Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011.04.14 — Rebel Without A Pause & Freedom of Expression American Style...

I've been taking great pleasure in the Google alert I set for Noam Chomsky because it has
led me now and then into little gems, like this one — Rebel Without A Pause.

RWAP is the 2003 video of Chomsky visiting Ontario, Canada, produced by VisionTV. After a rather grim commentary on the poor quality of intellectual discourse and level of media disinformation campaigns, you do get to hear Chomsky accentuating societal positives that have come to pass after long struggles. For example, he comments that the public protests against America entering a war with Iraq, before the war had begun, was unprecedented in history as far as he knew.

And this film was also a nice introduction to his wife, Carol,
Carol Chomsky

who died a few years after this was filmed, in 2008.

But what really caught my ear was his matter of fact description of just how censored he is by the American media. In particular its National Public media — TV and Radio, which turn out to be extremely constricted in their public discourse. The Canadian audience laughs at what is, in reality, the farcical state of America's so-called freedom of expression.

Now, this isn't new to me. I remember having read Chomsky describe his active censorship by an editor of the Boston Globe. On the year Chomsky won for the second time the Orwell Award (for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language) his name was not mentioned in an editorial that The Globe ran on the history of this particular reward, despite Chomsky being a resident of Boston and being a rare double recipient. Chomsky wrote that the editor had gone on record to assure her readers that for so long as Chomsky is associated with a particular (left wing) publishing house, that she would see to it that his name never enters the pages of The Globe. (This is a paraphrase from a distant remembered read — my quick search through my library did not reveal it to me, nor did my Googling it. If anyone knows the citation's details and would like to share them, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Studs Terkel
And I remember having watched, many years ago on American Public TV, the Studs Terkel very late at night broadcast of three journalists who experienced censorship. (I was once again unable to locate it on the Web.) In it a NY Times journalist related her inability to get her 'Three Mile Island' story put to press because of big money links to the paper's advertising revenue stream; a serious critique of America's handling of nuclear waste that was flipped into vacuous fear-mongering by ignorant idiots by the editors of the MacNeil/Lehrer Report and oops — I've forgotten the third story. I have kept my eyes open for it ever since, and haven't seen it mentioned, let alone re-broadcasted.

Enough of that. Here is the "Rebel Without a Pause" describing how he is made mute in his home country, the land of the free and home of the brave:
... So I'm on mainstream television all the time. In Ireland, England, Italy, New Zealand [laughter]. In fact the public television studios in Boston, all the staff knows me very well. I'm there all the time for satellite broadcasts to even ... used to be Canada too. That's now declined. But, ah, and occasionally in the United States. Commercial television is much less constrained than public television. Public television is more liberal and it's therefor much more ideological, and imposes much narrower constraints. They don't allow deviants. That's pretty constant. But yeah, they don't want ... I mean it's not in their interest to have people talk about things like this. Sometimes they're pressured and they'll allow a couple of minutes here and there. And it's kind of interesting the way it works. So, television is mostly out, except for commercial cable television.

But radio is a little freer. National Public Radio is considered the liberal, ah, the kind of outer limits of the left in the United States. Very small, but it's considered very dissident. And they're the one's with the sharpest restrictions by far. They won't allow a millimeter of deviation from the party line.

But sometimes they are under pressure to do it. It's interesting the way it works. So, for example, during first Gulf war – I'm pretty well known around Boston, and that happens to be the centre, the ideological centre for National Public Radio. It's their flagship station, and all that sort of thing. And there's a lot of pressure to let me be on, now and then. So during the first Gulf war they did approach me and they told me I'd be allowed to have two and a half minutes. [Laughter.] However, they insisted that I write out what I was going to say, send it to the central office so they could ensure that it's, you know, okay. And once they approved it I had to read and they pre-recorded it, to make sure I wouldn't add a phrase [more laughter] that wasn't ... ah ... that went off the limits. The first time I thought it was kind of ridiculous – so did the staff. The staff is mostly laughing, the engineers and so on. But I did read it and the first reading took two minutes and thirty-six seconds. So they told me no, I gotta re-read it. And so I read a little faster and got it into the two minutes and thirty seconds, and they actually did run it.

And there are other things like that. I'll just mention one other case. Same – National Public Radio again, the kind of left medium. They have a book review thing. And again they're under a lot of pressure often, to have something about books of mine. Around ten years ago there was a book of mine based on [my Massey] lectures over CBC [Canadian Broadcast Corporation, called Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies]. And actually it was a best seller in Canada for years. Nobody ever heard of it in the United States, it was never reviewed or anything. But there was pressure around Boston to get them to review that book, okay.
So they finally agreed. And we again had a pre-recorded five minute interview with
Robert Siegel, who's their big shot intellectual.

And it was actually announced. Their main program, it's called 'All Things Considered.' It starts at five o'clock, and every educated person's supposed to listen to it. And at five o'clock they announced that they were going to have a review of this book. The publishers, South End Press, called me up, and said, 'Great, it's going to be on.' It got to 5:30 – it got to 5:25. At 5:25 the program stopped and there were five minutes of music. At 5:30, when they move into the next segment, they announced the next segment and phone calls started coming in from all over the place, saying, you know, what happened to that five minute review. I wasn't listening, but people started calling me, saying what happened to the review. After about ten minutes I got a call from the manager of the whole thing in Washington, who said something very strange, we're getting a lot of calls saying that your review didn't appear. But we know that it did. I see it right on my program here. So I said I don't know, I don't know anything about it. About ten minutes later she called me back, very chagrined, and said that she was over-ruled for the first time ever by some higher up who heard the announcement in the first five minutes and cancelled it.

Well you know that caused quite a furor. She was very upset for, you know, professional reasons – she didn't want to be over-ruled. And there was a lot of public reaction. And so they finally agreed to re-do another five minutes, you know, pre-recorded. The second one they actually ran.

Well that's off at the left liberal end of the spectrum. When you move to the more conservative, commercial media they're less constrained. (20:08 - 25:29)
This is, I think, very interesting.

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