Free Speech Radio News producer Catherine Komp interviews Noam Chomsky.
Noam Chomsky is amongst the world’s most cited living scholars. Voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in 2005, he is perhaps best known as a critic of all forms of social control and a relentless advocate for community-centered approaches to democracy and freedom. Over the last several decades, Chomsky has championed a wide range of dissident actions, organizations and social movements. In this excerpt from the just-released expanded edition of the Zuccotti Park Press book, Occupy: Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity, Chomsky speaks with Free Speech Radio News about media control, fear, indoctrination and the importance of solidarity.
Catherine Komp: It’s been twenty- five years since the publication of your and Edward Herman’s acclaimed book Manufacturing Consent. How much do you think has changed with the propaganda model, and where do you see it playing out most prominently today?
Noam Chomsky: Well, ten years ago we had a re-edition and we talked about some of the changes. One change is that we were too narrow. There are a number of filters that determine the framework of reporting, and one of the filters was too narrow. Instead of “anti-communism,” which was too narrow, it should have been “fear of the concocted enemy.” So yes, it could be anti-communism—most of that is concocted. So take Cuba again. It’s hard to believe, but for the Pentagon, Cuba was listed as one of the military threats to the United States until a couple of years ago. This is so ludicrous; you don’t even know whether to laugh or cry. It’s as if the Soviet Union had listed Luxembourg as a threat to its security. But here it kind of passes.
The United States is a very frightened country. And there are all kinds of things concocted for you to be frightened about. So that should have been the filter, and [there were] a few other things, but I think it’s basically the same.
There is change. Free Speech Radio didn’t exist when we wrote the book, and there are somethings on the Internet which break the bonds, as do independent work and things like the book I was just talking about when we came in, Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars, which is a fantastic piece of investigative reporting on the ground of what actually happens in the countries where we’re carrying out these terror campaigns. And there’s a lot of talk about drones, but not much about the fact that they are terror weapons.
If we were sitting here wondering if, all of a sudden, there’s going to be a bomb in this room, because they maybe want to kill him or kill us or whatever, it’s terrorizing. In fact, we just saw a dramatic example of this which got a couple lines in the paper. A few days after the Boston Marathon bombing, there was a drone attack on a village in Yemen, kind of an isolated village. Obama and his friends decided to murder some guy. So the villagers are sitting there, and suddenly this guy gets blown away and whoever else is around him. I don’t think it was reported except for the fact that there was Senate testimony a week later by a person from the village who’s quite respected by Jeremy and others who know him. The man, Farea al-Muslimi, who studied at a high school in the U.S., testified to the Senate and he described what happened to his village. He said that every- body knew the man that they murdered, and that they could have easily apprehended him, but it waseasier to kill him and terrify the village. He also said something else which is important. He said that his friends and neighbors used to know of the United States primarily through his stories of “the wonderful experiences” he had here.* He said the U.S. bombing has turned them into people who hate America and want revenge—that’s all it takes. And, in fact, this whole terror system is creating enemies and threats faster than it’s killing suspects, apart from how awful that is. These things are going on, and going back to Jeremy, his book exposes a lot of it and also the exploits of the secret executive army, JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command. It’s dangerous, but it’s the kind of thing an investigative reporter could do, and he’s done it. There’s more of it now, fortunately, in some respects, than there was then.
So, some progress.
Yes. On the other hand, the indoctrination system has gotten incredibly powerful. The examples that I mentioned, like the right-to-work laws—it is pretty shocking that that can succeed. So, I’d say it’s about the same inequality entered the national dialogue with the Occupy movement, but the wealth gap for black and Latino families rarely generates debate or headlines. What role should the media—particularly independent media—play in ensuring critical public interest issues like these are at the forefront?
Independent media ought to be telling the truth about things that matter. That’s quite different from the task of the commercial media. They have a task. They’re supposed to be objective, and objectivity has a meaning in the world of journalism. In fact, it’s taught in journalism schools. Objectivity means reporting honestly and accurately what’s going on within the Beltway, inside the government. So that sets the bounds. There are Democrats and there are Republicans. Report honestly what they’re saying—balance and so on—and then you’re objective. If you go beyond that and you ask a question about the bounds, then you’re biased, subjective, emotional, maybe anti-American, whatever the usual curse words are. So that’s a task and, you know, you can understand it from the point of view of established power. It’s a distorting prism with enormous impact. Even just the framework of what’s looked at.
Take, for example, current domestic issues. We have “the sequester,” which is harming the economy, and that’s, in fact, conceded. But what’s it about? Well, it’s about the deficit. Who cares about the deficit? Banks, rich people and so on. What does the population care about? Jobs. In fact, this has even been studied. There are a couple of professional studies that tested this question. It turns out that concern about the deficit increases with wealth, and the reason is rich people are concerned that maybe someday in the future there might be a little bit of inflation, which is not good for lenders. It’s fine for borrowers. So, therefore, we have to worry about the deficit, even if it destroys jobs.
The population has quite different views. They say, no, we want jobs. And they’re right. Jobs mean stimulating demand, and government’s got to do that. Corporations have money coming out of their ears, but they’re not investing it because there’s no demand. Consumers can’t fill the gap because they’re suffering from the impact of the crimes that the banks carried out. Of course, the corporations are richer than ever. That’s the way it works, but it’s not what’s discussed within the Beltway. So you get some little comment on it around the fringes, but the focus has to be on the terrible problem of the deficit, which will maybe be a problem someday in the future, but not very serious.
In fact, professional political science has done a pretty good job on a specific topic relative to this. This is a very heavily polled country, so you get to know a lot about public attitudes, and there are quite good studies on the relation between public attitudes and public policy and differentiating attitudes. And it turns out that maybe 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the wealth income level, are disenfranchised. That is, their opinions have no influence on policy. Senators don’t pay any attention to them.
As you move up in income level you get more influence. When you get to the very top, and here the Occupy movement was a little misleading— it’s not one percent, it’s a tenth of a percent. When you get to the top tenth of a percent, where there’s a huge concentration of wealth, you can’t even talk about influence. They get what they want. That’s why the banks who created the crisis, often with criminal action, are not only scot-free, but richer, more powerful and bigger than ever. Reading the business press, you can see there’s a criminal action here and there, and maybe a slap on the wrist or something there.
Because of that, what’s within the Beltway reflects wealth and power. Elections are basically bought. We know the story. So “objectivity” in the commercial media means looking at the world from the point of view of the extremely rich and powerful in the corporate sector. Now, it’s not 100 percent from their view. There are a lot of very honest reporters who do all kinds of things. I read the national press and learn from them and so on, but it’s very much skewed in that direction. It’s kind of like the filters in Manufacturing Consent. And going back to your point, what the independent press ought to be doing is what the national press ought to be doing, looking at the world from the point of view of its population. This holds on issue after issue—you can almost pick it at random.