Motoko Rich should be ashamed of herself.
In a front-page New York Times story Saturday, the former residential real estate reporter (recently promoted to the Times' publishing beat) noted that Noam Chomsky’s book Hegemony or Survival (2003) is getting a sales boost because it was mentioned by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in his speech ("rave") to the United Nations earlier this week. The title of Rich’s article is “U.S. Best Seller, Thanks to Rave By Latin Leftist” (New York Times, 23 September, 2006, A1).
Rich’s description of Chavez as a “Latin Leftist” seems an oddly racial way to refer to the democratically elected president of one of the leading nations in the Western Hemisphere and Latin America.
Rich’s reference to Chavez’s speech as a “rave” also seems problematic. Despite his half-joking reference to George W. Bush as “the devil,” Chavez spoke in a calm and deliberate, often amusing tone about the very real dangers that U.S. imperialism poses to people and nations around the world. He related those dangers in reasonable way to Chomsky’s thesis about Washington’s in-fact heavily (and often quite explicitly) imperial designs for “global dominance” in Hegemony or Survival. There was no wild or rambling rage or ranting in Chavez’s address. It may have said things far outside the acceptable parameters of bipartisan U.S. doctrine and ideology, but . . . (though I suppose it contained a "rave" review of Hegemony or Survival) it wasn’t a “rave,” “Latin,” “leftist” or otherwise.
But the absolutely worst part of the Times' publishing beat reporter's article -- and its the main thing that led me to this commentary -- comes near the end, when Rich gives three (short) paragraphs of viciously idiotic commentary on Chomsky and his book(s) to the noted Chomsky-hater, Harvard Law professor Alan M. Dershowitz.
Here are the relevant passages from Motoko Rich:
But Alan M. Dershowitz, the lawyer and Harvard Law School professor, said he doubted whether many of the current buyers would ever actually read the book.”
“I don’t know anybody who’s ever read a Chomsky book,” said Mr. Dershowitz, who said he first met Mr. Chomsky in 1948 at a Hebrew-speaking Zionist camp in the Pocono Mountains where Mr. Dershowitz was a camper and Mr. Chomsky was a counselor.
“You buy them, you put them in your pockets, you put them out on your coffee table,” said Mr. Dershowitz, a longtime critic of Mr. Chomsky. The people who are buying Hegemony now, he added, “I promise you they are not going to get to the end of the book.”
He continued: “He does not write page turners, he writes page stoppers. There are a lot of bent pages in Noam Chomsky’s books, and they are usually at about Page 16.”
Wow, how’s that for a substantive critique of, and response, to Hegemony or Survival, or to Chomsky’s latest big book Failed States, or to his classic Deterring Democracy (1991) or to any other among Chomsky’s many priceless volumes?
The notion that nobody finishes Chomsky’s books is, of course, absurd. I am among countless others who rarely put Chomsky’s studies anywhere near a coffee table; his books are located front and center in our bookshelves, in the privileged places you set aside for works you will frequently reference and cite.
Of course, Dershowitz has targeted Chomsky as a leading and highly personal nemesis for a very long time. It’s an old and fierce hatred. For all I know, it goes back to summer camp in 1948.
Whatever, citing Dershowitz as your source on Chomsky is pretty disgusting. Imagine the Hell that the Times would catch for including an unchallenged response from Chavez in an article on Bush’s latest speech. Of course, Chavez would actually make some substantive and worthwhile points.
Motoko Rich should be ashamed. And so, more to the point, should the New York Times.
Paul Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004) and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005). He will talk in greater detail about these and related matters in a talk titled "The Repair of Broken Societies Begins At Home," in Champaign, Illinois next Tuesday at 7 PM at the Community United Church of Christ. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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