Chomsky and the Quality Paperback Book Club



Noam Chomsky is interviewed by “January” magazine. Via Oliver Kamm, who zestily revisits the old controversies, not to Chomsky’s advantage.

This brings to mind  Chomsky’s theory of propaganda, such as it is.

In short, “corporate media, as profit-driven institutions, tend to serve and further the agendas of the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society.”  Radical or even non-conformist points of view are simply not given coverage.  Believers argue it is no conspiracy theory; rather, it happens somehow naturally, out of the profit motive.  

Here is a test:  How has Chomsky fared in getting his work out to the people, in spite of corporate control of the media?  

Here is a hint, from an interview with Chomsky about the film Manufacturing Consent, based on the book.  

CHOMSKY: … the positive impact of it has been astonishing to me. Mark can give you the details, but outside of the United States, the film is shown all over the place, and even inside the United States it was shown to some extent.

INTERVIEWER: It was in a lot of cities.

CHOMSKY: Yeah, but in every other country it’s been on national television.

INTERVIEWER: It came to Seattle four times and sold out every screening.

CHOMSKY: Okay, but everywhere else it was on national television.

Let’s look at the media blackout he has faced his entire career.  (Sorry for the absence of links.  I wrote this years ago as part of an email argument.)

In spite of the theory, there seems to be a wide consensus in the United States regarding the importance and influence of Chomsky’s ideas.

According to the NNDB database, for example, Chomsky is “a profoundly influential voice”. The New Statesman argues, “For anyone wanting to find out more about the world we live in…there is one simple answer: read Noam Chomsky.”  Business Week says “With relentless logic, Chomsky bids us to listen closely to what our leaders tell us–and to discern what they are leaving out.” 

Mr. Chomsky is an extremely popular lecturer around the United States, speaking on U.S. foreign policy, Mid East politics, and related subjects. He has authored more than 30 books on political subjects, and has been a political icon for three generations of the American Left. For example, The Village Voice notes “Chomsky’s early books criticizing U.S. policy in southeast Asia were bibles of the Vietnam anti-war movement.” His book “For Reasons of State,” concerns the upheavals in domestic and international affairs of the 1970s. The New York Times Book Review noted that it “Displays those qualities which exemplify the finest traditions of intellectual responsibility.” An anthology of his writings, “The Essential Chomsky” has sold more than 45,000 copies, and was lauded by The Quality Paperback Book Club

His political thought has been the subject of several serious monographs, among which are M. Rai, “Chomsky’s Politics” (London: Verso, 1995); P. Wilkin, “Noam Chomsky: On Power, Knowledge and Human Nature” (New York: St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1997); A. Edgley, “The Social and Political Thought of Noam Chomsky” (London and New York: Routledge, 2000). 

He is not merely an ivory-tower intellectual, however. As the socialist website has stated, “The Marxist movement can learn much from Chomsky, most of all how to speak to the ordinary citizen.” 

His message is spread on tapes and CDs; he is promoted at rock concerts by superstar bands such as Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and U-2 (whose lead singer Bono called Chomsky a “rebel without a pause”). He is the icon of Hollywood stars like Matt Damon whose genius character in the Academy Award-winning film Good Will Hunting is made to invoke Chomsky as the go-to authority for political insight. 

On the Web, there are more chat room references to Noam Chomsky than to Vice President Dick Cheney and 10 times as many as there are to Democratic congressional leaders. 

In short, according to The Observer, he is “the Elvis of Academia.” 

Uniquely among political writers, Mr. Chomsky has had three books in’s Top 2000. 

Mr. Chomsky’s book “9-11” is a best seller (it has made the best-seller lists of The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice and with over 300,000 copies sold. According to Michael Massing, the book’s genesis was the huge number of interview requests made to Mr. Chomsky after the attacks of 9/11. He was unable to keep up with all the media demands on his time, and so published an anthology of interviews on the subject. 

 (Chomsky’s publisher keeps its eyes on the bottom line: even the small pamphlet “What Uncle Sam Really Wants” has sold over 160,000 copies.) Mr. Chomsky’s publisher took out front-page ads in national newspapers and magazines, and, according to The Village Voice, the book “received prominent placement in bookstores upon its release.” In light of its controversial claims, 

“…the mainstream media came calling on the 
iconoclastic Chomsky. After profiles ran in The New York 
and The Washington Post in May 2002, he faced off with 
arch-conservative Bill Bennett on CNN’s American Morning 
With Paula Zahn, an appearance that created a definite spike 
in sales, according to Greg Ruggiero, Chomsky’s editor.” 

Chomsky’s book “Manufacturing Consent,” published in 1988, was also wildly popular. The book bravely identifies the fact that “America’s government and its corporate giants exercise control over what we read, see and hear.” The book was reviewed very favorably in the New York Times, which called it “[A] compelling indictment of the news media’s role in covering up errors and deceptions in American foreign policy of the past quarter century.” 

Four of his books have been made into films, among which Manufacturing Consent has been called (by Inroads magazine) “among the most viewed documentaries of all time.” 

Chomsky is among the American media’s 100 most-cited intellectuals, according to Inroads Magazine. According to the Chicago Tribune, Noam Chomsky is “the most often cited living author. Among intellectual luminaries of all eras, Chomsky placed eighth, just behind Plato and Sigmund Freud.” In fact, an entire network of left-wing media – Z Magazine, Pacifica Radio, South End Press – repeat virtually his every word. 

He is a winner of the Orwell Award for “Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language.” (Ted Koppel of ABC News is another distinguished recipient.)


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