Greenwald on Chomsky and Staying In the Mainstream Without Compromise

I’m nowadays content to leave the Snowwald cult to their increasingly bizarre yet indefatigably dull devices except when something unusual or particularly illustrative comes up. Such a thing did come up on a recent episode of Blogging Heads where Robert Wright and Greenwald discussed media constraints and Noam Chomsky. That’s, of course, right up the alley of this blog, so I’ve transcribed the most important bits below. Some of my own remarks follow.

RW: There are certain things you’re not supposed to say if you want to remain a member [of the Establishment] in good standing. You run the risk of surrendering influence if you say certain things…what’s interesting to me about you is you really push some of the boundaries and yet you haven’t been thoroughly expelled yet from the establishment. I mean an example is the question you’ve raised with respect to the word terrorist and other people have said one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and your point is, that’s actually true…when you say things like that, you’re really starting to mess with the code, y’know, the Establishment. First of all do you consider yourself a member in good standing of the Establishment? You remain influential. You’re asked to go on respectable media. I heard you were going to be on NPR this morning and the Brian Lehrer show in New York and so on. What is your view of what space you occupy?

GG: It’s interesting, because, before someone named Edward Snowden entered my life, I was working on a book about Noam Chomsky and the way in which he had been systematically excluded from mainstream American political discourse and using that as an illustration, a window into understanding how the American media and the institutions that own and control it do really rigidly control the range of debate that can be heard even though we like to tell ourselves we have a free press. You can turn on MSNBC or Fox News and hear two people arguing and hear one Democrat and one Republican and say oh my god there’s arguments everywhere we must have a free press when in reality a huge number of viewpoints that are held by large numbers of people around the world are never heard on those shows.

I remember I had this long discussion with [Chomsky] at his office at MIT in which I basically said I kind of think a legitimate criticism of your career is that you’ve allowed yourself to be marginalized in this way that wasn’t necessary by just refusing to do just very minor compromises that wouldn’t be compromises of your intellectual integrity or the things that you believe but like learn how to talk in soundbites, put on a suit, um, you know, be a little friendly with like tv producers, or people who can put you on tv, like isnt it self-indulgent to take the view that I’m just gonna lose my access to mainstream audiences. And he said he didn’t think that was a valid criticism because he thought, essentially what you suggested, which is that automatically as soon as you have certain views you’re instantly expelled from those forum because they’re designed to make sure that those views aren’t heard.

So I’ve always tried very hard strategically…to find that balance between how do you make certain that you don’t get marginalized — I mean you’re going to be marginalized to some extent and I have been, I mean there are certain shows that would never have me on…but by and large I’ve been able to keep at least one foot in that mainstream establishment realm — but at the same time not compromise the things that you really think and be able to go around saying you think the things that the United States government does routinely is classic terrorism or that we are the ones that are sort of causing a lot of the anti-American violence launched against us for rational reasons you know, if someone were constantly bombing us, attacking us, we would want to do violence back to them without losing that access and I think it’s really important to try to maintain that balance…but it is true that these structures do exist so that there are certain views that if you express enough and if you’re not really strategic about it, you’re just not going to be heard. And there’s so many examples of views that are held by hundreds of millions of people around the world that if you go on American television and say you will not be invited back. So it’s really hard to think about how to navigate that balance but I think it’s so important.

Can anyone who has any interest in the topic under discussion not be curious about what the things are that even Greenwald regards as unsayable, and what “really strategic” means in this context? What the tradeoffs and benefits are in relation to the objective, and what that objective is?  But as is now customary in these situations, Greenwald’s interlocutor did not burden him with any question not conducive to Fearless and Adversarial™ self-mythology.

I might write more on this but a couple things hit me right off the bat as being worthy of comment. One, Greenwald has very much more than one foot in the mainstream. He’s got a Pulitzer, a Polk, a book translated into more than 20 languages, a movie deal and a job under  the 26th richest person in the world, a man with visiting rights to the White House and a partnership with USAID in soft imperialism. So cut the one foot bullshit. The guy is beyond mainstream. He’s deep inside private power at its most powerful. This means, indisputably, that he is either mostly pleasing to the people and institutions that control the media — which would explain all the cash, prizes, interviews and hagiographies — or the left media critique he and Wright are vulgarizing needs to be chucked altogether.

In a similar vein, it is entirely ridiculous to speak of Chomsky as marginalized simply because he is not a regular feature on cable news chat shows.  Chomsky is the official radical, a position he attained not through moving up the ranks of social movements, but by the patronage of the bourgeoisie, which began with defense-funded research at MIT and progressed to his anointing as one of our most, possibly the most, important living intellectual(s). We on the left look to him largely because of the prestige and visibility the bourgeoisie has imparted to him. It was an article that Chomsky wrote in 1967 for the The New York Review of Books about the complicity of intellectuals in the Vietnam War that established the MIT linguistics professor as a left-wing political commentator.  The meaning of all this Establishment patronage has eluded Chomsky and his followers, because the critical flaw of his media analysis is his baseless, preemptive exemption of the professional left and himself from the constraints he and Ed Herman so usefully described.

That said, Greenwald and Chomsky do occupy vastly differing locations in relation to the mainstream — especially post-Snowden — and these positions offer instruction on what can be said where and what mustn’t be said ever. One way of inferring the unsayable things that Greenwald did not name — or at least some of them — is to identify where Chomsky and Greenwald align and where they don’t. One glaring difference is that Chomsky is at least nominally anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. There is nothing to suggest that Greenwald  is either.

It’s revealing that the two examples Robert Wright and Greenwald provide to illustrate how he’s “messing with the code” are really quite doctrinaire. No less than paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan coined  “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” and he did so years ago. Greenwald’s spiel about terrorism being revenge for U. S. atrocities, is also very near conventional wisdom, as well as a whitewash of the U.S. role in fostering terrorism by funding and directing it. Among Greenwald’s great contributions to his benefactors is reframing doctrine and routine middle class disaffection as the outer limits, even radical.

Greenwald, like Chomsky, stakes out a place at the ostensible margins — largely with smoke and mirrors — for the purpose of authenticating a fairly anodyne, at times even conservative critique that is entirely free of prescription as to what must be done, and in Greenwald’s case, equally free of system-wide analysis or condemnation. This is why he is so generously indulged. Far more talented, well-spoken, and insightful people labor to his and Chomsky’s left, but in relative obscurity, because, unlike Chomsky and Greenwald, they offer nothing to the bourgeoisie. Hence, their marginality is genuine, as opposed to trumped up, and so it will remain through no shortcomings of their own.

As for Greenwald’s suit and soundbite nonsense, I’m tempted to leave that to others, since it’s not clear if by the end of his discussion with Chomsky he still believes what he’d said at the time, some variation of which has haunted insipid “why we lose” conversations for years. However, observant reader Hieroglyph pointed out in comments on my first draft that Chomsky has several times described how soundbites are insidious on their own and can’t be harmlessly embraced in the way Greenwald suggests.  That Greenwald doesn’t seem to know this betrays quite a lot of ignorance of Chomsky basics. Here’s Chomsky from a speech featured in the 1992 documentary, Noam Chomsky and The Media.

Noam Chomsky: The beauty of concision, you know, saying a couple sentences between two commercials, the beauty of that is you can only repeat conventional thoughts. Suppose I go on Nightline, whatever it is, two minutes, and I say Gaddafi is a terrorist, Khomeini is a murderer etcetera etcetera…I don’t need any evidence, everyone just nods. On the other hand, suppose you’re saying something that isn’t just regurgitating conventional pieties, suppose you say something that’s the least bit unexpected or controversial, people will quite reasonably expect to know what you mean. If you said that you’d better have a reason, better have some evidence. You can’t give evidence if you’re stuck with concision. That’s the genius of this structural constraint.

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51 Responses to Greenwald on Chomsky and Staying In the Mainstream Without Compromise

  1. b-psycho says:

    I haven’t paid much attention myself, but on general principle I’d say that to conclude from media blackouts “why not play the game?” completely misreads the reasons for the blackouts. Chomsky is actually correct on this one. It’s not about soundbites & gloss, it’s a generally shared agenda at the top that’s constantly playing defense.

    Not sure if you’re much of a sports fan, but it reminds me of how some defense schemes in football are designed to allow short plays in favor of protecting hard against big ones. Seems Greenwald is where he is now because at best he’s getting two yard screen pass plays — well, you need to get 10 yards total otherwise you punt anyway.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, your sports analogy is kinda lost on me but we’re on the same page. Not sure if GG still holds to that suit and soundbite idea after further discussion with Chompers. He seems to at least concede that there’s a third rail or two for everyone no matter what.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        Greenwald’s spiel about terrorism being incited by U.S. atrocities, is also very near conventional wisdom, as well as a whitewash of the U.S. role in fostering terrorism by funding and directing it.

        Right. There’s a huge difference between an antiwar liberal and an anti-imperialist. The latter calls for a radical systemic critique. Not only have I never read anything by Greenwald calling for systemic change, I don’t remember him ever using the words imperialism or [the hyphenate] anti-imperialism. Not before Omidyar but I suspect especially not since.

        Greenwald spends his time talking about the tactics of the ruling class, but without any underlying context. Drones, spying, politicians who aren’t in prison (he and The Intercept spend a lot of time on Clapper), the “new and improved” NSA laws. It’s just, you know, “government bad” or “aggressive militarism” (is there another kind?) without any other explanations or critiques. Since Greenwald is an imperialist, I don’t think this is some avoidance on his part to discuss class analysis, since he probably finds Marxism and anti-imperialism illegitimate ideas and knows nothing about them. But has anybody ever asked him WHY these things are being done?

        This grift he’s running that he’s “anti-establishment” is so pernicious. The moderator in the video called him “radical,” which is detestable.

        I’d be curious to know too what it is he’s “holding back.”

  2. lastwheel says:

    Greenwald just so happened to be posturing to the left by using Chomsky to plagiarise Chomsky? Reminds me of Sam Harris platforming his racism in a similar way. Left by association, but as for the passage it speaks for itself.

  3. Greenwald won’t touch challenges to the Official 911 Narrative with a ten foot pole. At an event in NYC in December he was talking about the Senate torture report that had just come out. I asked a question — if testimony obtained by torture is excluded from court evidence, as analogous, would you call for the re-examination of the 911 Commission Report given that a considerable portion of it derives from the “confessions” of Khalid Sheik Mohammed who was water boarded 183 times? GG totally punted and didn’t even address the point, wouldn’t even say the words 911 Commission Report. He said something cliched like you can’t trust the courts to do anything about torture, and then moved on to the next question.

    At that same event, another colleague asked him off-stage if he knew about Pierre Omidyar’s involvement in the Craig’s List lawsuit. He seemingly did not know and seemingly was not interested. When challenged further, he said (this is almost verbatim) “What billionaire do you propose I should get support from?” He had the whole Snowden cache and probably could have made a mint on Kickstarter wtih that, but no, he only sees billionaires as options, and is clueless or refused to see the problems with his personal sugar daddy, as you and Pando and others have long pointed out.

    • Lorenzo says:

      When challenged further, he said (this is almost verbatim) “What billionaire do you propose I should get support from?”
      This comment stuck with me for a couple days, and it took me a little while to figure out why. It reminds me of a post here last year on “Chomsky’s provisional fascism,” discussing Chomsky’s hypothetical support of a fascist junta that would fix climate change. TinyFist pointed out in comments that if a self-proclaimed anti-authoritarian is to actually be that, it’s incumbent on them to think of new solutions to our problems–not fall back on classical authoritarianism.
      Reading your comment, both these instances strike me as perfect illustrations of the danger of investing hope and trust into people with nebulous political cores. Unless someone is explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian, when push comes to shove, they’re going to defer to traditional structures of authority, or work within existing systems. It seems like unless they have a compelling internal reason not to, they’ll make themselves part of the problem.

      • Tarzie says:

        Unless someone is explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian, when push comes to shove, they’re going to defer to traditional structures of authority

        Yeah, something akin to that has been striking me more and more. The indeterminate politics of these people always defaults to liberalism or worse. More and more the constant handwringing over system features rather than the system itself strikes me as ridiculous at best. Like Greenwald just wrote a piece about the GCHQ festooned itself in rainbow colored lights to celebrate Alan Turing and all the other great queers who serve British Intelligence. And while I read it, I was recalling the me that would have just loved that piece and felt slightly less alienated because there was someone like Greenwald making these observations.

        But now I read stuff like that and it just seems like so much antfuckery, posturing, and point-missing. Of course they’re going to appropriate identity politics. They’ve done it for years. Queers are getting their turn now. So? What’s to be done? Of course, any discussion of that is off the table. If he started making real political commitments — assuming he’d even want to — he’d be done. So he wrings his hands while touting not only the advantages, but the absolute necessity of hooking up with bilionaires to fight the power. This schtick is no less astroturf than Move On or MSNBC.

        Great to see you here, btw. Loved your piece about the election. Some really great trenchant lines. I LOL’d several times. The whole section about the “trifecta of self-regard that leaves liberal chumps at half-mast” is dee-lish. I and some others were sorry to see you’d deactivated your Twitter. You always posted kinda infrequently so I guess it took a while for me to notice it, assuming you didn’t just do it.

        Twitter without Lorenzo, Sassy and Walter, I just don’t know.

    • Tarzie says:

      Sorry I missed this comment when you first made it.

      Yeah playing dumb (being dumb? who can tell?) is very much a feature not a bug in his routine. You can tell more about these people by what they don’t say than what they do.

  4. Goldfish Training Institute says:

    These reactionary T.V. shows would raise Hitler from the dead and put him on before they invite any dirty hippie commies onto their shows.

  5. robertmstahl says:

    I frequently contrast the case between the totally-missing Indira Singh and the non-missing Greenwald, among others. Both are products of this noosphere of rapid fire bringing on a digital age, only one with humanitarian quality. Believe me, it does not begin and end with Singh. Direction applies on the one hand, the other, only a highly developed agenda that feeds the necessary framing for the covert.

  6. robertmstahl says:

    What is key about Singh is how, surprisingly, simple the networking involved was, and still is, to do the proper accounting, to “find” what was missing. But, it was a principle along with being a “simple” technology.

  7. How Greenwald describes his and Chomsky’s relative positions is pretty revealing. Chomsky – MIT professor, published author of more than 100 (non-linguistics) books – is “marginalized” and GG himself only has “one foot in that mainstream establishment realm”. You undid the accuracy of this description adroitly, but I think it’s *also* interesting about how GG sees the world. No wonder he calls those who disagree with him from further to the left “deranged”: that isn’t just a smear, but (possibly) a pretty straightforward description of what he thinks. That is, what he considers “unsayable” might be far more than just “not readily admissible in the discourse”, something closer to “gibberish” or “word salad”.

    I don’t have much to add that you didn’t cover in your commentary. But thank you for noting that “the two examples Robert Wright and Greenwald provide to illustrate how he’s “messing with the code” are really quite doctrinaire”. I am struck, again and again whenever I look at GG and his circle, how incredibly *shallow*, historically, their context and analysis are. (That’s kind, actually, since a lot of the time they seem deliberately ahistorical.) These ideas that “everything” changed with Nixon, or 9/11, or Snowden – the watershed moment is always in flux, but also always well within living memory – are convenient and obfuscatory, but also just really damn shallow.

    • Tarzie says:

      Well said. The shallowness was a problem for me even when I liked the guy. Now I just don’t understand the allegiance he commands from the left. It’s sad.

    • babaganusz says:

      i may have missed it, but you’re still not quite finished treating Chomsky, correct? or at least you might still find that analysis palatable compared to less-developed (but farther-from-standard-mortality) heat vampires

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah I’ve always said that I find Chomsky’s analysis useful. It’s the basis for my own. I think his departure will be a net loss, if only because his analytical side preserved a traditional radicalism. His successors erase that.

      • babaganusz says:

        aha … I must have been hanging on a misread of your phrasing, to the effect of an eventual “goodbye to Chomsky”, tinged with surrounding, depressingly justified spite at the Celeb Left Proper.

      • Tarzie says:

        I only addressed part of your comment, which seemed to schmoosh my Chomsky series with regard for Chomsky together and made it somewhat ambiguous.

        I have no plans to finish that series. I didn’t scope it out initially. I just knew it wasn’t going to fit in one post. I can imagine maybe doing on for closure’s sake. But it’s been a while and I don’t commit to anything. I have thought of doing a more comprehensive sorta final post on the topic. Could probably shoehorn that into Passing Noam. Thanks for bringing it up.

  8. ernie says:

    On a trivial note, any ideas why a 47 yo guy who lives full-time in Brazil has the speech cadences and “like”s of a thirteen year old USian girl?

    He Brony.

  9. mickstep says:

    Greenwald, Scahill and Michael Moore on I.F. Stone:

  10. Steve Church says:

    I may be stretching the limits of your comment policy, your patience with a mediocre mind, and the relevance to the present topic, but I’d like to know if you or any of your commenters are following the “Je Suis Charlie” story. Emmanuel Todd (historian, demographer, anthropologist, and prolific writer) has just published a book, “Qui est Charlie?” , in which he calls the French Left “bidon” (which my Harrap describes as “phoney” and Larousse as a lie and I translate as “bullshit”), the majority of the marchers (who didn’t really march at all but milled around in an invisibly “kettled” area) as “catholic zombies”, and which seems to fit nicely with your definition of an accepted/permissable Left. Haven’t read the book yet (it’s supposed to arrive tomorrow in the nearest town that has a bookstore), just an interview in the “Nouvel Obs”, the Editor’s lame apology the following week, and a number of outrages from the likes of Charlie Hebdo, no less, and Le Canard Enchainé. Any comments?

    • Tarzie says:

      I haven’t been following Je Suis Charlie very closely, but it’s impossible to avoid it altogether. It very much confirms my conviction that Free Speech Absolutism is a con job on behalf of white supremacy and the ruling class. I wrote about all that here. You can probably infer what I think about Charlie Hebdo from this recent piece on Chris Hayes’ defense of Pam Gellar.

      Glad to see there’s some venerable dissent in France.

      • Steve Church says:

        Yeah, like the Pen awards. The so-called Left here is all up in arms about the American writers who had a different opinion. Next, we’ll see Charlie getting a peace prize.

        My question is: What if millions of people demonstrated every day against the stuff that’s really horrible? Would any government (like the French, who basically advertised the Big March) condone it?

        Dissent in France (I suppose like everywhere else) sells newspapers, magazines, and books. But, as Dieudonné has experienced, it only lands him in court. I don’t even have to wonder what Bruce or Carlin would have to say about all this, but it would be great to hear their takes.

      • Tarzie says:

        What if millions of people demonstrated every day against the stuff that’s really horrible? Would any government (like the French, who basically advertised the Big March) condone it?

        The answer resides in the official response to Black Lives Matter: teargas, rubber bullets and curfews. Everyone has an equal right to say anything the ruling class wants to hear.

      • Richard Estes says:

        Tarzie: Precisely. One need only look at the story yesterday about how the Canadian government wants to prosecute BDS activity as a hate crime after being outraged by the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

  11. Hieroglyph says:

    “very minor compromises that wouldn’t be compromises of your intellectual integrity or the things that you believe but like learn how to talk in soundbites, put on a suit, um, you know, be a little friendly with like tv producers, or people who can put you on tv, like isnt it self-indulgent to take the view that I’m just gonna lose my access to mainstream audiences.”

    Lovely stuff. I wonder what constitutes ‘minor’? I guess there is a scale, of a kind, between ‘wearing a suit’ and ‘performing a blow job on the coke-lined dick of a senior exec’. I am reminded of the famous Churchill quote: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!” Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”

    By the by, of course such talk isn’t a homophobic meme. Occassionally I post this kind of thing, and worry that I look, well, like a douche. Greenwald is gay, don’t care.

    Anyhow, Greenwald’s talk of strategy sounds like either an internal monologue best kept private, or something vaguely the result of, you know, too much partying. I mean – sound bites? If he’d read Chomsky, he’d realise that Chomsky actually discusses media sound-bites as a rather important part of propoganda; that a simple message well-delivered is easier, on television, than a long, complex argument, and that therefore sound-bites are, in their way, insidious. Say what you likout Chomsky, and his position as accepted-dissident, but he has actually written about this, often. So Greenwald is basically, for me, showing a) he hasn’t read that much Chomsky, b) has read to an only superficial level, c) knows where to party in Brazil.

    Odd. I think Greenwald is more a priest troubled by the Church, than one who has found atheism. Which is fine, I guess.

    • Tarzie says:

      I didn’t discuss Greenwald’s suit and soundbite theory because it wasn’t clear to me whether he continued to believe it after Chomsky replied. However, his ignorance about what Chomsky said and merits mention. Will update accordingly.

      I have no idea with Greenwald what the intention is apart from opportunism. Everything he says is objectively a con job of one kind or another.

    • Richard Estes says:

      Not to mention that Chomsky’s reply is indisputably true:

      “And he said he didn’t think that was a valid criticism because he thought, essentially what you suggested, which is that automatically as soon as you have certain views you’re instantly expelled from those forum because they’re designed to make sure that those views aren’t heard.”

      For example, not that I like Medea Benjamin that much, but she went on the PBS News Hour years ago and attacked some neocon on air for being responsible for the deaths in Iraq. Never returned.

      Leaving aside the propaganda aspect of sound-bites, if Chomsky had become effective at providing them, the more rapidly he would have been excluded.

      • Tarzie says:

        Not to mention that Chomsky’s reply is indisputably true

        Yeah, that certain ideas are excluded is taken as a given around here. It’s the basis for my point that the ruling class is clearly quite comfortable with the Snowden leaks. Seems even Greenwald concedes this exclusion up to a point. Depends on how far he thinks “being really strategic” will take you. I wish the nitwit interviewing him had pressed him on this.

        if Chomsky had become effective at providing them, the more rapidly he would have been excluded.

        Chomsky might disagree. In the clip from which I quoted, he also says that the mainstream would be wise to have more dissidents on because the sound bite format would just make them seem crazy. He seemingly doesn’t think any real dissidence can be expressed with sound bites.

        Medea Benjamin is an astroturfing fake and has plenty of access accordingly. The News Hour is uniquely restrictive, I guess but singling out neocons is typical of her astroturfing ways.

    • babaganusz says:

      Greenwald is more a priest troubled by the Church

      i’m tempted to wade back into his commentariat to make contact with the sharper knives in the Regulars drawer, away from the echo chamber. i still remember how a few of them had a strikingly instructive handle on certain nooks and crannies of law or nuance or ethics (whereas Tarzie and Silber and the occasional third have long since thoroughly dissolved whatever hold the Greater Glenn had over me).

    • Re; Greenwald’s shallow reading of Chomsky: completely agree.

      He just did the same thing with IF Stone in a self-promotional film.

      Greenwald spoke glowingly about becoming so absorbed he claimed to have read everything Stone wrote in one sitting (or a few, don’t hold me to details).

      It was just all Bullshit.

  12. babaganusz says:

    many thanks as always. I’ve been listening to fairly recent Chomsky and it’s almost like he’s getting some bite back (“we’re here because of slavery and exterminating the native population”), tempered of course by ever-dwindling volume. but regardless of the bona-fidelity of various Chomskyan output, it’s as you say: Gigi’s perspective on his ‘strategy’ is for shit, one more smear for the scrapbook.

    Pat Buchanan coined “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” and he did so years ago

    let me guess: he was putting on an edgy ‘skeptic’ moue regarding ‘Charlie Wilson’s war’?

    So I’ve always tried very hard strategically…to find that balance between how do you make certain that you don’t get marginalized

    yeah, coming down unequivocally in favor of Citizen’s United is such a complex dance.

  13. Oh my Mr. T – relying on Chomsky twice in takedowns of Greenwald and Hersch?

    Change of mind or heart on Noam?

    • Tarzie says:

      Change of mind or heart on Noam?

      No change of mind at all. I’ve never disputed that Chomsky’s valuable. It’s Chomsky’s and Herman’s lens I apply to Chomsky. because unlike Chomsky — and infantile Chomsky fanboys — I don’t give Chomsky an exemption from the left media critique he and Herman popularized. Look around on this blog and you won’t find anything at odds with my citing him from time to time, when what he says happens to be self-evidently correct, as his remarks about Hersh certainly were.

      See this, from over a year ago:

      I don’t expect any of the people I write about here to be any different than what they are. My point, which should be obvious by now, is that our gaze has been directed to people like Chomsky because they serve power in the guise of defying it. That doesn’t mean these people are entirely without merit. To the contrary, for them to be useful to power in the way I think they are, they have to be in some way useful or attractive to those who wish to temper or disrupt it. In my first post on Chomsky, I specifically said that I owe a lot of how I see things to him, and I appreciate it. In fact, my present impulse to slap him with a warning label and move on comes out of how I read his valuable work on how the system filters out and punishes disruptive individuals. But in the end I think an assessment of good deeds against harm puts Chomsky in the minus column along with the rest, which is why I feel no obligation to be particularly deferential.

      Also, if you didn’t see the swing I took at Chomsky in the piece about sound bites, you need to reread it. People keep seeing that post as a defense of Chomsky, because that’s what they want to see. They’re wrong.

      See it’s like this Bill: you still have one leg in the world that the Glennbot dipshits inhabit. The world of children pretending to be adults. The world of Black and White. Of Good or Bad. And Magic Dads. A world where we are disobliged of thinking harder on things than: I like him! I don’t like him!!!

      Oops I pointed out something revoltingly shitty that Chomsky did. That must mean I think he’s a 100% bad person!!! Which means I’m a hypocrite if I point out ways in which he’s actually correct!!!

      Except, no, it really doesn’t mean that. Obviously.

      This blog is for adults so —


      The Fuck.


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  15. NoLimitSoldEm says:

    What do you think is the clearest evidence for or against Chomsky’s position that the CIA just do what they are told by the White House ie “there is no deep state”, “the CIA is a methaphor for the White House” etc. Just saw this short video for the first time:

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’t feel like I have the background to answer that with certainty. However, I know Alexander Cockburn used to say the same thing, and the historical record seems to bear it out. Pretty sure all the anti-socialist covert ops over the years have had the president’s backing. Nixon backed the toppling of Allende and Operation Condor. Carter backed the formation of Al Queda. Reagan backed the Contras. Elements in the CIA may operate in a way that hasn’t been officially authorized, but it seems the goals are in accordance with the prez.

      However, even if the CIA has traditionally been at the service of the president, it doesn’t mean they always will. Certainly it has helped that at least some of the presidents like Clinton, Bush and probably Obama, have career ties to the CIA. It’s easy to obey the boss you picked. I’m not crazy about the term Deep State for the US, because it seems interchangeable with the intelligence apparatus, rather than signifying a cabal working apart from it. It’s not something working against the state, because the state officials serve the same interests. However, there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason why an organization with that much power wouldn’t use it against any public official that doesn’t toe the line. That seems to be what happened with Kennedy. The CIAs role in the drug trade seems to be a gray area here.

      • poob says:

        Thank you. That’s useful. I think Chomsky is making a false dichotomy here, between imagining an apparatus so completely rogue that it generally goes against the rest of the state, and imagining the apparatus having zero agency (pardon) and being completely subordinated, its actions entirely shaped by the individual personality and politics of each president. As you rightly suggested, by the time the president becomes the president, the CIA knows ~everything they need to know about him, and has probably even helped to get him elected. After that point, almost all of the information the president receives comes from agents who have agendas already, and I imagine most presidents have followed these recommendations largely, which hardly makes the CIA as completely subordinate as Noam seems to suggest. He suggests the CIA don’t give recommendations at all and merely provide objective information with no agenda or politics behind it and then obediently follow orders based on individual whims of Democrat and Republican presidents, which they probably do to some extent, but it seems like a false dichotomy. He also implies the corporate backers communicate only with the White Hand ehem White House and have never communicated directly with the apparatus, which also seems unlikely, although I have read little evidence either way.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, this sounds exactly right.

  16. Pingback: “Kill your idols”: Chelsea Manning and the reactionary “left” – Leftist Critic

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