Anatomy of a Sliming
Andrew Sullivan Slanders Noam Chomsky and Slinks Away
By Michael Leon
The ''Real Time with Bill Maher'' show on HBO features a motley crew of guests assembled each week to discuss current events and culture in a free-form, irreverent conversation moderated by funny man Bill Maher.
The show features intellectuals, authors, actors, comedians, activists, political hacks, members of congress, poets and even an occasional ex-CIA director talking shop in the apparent theory that bright, committed people of whatever political stripe and occupation thrown together unscripted and freed from the typical network talk show constraints can produce an insightful and entertaining conversation.
This format has of-course been tried before, but in the right-wing-dominated, never-the-tell-the-truth-about-the-idiot-in-the-oval office culture of contemporary American television, Maher's show stands out as one of the few things worth watching on the American-broadcast wasteland.
I was looking forward to the post-election season finale last Friday, November 5 after it was announced that Noam Chomsky would be appearing.
Maher said that since he has been in the political talk/comedy business, Chomsky has been his most frequently-requested guest and one who Maher has been trying to book for years.
Friday's show began with the introduction of the slate of guests featuring actor D.L. Hughley, journalist blogger Andrew Sullivan and former Colorado congresswoman Pat Schroeder. Via satellite former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, actor Susan Sarandon and author Noam Chomsky closed out the guest list.
An interesting exchange--Chomsky vs. everyone perhaps-- was set to begin.
Enter Chomsky on the big studio screen. In Chomsky's taped interview segment via satellite about two-thirds through the show, the typically mild-mannered Chomsky answered questions pertaining to Christianity, the election and Iraq.
Transcript -- http://www.safesearching.com/billmaher/print/t_hbo_realtime_110504.htm
MAHER: Okay. Earlier today, I spoke with Professor Noam Chomsky, who teaches linguistics and philosophy at MIT. His latest book is Hegemony or Survival. I told him earlier, I have never had a guy requested more of me in 12 years of doing two shows. I swear to God, every kid wants Noam Chomsky. And we got him today. Please welcome Professor Noam Chomsky. [applause] [cheers]
So, Professor, I’m not kidding. Over the last 12 years, on three different networks, people – especially young kids – request you. When I first did it, I didn’t even know who you were. All right, let me ask you this. It seems to me that the most religious people are also, at least in this country, the most super-patriotic. Isn’t there an inherent conflict there? I mean, if you’re truly religious and you believe in God – I mean, Jesus is not an American, I assume—[laughter]
NOAM CHOMSKY [via satellite]: Just the favorite philosopher of America.
MAHER: Isn’t it impossible to be truly Christian and also to love one country, even if it’s your own, more than every other country?
CHOMSKY: Depends how you understand your religion? Religions have taught all sorts of things in the past, from the most horrible to the most elevated. So you pick and choose.
MAHER: Yeah, but Christ doesn’t say, “Love your country.” He doesn’t say, “American life is more important than other life.” And I would imagine that that’s what a lot of people who call themselves Christian in this country believe. [applause]
CHOMSKY: Well, if they do, there are plenty of things – there are plenty of things that you can read in the Gospels that are certainly not believed by George Bush and his associates. Are they helping the poor? [applause]
CHOMSKY: I mean, did they hear – did they read the description in the Gospels of the hypocrite, the person who refuses to apply to himself the same standards he applies to others? [applause] We can go on and on.
MAHER: Well, I could, but I don’t want to go to Gitmo. [laughter] We’re about to blow the unholy hell out of Fallujah. Do you think it’s too late? Aren’t we just – Iraq – isn’t is just something that’s going to get more infected the more we pick at it?
CHOMSKY: The invasion of Iraq was simply a war crime, straight out war crime. [applause] [cheers] If we are not – if we don’t want to be hypocrites in the sense condemned in the Bible, we’ll apply to ourselves the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, for example, which said that aggression, invasion is the supreme international crime, which includes within it all subsequent crimes, including all of those that are taking place now. So when the invade Fallujah, as I suppose they will, after having driven out most of the population, probably smash the place up, it will add to the enormous casualty lists which may be in the range of 100,000 by now, maybe more, maybe less. And there’s more to come.
MAHER: Why do you think we did Iraq? I mean, what is the bottom line reason? I assume that you don’t think that the reasons given were the real reasons.
CHOMSKY: I think that the polls taken in Baghdad explain it very well. They seem to understand. The United States invaded Iraq to gain control of one of the major sources of the world’s energy, right in the heart of the world’s energy producing regions, to create, if they can, a dependent client state, to have permanent military bases, and to gain what’s called “critical leverage” – I’m quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski – to gain critical leverage over rivals, the European and Asian economies. If you hold the – it’s been understood since the Second World War, that if you have your hand on that spigot, the source of the –world – main source of the world’s energy – you have what early planners called “veto power” over others.
Those are all very – Iraq is also the last part of the world where there are vast, untapped, easily accessible energy resources. And you can be sure that they want the profits from that to go primarily to U.S.-based multi-nationals and back to the U.S. Treasury, and so on. Not to rivals. There are plenty of reasons for invading Iraq. [applause]
MAHER: Now, President Bush always says the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. And I haven’t agreed with that. I think the people who were in his rape rooms are better off without Saddam Hussein. [applause] That’s a far cry from the whole world. During the Cold War, we selfishly backed any tyrant that was on our side, that would have stopped what we thought was the greater ill of communism. Why don’t we have that same selfish doctrine with this man? Because certainly we know – somewhere in government people must know – that Saddam Hussein would never have allowed a power rival, even if it was a terrorist organization, in Iraq. He actually would have been a bulwark for us.
CHOMSKY: In fact, the U.S. support for – remember, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein. And that means the people now in office or their immediate mentors, supported him in ways that had absolutely nothing to with Cold War or with the war with Iran. The support went on after the war with Iran was over, went off after the Berlin Wall fell. In fact, it even went on after the first Gulf War, when the first Bush Administration authorized Saddam to crush a Shiite uprising which probably would have overthrown him.
It’s certainly true that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and also without the people who supported him through his worst atrocities, and are now telling us about them. [applause]
The fact of the matter is that if it hadn’t been for the sanctions which devastated the society and killed hundreds of thousands of people, it’s very likely that the Iraqis themselves would have sent Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other brutal monsters also supported by the people now in Washington, like Ceausescu in Romania or Suharto in Indonesia, or Marcos and a whole string of others. Quite a rogues’ gallery. And probably Saddam would have gone the same way.
MAHER: Professor, I wish I had all night to talk to you. I hope you do this again. Please keep thinking outside the box. I know it’s lonely there, but stay the course. Thank you. Professor Chomsky, ladies and gentlemen.
CHOMSKY: Thank you. [applause] [cheers]
Pretty straight-forward stuff.
Enter Andrew Sullivan. Here was an opportunity to offer a measured, thoughtful, fact-based response to the catastrophe in Iraq and what Chomsky just said were U.S. "war crimes" (do not hear those words often on American t.v.). Instead, Sullivan--who if Maher is to be believed grimaced his way through the Chomksy segment--let loose with what even Sullivan said is was a “visceral” response.
Actually, Sullivan sullied himself with weird, outlandish accusations, including his contention that Chomsky has been a long-time supporter of the USSR.
SULLIVAN: What?! He thinks that in discussion of Saddam Hussein he should raise the issue of Nuremberg trials for the United States? [audience reacts] Well, yes. Welcome to the world view of the far left, in which the United States is the source of evil and Saddam Hussein is actually a source of good...
SULLIVAN: There are some views – there are some views – people who support the Soviet Union, as Chomsky did for so long, who’ve supported tyranny in all sorts of places, like Chomsky has done, who have lied consistently, as Chomsky has done, who do not deserve fundamental respect in this sense...
SULLIVAN: Go ahead, fight the election – fight the election on the basis of Noam Chomsky that America is evil and see how well you do...
How can Sullivan say such nonsense? Does the guy have one shred of evidence? I wrote and asked him, focusing on one matter of fact for the sake of brevity--Chomsky's alleged support for the USSR.
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2004 9:27 AM
I had been anticipating Chomsky's appearance on the Bill Maher Real Time show, curious as to how the guests would respond.
And then I heard you were on. Now, I have regarded you as a rare breed--a thinking, intellectually honest conservative--but watching you last night respond to Chomsky, I can only write that you were dismal, displaying anything but thoughtful rejoinders.
One could go on, but I challenge you to respond to one point that you made: Your assertion that Chomsky "supports the Soviet Union."
I realize the show's time constraints, but still it is revealing that you did not bother to cite a Chomsky work in which he has supported the Soviet Union. None exist. Over the last four decades of deriding the USSR, Chomsky's most frequent term to describe the Soviet Union is "a dungeon." I have read scores of his books and articles and not once have I read anything to that could be said to support the USSR--in fact, to the contrary. Indeed, Chomsky's political philosophy--left-libertarian--is antithetical to any centralized government. So, did you just make this up? Do you have anything--anything--to support your assertion?
Apparently bombarded by other e-mails, Sullivan failed to respond to me and the 100s of e-mails he had received objecting to his outlandish remarks. Sullivan instead lamely posted on his website links to other whacky websites dedicated to attacking not just Chomsky's political analyses, but also his paradigm-shattering work in linguistics and cognitive psychology, and Chomksy personally as a fraud, supporter of tyranny and on and on.
Wrote Sullivan on his website:
--"REAL TIME: Thanks so much for the hundreds of emails after my appearance on Bill Maher's "Real Time." For those of you who wondered why I had such a visceral response to Noam Chomsky's diatribe, or who are not fully aware of who Chomsky is and what he represents, check out this review-essay, and this posting."
--"MORE ON CHOMSKY: Another must-read on the most poisonous intellectual in America."
That’s it. Not one piece of evidence. So I e-mailed Sullivan again, Ccing Chomsky and CounterPunch.
From: Leon, Michael A
Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2004 8:29 AM
Subject: Lack of Response to Chomsky
At 08:28 AM 11/7/2004 -0600, you wrote:
I (and apparently 1,000s more) wrote you asking for a response to the vitriol and slander you hurled at Noam Chomsky on national television on Bill Maher's show of Friday, November 5, 2004.
However, you have chosen not to respond with even one piece of evidence for your many slurs, one of which I have asked you to respond to below. Instead, you have posted links on your site and said in effect: "Here is what others have said." The sites you point to contain nothing but more slurs, including laughingly:
--Blasting Chomsky's towering achievement in cognitive psychology as revealing of Chomsky's alleged lack of integrity in his political analyses
--Slurring Chomsky's condemnation of the French government's heavy-handed attempt to foist an official version of history as revealing of the Jewish Chomsky's anti-Semitism
--Lying about Chomsky's blasting of the Khmer Rouge and what Chomsky had written is the Khmer Rouge's "...record of atrocities in Cambodia [that] is substantial and often gruesome" as demonstrating support for these atrocities
--And other such easily refutable nonsense.
To restrict my request for a response to one issue: I will ask you again, do you have one piece of evidence, one, that Chomsky has written or spoken in support of the government structure of the former USSR?
I hope you have at least the simple decency to refute in your own words a sample of others' and my challenges to your slander, or admit that you misspoke.
PS: I have Cced this e-mail because I think your lack of integrity demonstrated thus far in this matter deserves the broadest publicity.
Again, no response from Sullivan on his website or personally from him. Apparently, Sullivan feels no compunction in slandering a life-long human rights champion, and is disinclined to offer even the courtesy of a response.
Chomsky e-mailed me that he would be interested in hearing Sullivan's response. No such luck.
Welcome to the world of Andrew Sullivan-- slander, slink and then hide from accountability for his own dismal, truly pathetic words.
Chomsky e-mailed me back that not only was Sullivan’s alleged ridiculous on his face, but Chomsky has always been an unpopular figure with the Kremlin:
“I don't know if you are aware of how funny the line about my supporting Russia is. Two minutes research would have shown him that I've been strongly anti-Leninist throughout my life, in fact from childhood. He may not know it, but the Kremlin surely did. I was utter anathema there, so much so that my entire professional field was banned. I couldn't even send technical papers to colleagues and friends in Eastern Europe because it would get them into trouble. It wasn't until the mid-80s that there were any openings. One of the favorite weeks of my life was in about 1980, when I received two dailies denouncing me furiously for my work on transformational grammar: One was Izvestia, denouncing it as counterrevolutionary, and the other was Argentina's La Prensa (at the peak of the neo-Nazi military dictatorship), denouncing it as dangerously revolutionary. They're all basically alike, and Sullivan fits in probably better than he knows.”
Michael Leon has been published nationally in CounterPunch, In These Times, The Progressive and OpEdNews.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org