the CIA and the
intelligence agencies of how the problem with
is what they call its successful defiance of
policies going back a hundred and fifty years. Thatís a reference to the
Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine, which the
was not powerful enough to implement at the time, stated that the
would become the dominant force in this hemisphere and
is not submitting to that. That is successful defiance of a policy that goes
back a hundred and fifty years and that canít be tolerated. They make it very
clear. They are not worried about Cuban aggression or even subversion or
anything. They are worried about Cubaís successful defiance and thatís not just Cuban. Thatís common.
overthrew the government of
in 1954 - again we have that rich record of declassified documents - what they
explain is that the threat of Guatemala
first democratic government had enormous popular support. It was mobilising the
peasantry, instituting social reforms and this was likely to appeal to
surrounding countries that might want to do the same thing. And that couldnít
be tolerated or else the whole framework of US
domination of the hemisphere would collapse.
And it was the same in
South East Asia
and the rest of the
world. The threat of independent nationalism has always been a primary threat.
And actually if you go back far enough, remember the American colonies when they
liberated themselves from England, they were regarded by European statesmen as a tremendous threat. The Czar,
Metternich and others were extremely upset by this threat of republicanism which
might appeal to others and undermine the conservative world order and its moral
foundations. Itís the kind of thing that you canít really accept. Itís
basically the threat of independence, of taking matters into your own hands,
that canít be accepted. And anyone who wants to know about this can find it
As I say, itís a very free country. We have a rich documentary record of high
level planning going way back and itís constantly the same thing. I mean why
support Mussolini and Hitler as they did? Well, because they were afraid of what
they called the masses in
. If the masses, inspired by the
Soviet Union, might try to take
matters into their own hands and threaten the rights of property and power, and
the only people who can stop them are Hitler and Mussolini, then thatís why
they supported them almost to the day that the war began. These are old policies
and theyíre understandable. Theyíre understandable if you want the world to
be subordinated primarily to domestic power interests.
[Bernie Dwyer] Because of 43 years of non-stop aggression Cuba has
obviously had to take matters into their its own hands even though they did
appeal to the United States to stop some of this terrorism emanating from the
right-wing anti-Cuba groups in Miami. Are you familiar with the case of the five
Cuban political prisoners in the
who were incarcerated for fighting against terrorism?
[Noam Chomsky] Thatís an amazing case!
approached the United States
with an offer to cooperate in combating terrorism and, in fact, the FBI sent
people to Cuba
to get information from the Cubans about it. The next thing was that Cubans who
had infiltrated the terrorist groups in the
were arrested. That is utterly shocking! Do you think itís reported? Nobody
knows about it. I mean, here are Cubans who are infiltrating illegal, terrorist
organisations in the United States, which are violating US law and the infiltrators
are arrested, not the terrorists. Itís astonishing. The
has refused intelligence cooperation with
on terrorism because it would lead directly back to terrorist groups based in
Actually, since the 1970s, the
has at least officially opposed this US-based terrorism.
But it still tolerates it - it doesnít close down the terrorist bases or the
terrorist funding - but theoretically it opposes it and in fact has even
occasionally prosecuted people. Up until then (the 1970s) the
wasnít relying on Cuban exiles. It was itself organising the terrorism.
Thatís right into the 1970s officially. What is going on now, we donít know.
We know the official record up until 20 or 30 years ago.
[Bernie Dwyer] How are you following the case of the five Cubans
considering the media silence surrounding the case?
[Noam Chomsky] There are, fortunately, independent sources although I
canít think of an article in the
. The British press has covered it. There are several independent alternative
journals in the United States that have covered it. There was quite a good
article on it by William Blum in Counterpunch. Thereís a good quarterly
journal called Socialism and Democracy which published the testimonies of
the Cuban prisoners. You can find material on some of the Internet sites like Z-net.
So, it is possible for people to find out about it, but itís a research
project. An ordinary person cannot be expected to do that. Itís a major
[Bernie Dwyer] The US obsession with overthrowing the Cuban Revolution
reached new heights when James Cason became chief at the US Interests Section
here in Havana. He deliberately set out to subvert the Cuban social project from
the inside by recruiting, for money and favours, Cubans who would act as agents
for the US. When the Cuban government reacted by arresting, putting on trial and
imprisoning those mercenaries, there was a lot of criticism from many of Cubaís friends.
[Noam Chomsky] Yes, I have criticized them for that. I think it was a
mistake. In the case of the petition I signed we insisted that it emphasised US
terrorist actions and any illegal economic warfare going on against
since 1959. It went on to say that in case of the people that were imprisoned,
no public information had been available - and it still isnít - to justify the
charge that they are US government agents, not critical dissidents. I mean the
fact that they met with Cason, I may be wrong, but it doesnít prove it. I
think it was the wrong thing to do and not very wise. It was just a gift
to the harshest elements in the
[Bernie Dwyer] You would still uphold your admiration of the Cuban system
as you did before?
[Noam Chomsky] As far as I am concerned, I do not pass judgement on what
Cubans decide to do. I am in favour of
ís successful defiance of the
. I am in favour of them taking matters into their own hands. Exactly how they
carry it outÖ I have my own opinions. A lot of things I think are fine, a lot
not, but itís a matter for the Cubans to decide. My concern is that the
hemispheric superpower not resort to violence, pressure, force, threat, and
embargo in order to prevent Cubans from deciding how to determine their
[Bernie Dwyer] There seems to be a move forward in
Chavez of Venezuela,
and Kirchner in
. Are you feeling optimistic for the future of
[Noam Chomsky] There certainly are opportunities. What happened in
is quite dramatic. Itís a real lesson for the industrial democracies.
taught a lesson to the industrial democracies that they ought to learn. There
was an achievement of democracy in
which has not been equalled in any of the rich industrial democracies. Popular
forces based in the working class, in the peasantry, human rights organisations
and others actually succeeded in electing their own president - a quite
marvellous person, I think - over tremendous odds.
That doesnít happen in the western countries. It canít happen in the
for example. But how far that can go is a difficult question. Forty years ago
had a moderately president - nothing like Lula, but at least moderately populist
- the Kennedy administration just organised a military coup which overthrew
him. It was one of the actions that set off a major plague of repression
throughout the hemisphere. They are not doing it this time even though Lula is a
far more significant figure than Goulart was and has much more popular support.
They are not doing it for a number of reasons. One of them is that the
international economic arrangement that has been imposed in the last 20 or 30
years in neo-liberal structures creates a stranglehold which prevents democracy
from functioning. The main purpose, I believe, of the main neo-liberal measures
is to reduce the options for democratic choice.
Now whether Brazil
and others in the region will be able to combat this is a serious question and
it certainly will require a very high degree of North/South solidarity for them
to break out of this network of controls that has been designed to prevent
people from making democratic choices without military coups.
Traducion en espan~ol del este entrevista:
Chomsky: "Lo que pasů con los Cinco cubanos presos en EE.UU. es repugnante"
Chomsky: The United States Might Learn A Little from Cuba
(Excerpts of an interview with Noam Chomsky by M.E. Luna Escudero Alie
and Ghassem Alie of the International Literary News Agency LIBRUSA, August
Alarcon: Chomsky, el mericano imprudente (SPANISH)
Introduction to a book of Chomsky's essays published in Cuba in 2002
by the President of Cuba's National Assembly of Peoples Power.
Cubadebate posting of this interview