Subject: MORE ON THE
6 November 2005
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
A quick follow up on the Scandal last week at the London Guardian:
Item A. is a correction from author of Diana Johnstone.
Item B. a confirmation from Noam Chomsky concerning intellectual dishonesty at the
Item C. is a critique of fraudulent journalism at the
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université Stendhal-Grenoble III
from Diana Johnstone :
5 Nov 2005
Thanks for your message. Good you are onto this. I must point out a factual confusion. You wrote:
"Johnstone's response to the libel against her which is found in the same Guardian article by Brockes when distorting her interview with Professor Chomsky."
There is, and was, no libel action against me. The libel action was against "LM" (Living Marxism) for an article by Thomas Deichmann. Deichmann exposed as a setup the "thin man behind barbed wire" photograph that became the emblem of the war in Bosnia (his articles on the same subject were published in several countries, only in the UK was there a libel suit because of the peculiarities of British libel law which puts intent ahead of facts).
I never had anything to do with LM or the libel action. Simply, in my book Fools' Crusade, I referred to the "thin man behind barbed wire" photograph in a section on the role of the media in creating the notion that the war in
All this is very complicated and confusion is easy. The confusion was compounded by the uproar in
think Ms Brockes got her background briefing from the same circle that led the Swedish attack, probably in collaboration with her colleague Ed Vulliamy. None of these attackers ever actually read my book, so far as I
can tell, but circulated a distorted or false version to make me out as a "revisionist" and "holocaust denier" in order to frighten people away from reading my book.
from Noam Chomsky :
05 Nov 2005
To Francis Feeley :
It's quite remarkable. The most dishonest and cowardly behavior by editors I've ever seen, much worse than the shameful fabrications of a young journalist who was plainly given an agenda she had to satisfy, whatever the facts.
It's possible that they might run Diana's letter in a different section of the paper. I don't doubt that a lot of people there are embarrassed by what is transparent fraud.
from Alexander Cockburn :
November 5 / 6, 2005
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
A fter Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines issued their poll last month of the top intellectuals in the world I broached to Noam Chomsky the notion that CounterPunch might compile an alternative list. The plan was to dismiss FP/Prospect readers' pick of mostly lumpen non-thinkers in favor of real intellectuals like Levi-Strauss, or Baudrillard, or Laura Nader or Barbara Fields, or the
Chomsky who featured in the poll as top intellectual, (with twice as many votes as the runner-up, Umberto Eco, to the evident consternation of much of the north-eastern US press which has mostly kept silent on the matter) wrote back in good humor, ridiculing the idea of such lists and putting forward as candidates his granddaughter in Nicaragua, or his granddaughter's cat. The subject soon grew wearisome and I went back to important matters such as how to keep the temperature in my pit under 80 degrees F, vital in the correct preparation of cold-smoked Coho salmon caught in Gray's Harbor, WA.
But the pre-eminence of a genuinely radical thinker like Chomsky plainly irked New Labour types at the British daily, The Guardian. So they sent off an interviewer to do a razor job on the professor of linguistics at MIT.
In recent years, the "interview" as a showcase for the interviewer's inquisitorial chutzpa has been more a feature of English than of American daily journalism. The Guardian's current showcase performer in what is essentially a game of self promotion, (displaying the interviewer as more than a match for the interviewee) is a woman named Emma Brockes, fairly new to the game but already feted as a high-flier.
Last year Brockes interviewed the black British poet, Benjamin Zephaniah after he refused an OBE. Towards the end of the piece, Brockes asked Zephaniah about what he was reading:
"I ask him what he is reading at the moment. 'Chomsky', he says. 'I am always reading Chomsky.'
"I tell him I find Chomsky hard work. 'Really?' he says. 'Really?
That's cos you ain't got a
This is a good illustration
of a characteristic of many of these showcase interviews, where the interviewer
sneaks in a kidney punch after the interview is over, when she's safely back in
the office. So the readers are left to warm their hands over the rancid and
somehow racist snap of "brays like a donkey".
Of course Brockes knows when to mind her manners. She did an interview with Ariel
"I wonder how
Brockes avoided mention at this point of what precisely Special Unit 101 one of the most notorious death squads of the twentieth century actually got up to. She opted instead for tremulous insights such as:
"It is tempting to speculate that the personal risk
Her ignorance is pervasive. Barak, she dutifully writes, "offered Arafat
Finally in the twentieth paragraph, she addresses, or claims she addressed, the darker wide of General Sharon. She mentions, or says she mentioned, the massacre at Qibya in 1953, the invasion of
And off they go, very cozily, to count sheep. (Or maybe they weren't very cozy, just cozy, or maybe the relationship was only superficially cozy, but fundamentally brittle. I insert the "very" and "cozy" just to show how easy it is to load the dice in this sort of game.
The contrast between this decorous treatment of a genuine, full-bore war criminal and Brockes' tetchy malevolence and dishonesties in her piece about Chomsky is very marked.
You can get the drift from the deck of headlines and sub-heads with which the Guardian editors introduced Brockes' piece.
The greatest intellectual?
Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?
A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough
As we'll see, this is a
carefully considered overture to the set-up.
After some very childish bric-a-brac about the open packet of fig-rolls on Chomsky's desk ("is it wrong to mention the fig rolls when there is undocumented suffering going on in El Salvador?") it isn't long before Brockes swerves into her predetermined trajectory, to the effect that
conclusions remain controversial: that practically every
Read those sentences in bold
type carefully. Brockes is claiming that Chomsky had,
in reference to Srebrenica, put the word massacre in quotation marks, thus
deprecating the idea that it was in fact a massacre. There's no other way to
construe the sentences. Here's "massacre" in its quote marks and then
in the next sentence "Chomsky uses quotation marks to undermine things he
disagrees with" Next comes Brockes' summary of
Chomsky's position, identified by use of the "witheringly teenage"
quote marks: "Srebrenica was so not a massacre."
Now this is no little parlor game Brockes is engaged in here. For Guardian readers, a man who denies that a massacre took place at Srebrenica is not one who deserves to be voted the top intellectual on the planet. The opening headlines set Chomsky up, and the quote marks round the word massacre knock him down.
But there's no sentence in which Chomsky has ever suggested with the use of those quotation marks that a massacre in Srebrenica did not take place. There are passages, easy to find , in which Chomsky most definitely says it was a massacre. Brockes is faking it.
Brockes backs away from the set-up for a few paragraphs and retails the standard Chomsky bio. Then she swerves back, on the theme of Chomsky being asked to "to lend his name to all sorts of crackpot causes":
As some see it, one ill-judged choice of cause was the accusation made by Living Marxism magazine that during the Bosnian war, shots used by ITN of a Serb-run detention camp were faked. The magazine folded after ITN sued, but the controversy flared up again in 2003 when a journalist called Diane Johnstone made similar allegations in a Swedish magazine, Ordfront, taking issue with the official number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. (She said they were exaggerated.) In the ensuing outcry, Chomsky lent his name to a letter praising Johnstone's "outstanding work". Does he regret signing it?
"No," he says indignantly. "It is outstanding. My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough. It may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work."
Now we can see where those
opening headlines were drawn from, and the context comes into focus. Chomsky's
point concerns his expressed support for Diana (not, as Brockes
has it, Diane) Johnstone's work. And as readers of
our CounterPunch site will know from Johnstone's
two excellent recent pieces on Srebrenica, Johnstone
never for one moment says there wasn't a massacre there. She simply provides a
factual historical sequence and context that many find disturbing,
and politically inconvenient).
From what Brockes presents as her ensuing argument with Chomsky, it's clear that she doesn't know much about the Living Marxism/ITN affair, which in fact was an entirely separate case, which occurred well before Srebrenica. For the interest of CounterPunchers I append here Phil Knightley's extremely detailed discussion of the circumstances of those historically momentous news photos of the detention camp.)
Throughout the interview, incidentally, Brockes spectacularly fails to mention
Does he [Chomsky] have a share
portfolio? He looks cross. "You'd have to ask my wife about that. I'm sure
she does. I don't see any reason why she shouldn't. Would it help people if I
I suggest that people don't like being told off about their lives by someone they consider a hypocrite.
That's what a simple-living
and by common agreement, selfless -- 76-year professor get for letting an
ambitious "interviewer" into his office for an hour.
The Brockes interview ran on October 31. The next day The Guardian ran a couple of letters of complaint, about Brockes' manifest bias and spite. Chomsky wrote immediately, outlining in detail Brockes' "fabrications", a word the Guardian editors adamantly refused to allow into print, under the obviously preposterous argument that this would invite litigation. From whom? Brockes would sue her own paper?
Finally, in what Chomsky himself regards as a piece of journalistic chicanery even more outrageous than Brockes' smear, the Guardian printed his edited letter of complaint "paired," as Chomsky put it later, " with a letter from a survivor from Bosnia, which, as the editors certainly know, is based entirely on lies in the faked 'interview' they published. The title: "Falling out over Srebrenica." As Chomsky says, "There was no Srebrenica debate, and they know it perfectly well. I never mentioned it, except to repeatedly try to explain to Brockes that I opposed the withdrawal of Johnstone's book under dishonest press attacks that were all lies, as I showed in the open letter I mentioned. And it had nothing to do with the scale of the Srebrenica massacre, as again they all know."
The Guardian's editor, Alan Rushbridger, is now trying to brush aside complaints about his newspaper's scandalous misrepresentations as left-wing cavils of no consequence. As I write this, the newspaper has not published Diana Johnstone's eloquent letter of complaint which I quote here in its entirety.
To the editors of The Guardian
I have belatedly learned of the October 31 interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes, in which my name appeared (misspelled) three times. I would like to correct that minor mistake as well as a few more significant ones.
The most basic underlying distortion is to present Professor Chomsky's defense of free expression as a defense of particular statements or ideas. A related distortion is to misrepresent such statements and ideas.
As a young star reporter, on the heady assignment of ridiculing a man with the stature of Chomsky, Ms Brockes was obviously not required to check facts or to know much of anything about the subjects she raised in her interview.
One of these was the famous
"thin man behind barbed wire" photo taken by ITN in August 1992,
which became the emblem of the war in
Ms Brockes writes that the LM report was "proven" to be false in a court of law. In fact, ITN put LM out of business by winning a libel suit against the magazine. But due to the quaint nature of British libel law, the decisive issue in court was NOT the truth about the wire fence. Rather, it was whether or not the ITN reporters had "deliberately" sought to deceive the public. The issue become one of intentions and emotions. The judge, in his summing up, acknowledged that the ITN team reporters were mistaken as to who was enclosed by the old barbed-wire fence, adding, "but does it matter?" The jury decided it did not.
I never said anything about the intentions of the ITN journalists. In my book, "Fools' Crusade" (Pluto Press, 2002), I refer to the famous "thin man behind barbed wire" photo, to point out the way the photo was interpreted by world media to create the impression that what was happening in Bosnia was a repetition of the Nazi Holocaust. According to what I have read, Ms Brockes' colleague Ed Vulliamy himself, who accompanied the ITN team, also objected to the way the media used the Trnopolje photo to liken Bosnian camps to Nazi death camps.
It is not clear which
"controversy" Ms Brockes is referring to
when she writes that "the controversy flared up again" when I
"made similar allegations in a Swedish magazine, Ordfront".
Which allegations? Ordfront interviewed me as part of
a long feature article on media "lies" about
Ms Brockes neglects to mention my book, or the fact that publication of my book, and not some hypothetical statement about some particular fact, was what Chomsky -- among others -- defended.
Neither I nor Professor Chomsky have ever denied that Muslims were the main victims of
atrocities and massacres committed in
If some of us dare expose
ourselves to such distressing accusations, it is simply because we believe that
the single-minded focus on particular massacres, and the hasty application of
the term "genocide", is exploited to justify military intervention
which occurs only when it suits United States geopolitical purposes and which
on balance makes bad situations worse. Prevention of an imaginary
"genocide" in Kosovo was the pretext for the
Current issues of war and peace are matters of importance which should be the object of serious public debate, instead of being treated as sacred dogma, from which any deviation is condemned as heresy.
-- Diana Johnstone
How much does the Guardian's
hit-and-run job on Chomsky matter? Enough, in my view, to warrant, detailed
inspection. Chomsky's enemies have often opted for these artful onslaughts in
which he's set up as somehow an apologist for monstrosity, instead of being
properly identified as one of the most methodical and tireless dissectors and
denouncers of monstrosity in our era. Their contemptible tactics should be seen
for what they are. Rushbridger and his editors are
far, far beyond reform in their low practices. Maybe young Brockes
will clean up her act, though I doubt it.
Here, by way of conclusion, is Philip Knightley's discussion of the famous concentration camp photos. He made it to the court, back in 1998.
FROM PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY
DECEMBER 28, 1998
My name is Phillip Knightley. I live at
In the years following publication of The First Casualty I have often been asked to examine and write about war photographs. I have been able to show that several well-known photographs of the Vietnam war, for instance, were not quite what they were made out to be at the time. I can go into details of these if the court wishes.
In October 1994, an Australian
monthly magazine, The Independent, asked me to write an article about the rise
of women war correspondents. This interest had been sparked off by Maggie O'Kane's reporting from the former
Since my assignment was to concentrate on the role of women war correspondents, I commented only briefly on the ITN report itself. Here is what I wrote:
"How accurate and fair were the detention camp reports? First there is the question of nomenclature. They were certainly not death camps in the Nazi sense. Nor, at the other end of the scale were they simply prisoner-of-war camps. If it were not for the Holocaust association then concentration camps would be accurate, in the sense that the Bosnian Serbs "concentrated" in the camp the people they wished to hold. Most correspondents now agree that detention camps would have been a fairer description.
Next, all the inmates were not
starving, and the emaciated man in
"The International Committee of the Red Cross says that at that time the Croats and the Muslims were also running detention camps but no stories were written about them because the Croats and Muslims refused to allow journalists access to them. The ICRC conclusion is: "The Serbs, the Croats, and the Muslims all ran detention camps and must share equal blame."
So I was well aware of the ITN report nearly two years before the LM controversy began. When it did I was appalled by what I saw as a freedom of speech issue and was impelled to write about it. I did, using some of the material I had already gathered for my earlier article. The article follows:
"This ITN picture changed
the course of the war in
On 29 July 1992, Maggie O'Kane, a foreign correspondent for The Guardian, wrote a
story about Serbian detention camps in northern
said that of all the camps, one called Trnopolje was
the best one to be sent to--"they are fed there and the villagers can
bring them supplies"--she nevertheless described Trnopolje as "a concentration camp", a phrase
redolent of Nazi
Even though O'Kane had not seen Trnopolje herself, her story had great impact, especially on television news organisations. Within 24 hours, 350 journalists were racing to the camps to follow up the story. The first television reporters to arrive at Trnopolje were Penny Marshall of ITN and Ian Williams of Channel 4 News.
In her award-winning report on 6
August, we see Marshall (then 30), blonde hair tied with a blue and white
ribbon and dressed in a pink T-shirt and United Nations blue flak jacket (this
description is important) walk briskly towards a large group of men, some
stripped to the waist, standing near a high barbed wire fence. She stretches
out her hand to one emaciated man and says "Dober
Dan ("Good Day"). The man (later identified as Fikret
Alic, now living in
Beamed around the world, and
used as a grainy, still photograph in newspapers, the image changed the course
of the war. In
Less than 20 minutes after
Now Thomas Deichmann,
a German freelance journalist and lecturer, a former war correspondent in
He first published these
accusations in the Swiss intellectual weekly Welt Woche
on January 9. His story has since been picked up by publications all over
They wrote to Living Marxism saying that Deichmann's accusations were "wholly false. . bogus. . and defamatory". They demanded the pulping of all copies of Living Marxism, an apology, damages and an undertaking not to repeat the accusations. Living Marxism's editor replied that he stood by Deichmann's story, publication of the magazine would go ahead, and that he found it "grubby" that journalists should attempt to silence other journalists through the courts.
And silence them it has--at
WHERE DOES the truth lie? There is no easy answer. You could write a book about the limitations and defects of the way today's television reports wars, its emphasis on human interest stories that end up distorting the issues; about the mind-set of editors which results in hundreds of journalists descending, pack-like, on what the office back home considers the story of the day; and about the pandering to public demand for easily-identifiable "goodies and baddies" in complex wars in which all the right is never on only one side.
I have examined Deichmann's accusations and interviewed him. I have viewed
not only Penny Marshall's report but the out-takes,
the material shot by the ITN cameraman but not used. I have looked at what
Penny Marshall and Ian Williams have said about the story since 1992. I have
sought the views of the War Crimes Tribunal and its investigators. And I have
tried to establish the atmosphere in
More women war correspondents
covered the war in the former
Male correspondents, on the
other hand, seemed more interested in writing about the possession of
territory--who was winning the war and how? And when male correspondents did
write stories about victims, as did seasoned TV reporter Michael Nicholson on
children trapped in
The fact that Penny Marshall is a woman was also a factor in getting the pictures that made her famous and in the effect they created. It was the sight of clean, neat, civilian woman, who--apart from the flak jacket--could have stepped straight from any European high street--walking up to a barbed wire fence that first caught the attention of Fikret Alic and his fellows. And it is the images of this casually-dressed woman greeting these gaunt, dispirited men that adds such power to the report--the normal meets the pitiful and shakes its hand.
But both reporters--Penny Marshall and Ian Williams--have expressed reservations about the way the images have been interpreted. Penny Marshall has said, "I totally refute the charge that the report was sensationalist. I bent over backwards--Bosnian Serb guards feeding the prisoners. I showed a small Muslim child who had come of his own volition. I didn't call them death camps. I was incredibly careful. But again and again we see that image [the emaciated man] being used."
And Ian Williams, in an interview with the British Press Gazette, a magazine for the media industry, the month after the story, told of his concern over the reaction to the pictures: "In a sense it's almost the power of the images going two steps ahead of the proof that went with them."
SO WHAT sort of a camp was Trnopolje? Maggie O'Kane says it was
a concentration camp. But this could be true only in the sense that it was
where the Serbs "concentrated" Muslims, for whatever reason. It was
not a concentration camp in the Second World War sense. In the out-takes from
Deichmann says that they were wrong. It was a refugee camp and that people were free to come and go as they pleased. In the out-takes of the ITN film, people can be seen leaving the camp and walking up and down the nearby roadway. A regional Red Cross official in the out-takes says it is a refugee camp, but then he is a Serb.
The most likely explanation is that Trnopolje was both a refugee camp and a detention camp--there were at least two different groups of people there--and that this is what has confused the issue. Refugees had come there of their own free will and could leave at any time. But there were also Bosnian Muslims like Fikret Alic who had been transferred there from other camps, who were awaiting identification and processing, and who were not free to leave.
But even this group was not confined by barbed wire. The out-takes show them in the main camp, outside the agricultural compound, and the main camp was not surrounded with barbed wire, as the War Crimes Tribunal agrees, but by a low chain-mail fence to keep schoolchildren off the road. As well, the barbed wire fence was no deterrent to anyone determined to escape because it was poorly constructed with wide gaps. What confined the Bosnians at Trnopolje, the War Crimes Tribunal says, was the presence of armed Serbian guards. So ITN was right in that the men in the film were detained in Trnopolje, but the image used to illustrate that was misleading because it implied that they were detained by the barbed wire. The barbed wire turns out to be only symbolic.
Were all the inmates starving? No.
Fikret Alic was an
exception. Even in
So Thomas Deichmann is right in the sense that the ITN image is not quite what we all thought at the time. But aren't we blaming the wrong people? Television news being what it is, could we really have expected Penny Marshall or ITN's editors to have hedged such a powerful image with all sorts of verbal qualifications?
Part of the blame must lie with
us. Our appetite for such images encourages war correspondents to give us
"black and white" stories and reveals our reluctance to make the
effort to understand the complexities of war. Misha Glenny, author of "The Fall of
So we believed the ITN picture to be the absolute truth because we wanted to and the most regrettable thing of all is that by reaching for lawyers ITN has stifled what could have been a fascinating and important debate. (The article ends here)
When, like Capa's moment of death photograph, the ITN report was hailed as a great image, should the team have stood up and publicly said, "Hey, hang on a minute. It wasn't quite like that." In an ideal world, yes. We can hear Penny Marshall's concern in the quotes of hers I have used in the above article. And Ian Williams, to his credit, has said: "In a sense it's almost the power of the images going two steps ahead of the proof that went with them." But given the commercial pressures of modern TV and the fact that to have spoken out would hardly endear the ITN crew to their employers and might even have endangered their jobs, it is understandable but not forgivable that no one chose to do so.
In my professional opinion this is a case of immense
importance. It calls into question the whole way TV reports wars, the pressure
for that one vivid image that "sums it all up", even though the
issues may be so complicated that such an image may not exist and could even
be--as in this case--misleading. This is a matter that desperately needs to be
publicly debated. And it calls into question our basic right of freedom of