Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 22/33
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5. The Best Defense 125

Despite the extraordinary protection the media have afforded Israel since 1967, and the demonizing of its enemies, many are not satisfied and bitterly condemn the media for their unfair treatment of Israel and their tilt towards the PLO and the Arabs generally (see appendix I). These attacks then lead to thoughtful reflections on the "double standard" that Israel must suffer and the reasons for it. This is a virtual reflex when some Israeli atrocity, such as the war in Lebanon or the violent repression of the Palestinian uprising from December 1987, becomes impossible to overlook, so that the media present a glimpse of what they generally dismiss or deny while continuing to ignore (or sometimes falsify) the background and causes.

The arguments offered on the "double standard" are often startling. In the Jerusalem Post, Eliahu Tal ("perhaps Israel's leading mass communicator") describes the work he is completing in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League that shows how Israel is losing the propaganda war because of the "anti-Israel bias and double standards" of the media and the "clever trick" devised by Arab propagandists: "deliberately using women and kids as targets for the camera" -- a remark reminiscent of the insight in Commentary about "the Palestinian Arabs, people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery."126 Another typical refrain is that those who do not live in Israel and suffer its problems at first hand are dishonest and unfair when they interfere with its affairs by criticizing its policies -- though they are permitted to laud and admire Israel in public, and there are no similar strictures with regard to criticism of the PLO or the Soviet Union on the part of people who do not live in refugee camps or in Leningrad. Also exempt from the doctrine are the extreme pressures on Israel from the American Jewish community, even blocking formation of a functioning government for several weeks after the November 1988 Israeli elections and significantly influencing its character, when it seemed that the government might change the wording of its Law of Return in a manner unacceptable to diaspora Jewry.

The reaction to media coverage of Israel makes a certain kind of sense: attack is always the best defense, particularly when one can expect to control the terms of the discussion, and charges, however outlandish, will be granted a certain credence.

A number of examples have already been discussed. Another typical case is an ABC TV "news viewpoint," moderated by Peter Jennings.127 In accordance with the regular pattern, two positions are represented: the media are attacked as too adversarial, unfair to Israel in this case; and they are defended as doing a creditable job under difficult circumstances. There is barely a nod given to the possibility that they might be guided by a different bias. In a question from the audience, media analyst Dennis Perrin asked ABC Israel Bureau Chief Bill Seamans why the media continue to claim that the PLO refused to recognize Israel's rights in the face of a series of statements by Arafat, which he cites, "calling for mutual security guarantees and mutual recognition." Seamans's response is that Arafat "has not made a clearcut, definitive statement recognizing Israel's right to exist," but has always added qualifications. Panelist Howard Squadron of the American Jewish Congress then dismisses Perrin's comments as "utter nonsense," and there the matter ends.

Seamans's comment is quite accurate: Arafat has added the qualification that Palestinians should have rights comparable to those accorded Israeli Jews. It is also true that U.S.-Israeli statements have no taint of ambiguity, being unfailingly rejectionist. That stand, by definition, conforms to the requirements of peace, moderation, and justice, so nothing need be said about it.

But no review of the actual facts can be expected to diminish the drumbeat of criticism of the "pro-PLO" media, which, in a major "scandal," have accorded the PLO "moral and political prestige" (Leon Wieseltier) and have provided the organization with "its stellar media presence" (Daniel Pipes). The adulation of the PLO and the unfair double standard imposed on defenseless Israel are to be explained, perhaps, on the basis of "the irrational attitude of the Western world toward Jews" that lies "deep in the psyche" of Christian civilization, so Israeli President Chaim Herzog ruminates.128

Such perceptions have a familiar ring. The regime of the Shah received overwhelmingly positive coverage, but that did not prevent him from charging the Western media with a "double standard for international morality: anything Marxist, no matter how bloody and base, is acceptable; the policies of a socialist, centrist, or right-wing government are not." Similarly, in internal government discussions on the eve of the overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles "expressed very great concern about the Communist line being followed by Sydney Gruson in his dispatches to the New York Times," which President Eisenhower then described as "the most untrustworthy newspaper in the United States." CIA director Allen Dulles "pointed out some very disturbing features of Sidney Gruson's career to date" and the assembled dignitaries decided "to talk informally to the management of the New York Times" -- successfully, it appears; Gruson was sent to Mexico after Allen Dulles communicated to the top Times management suspicions that Gruson and his wife, Times columnist Flora Lewis, were Communist agents or sympathizers, asking the Times to remove him from Central America during the coup. This was during a period when the Times and other media were being spoon-fed appropriate material by the public relations specialists of the United Fruit Company, though, as its PR director Thomas McCann later wrote: "It is difficult to make a convincing case for manipulation of the press when the victims proved so eager for the experience."129

One finds similar perceptions among respected political figures, scholars, and journalists. Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that "it is scandalous that so much of the conventionally liberal community, always so ready to embrace victims of American or Israeli or any other unfashionable `imperialism,' is so reticent on the subject" of Afghanistan. Surely one might expect liberals in Congress or the press to desist from their ceaseless labors on behalf of the PLO and the guerrillas in El Salvador long enough to notice some Soviet crimes; perhaps they might even follow Brzezinski to the Khyber Pass to strike heroic poses there before a camera crew. Political scientist Robert Tucker writes that "numerous public figures in the West, even a number of Western governments [...have] encouraged the PLO in its maximalist course" of "winner-take-all," that is, destruction of Israel; he too fails to cite names and references, for unsurprising reasons. One of the most audacious examples was a media triumph by journalist William Shawcross, who succeeded -- easily, given the serviceability of the thought -- in establishing the doctrine that there was relative silence in the West during the Pol Pot atrocities, when there was in fact a vast chorus of indignation, and that this silence was attributable to the formidable left-wing influence over media and governments that is so striking a feature of Western society. My co-author Edward Herman and I were even granted magical powers in Shawcross's construction: he cited alleged comments of ours that went to press in February 1979 and appeared the following November as the source and agency of this influence from 1975 through December 1978.130 None of this affected the respectful reception for these thoughtful insights in the slightest.

A variant is that the universities have been taken over by Marxists and (other) left-wing fascists. Commenting on the "new generation" in the field of Soviet studies, University of Massachusetts sociologist Paul Hollander, a fellow of the Harvard Russian Research Center, writes that "many academics of this generation believed that no social-political system could be worse than their own... For them, it was easier to discern political pluralism in the U.S.S.R. than in the U.S." Historian John Diggins sees Marxism as having "come close to being the dominant ideology in the academic world." New York University historian Norman Cantor deplores the failure of the Reaganites to overcome the dominance of academic life by "the radical left," who "indoctrinate" the children of the middle class "in European socialist theory." This is a symptom of the deeper failure to develop "a comprehensive rightist doctrine," he explains. The "ingredients" for such a doctrine existed "in interwar European Fascism," but "recourse to this intellectual reservoir was never attempted" because of the "discrediting of intellectual Fascism by World War II, Vichy, Mussolini, Nazism and the Holocaust" -- which, we are apparently to understand, had nothing to do with the heritage of intellectual Fascism. What a shame that the Reaganites missed the opportunity to revive these valuable ideas.131

There are many similar examples, specifics invariably omitted for understandable reasons. It is superfluous to comment on the relation to reality of such pronouncements about the left-wing takeover of the academic world (or perhaps the whole world). It may well be, however, that they are seriously intended; apparently they are respectfully received. The point is that to those who demand strict obedience to authority, even the slightest sign of independence of thought is enough to evoke the fear that all is lost.

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125 Addendum to p. 123.

126 See p. 316. Sarah Honig, JP Magazine, Sept. 23, 1988.

127 Transcript, ABC NEWS VIEWPOINT Show #1794, ABC, April 7, 1988. Coverage of South Africa and some other matters are also mentioned, but the focus is on coverage of Israel.

128 Wieseltier, New Republic, Sept. 23, 1981; Pipes, NYT, Aug. 3, 1988; Herzog, LAT, July 9, 1988.

129 Shah cited in Dorman and Farhang, The U.S. Press and Iran, 24; FRUS, 1952-1954, vol. IV, 1132, Memorandum of NSC discussion, May 27, 1954; Harrison E. Salisbury, Without Fear or Favor (Times Books, 1980, 479); Thomas P. McCann, An American Company (Crown, 1976, 47). See McCann and Turning the Tide, 164f., on Times coverage and commentary during the period.

130 Brzezinski, The National Interest (Fall, 1985); Tucker, Commentary, Oct. 1982. On Shawcross's intriguing construction and its influence, see Manufacturing Consent, chapter 6, section 2.8. The alleged quote was left unidentified and undated to obscure the evident absurdity of the charge and the fact that it was fabricated for the occasion. Ibid., for details.

131 Hollander, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 24, 1985; Diggins, NYT Book Review, Oct. 20, 1985; NYT Op-Ed, Aug. 22, 1988.