Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Noam Chomsky: The Failure of Mainstream Media in the United States

Of all Trump’s policies, the one that is the most dangerous and destructive, in fact poses an existential threat, is his policies on climate change, on global warming. That’s really destructive. And we’re facing an imminent threat, not far removed, of enormous damage. The effects are already visible but nothing like what’s going to come. A sea level rise of a couple of feet will be massively destructive. It will make today’s immigration issues look like trivialities. And it’s not that the administration is unaware of this. So, Donald Trump, for example, is perfectly aware of the dangerous effects, in the short term, of global warming. So, for example, recently he applied to the government of Ireland for permission to build a wall to protect his golf course in Ireland from rising sea levels. And Rex Tillerson, who was supposed to be the adult in the room before he was thrown out, as CEO of ExxonMobil, was devoting enormous resources to climate change denial, although he had, sitting on his desk, the reports of ExxonMobil scientists, who, since the ’70s, in fact, were on the forefront of warning of the dire effects of this accelerating phenomenon. I don’t know what word in the language — I can’t find one — that applies to people of that kind, who are willing to sacrifice the literal — the existence of organized human life, not in the distant future, so they can put a few more dollars in highly overstuffed pockets. The word “evil” doesn’t begin to approach it. These are the kinds of issues that should be under discussion. Instead, there is a focus on what I believe are marginalia.

So, take, say, the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke. First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support. Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies — this is what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015. Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress calling on them to reverse US policy, without even informing the president? And that’s just a tiny bit of this overwhelming influence. So if you happen to be interested in foreign influence on elections, there are places to look. But even that is a joke.

I mean, one of the most elementary principles of a functioning democracy is that elected representatives should be responsive to those who elected them. There’s nothing more elementary than that. But we know very well that that is simply not the case in the United States. There’s ample literature in mainstream academic political science simply comparing voters’ attitudes with the policies pursued by their representatives, and it shows that for a large majority of the population, they’re basically disenfranchised. Their own representatives pay no attention to their voices. They listen to the voices of the famous 1 percent — the rich and the powerful, the corporate sector. The elections — Tom Ferguson’s stellar work has demonstrated, very conclusively, that for a long period, way back, US elections have been pretty much bought. You can predict the outcome of a presidential or congressional election with remarkable precision by simply looking at campaign spending. That’s only one part of it. Lobbyists practically write legislation in congressional offices. In massive ways, the concentrated private capital, corporate sector, super wealth, intervene in our elections, massively, overwhelmingly, to the extent that the most elementary principles of democracy are undermined. Now, of course, all that is technically legal, but that tells you something about the way the society functions. So, if you’re concerned with our elections and how they operate and how they relate to what would happen in a democratic society, taking a look at Russian hacking is absolutely the wrong place to look. Well, you see occasionally some attention to these matters in the media, but very minor as compared with the extremely marginal question of Russian hacking.

And I think we find this on issue after issue, also on issues on which what Trump says, for whatever reason, is not unreasonable. So, he’s perfectly right when he says we should have better relations with Russia. Being dragged through the mud for that is outlandish. Russia shouldn’t refuse to deal with the United States because the US carried out the worst crime of the century in the invasion of Iraq, much worse than anything Russia has done. But they shouldn’t refuse to deal with us for that reason, and we shouldn’t refuse to deal with them for whatever infractions they may have carried out, which certainly exist. This is just absurd. We have to move towards better relations. Right at the Russian border, there are very extreme tensions, that could blow up anytime and lead to what would in fact be a terminal nuclear war, terminal for the species and life on Earth. We’re very close to that. Now, we could ask why. First of all, we should do things to ameliorate it. Secondly, we should ask why. Well, it’s because NATO expanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in violation of verbal promises to Mikhail Gorbachev, mostly under Clinton, partly under first Bush, then Clinton expanded right to the Russian border, expanded further under Obama. The US has offered to bring Ukraine into NATO. That’s the kind of a heartland of Russian geostrategic concerns. So, yes, there’s tensions at the Russian border — and not, notice, at the Mexican border. Well, those are all issues that should be of primary concern. The fate of organized human society, even of the survival of the species, depends on this. How much attention is given to these things as compared with whether Trump lied about something?

I think those seem to me the fundamental criticisms of the media.


These remarks were made in response to questions by Amy Goodman in an interview posted on YouTube by Democracy Now! on July 27, 2018.

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