Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Chomsky Paradox

by

One night over a bottle of Irish whiskey, Alexander Cockburn told me a story about Noam Chomsky’s teeth. One day the great brain went to the dentist for a check up after several years of neglect. During the examination, the tooth doctor noticed extreme wear on the enamel of Chomsky’s molars.

“Noam, do grind your teeth?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well, the enamel is taking a real pounding. Perhaps you’re doing it at night. Can you ask your wife if she’s observed anything?”

Chomsky goes home Lexington, near the MIT campus and tells his wife Carol about his encounter with the dentist. That night and the next, Carol stays up after Noam has fallen asleep, keeping a close watch for any nocturnal grinding but notices no unusual dental machinations.

However, Carol did observe a furious gnashing each morning at the breakfast table as Noam read his way through the New York Times.

Chomsky taught two generations how to read the paper of record, how to detect the warps in its stories, the subtle biases and false constructions, the decisive elisions of context, and servility toward elite power. What Chomsky could do not was to KillingTrayvons1teach us how to stop reading the New York Times. As a result, thousands of activists around the globe reach for the Times (or the Guardian or the Washington Post) each morning, with red pens in hand, begin marking it up and grinding the enamel off their teeth.

Being Luddites, Cockburn and I were late-comers to the web. Our journal CounterPunch didn’t go online until the late 1990s, as the sun was going down on the Clinton administration. But it wasn’t long before we realized the web offered an exit from what we called the Chomsky Paradox, an existential dilemma that often keeps the Left mired in a hostile environment fight phantoms—namely, political reality as constructed by the editors of the elite media.

After a few years of publishing on the web to an audience of more than a million readers a month, it became clear to us that the old David v. Goliath struggle of left pamphelteers battling the vast print combines of the news barons is beginning to equal up. On a laptop’s 12-inch screen CounterPunch stands as high as the New York Times or Rupert Murdoch, who shelled out $580 million for Myspace.com in 2006 when he belatedly realized the world had changed.

Jeff Bezos, the titan of Amazon, plunked down $250 million of the decrepit Washington Post. Why? Vanity? What’s an oligarch without his own paper? The old newspaper empires are dying or dead.

Twenty years ago the Los Angeles Times was a mighty power. Today it totters from once savage cost-cut and forced retirement to the next. Will the broadsheets and tabloids vanish? Not in the foreseeable future, any more than trains disappeared after the advent of the Interstate system. A mature industry will yield income and attract investors interested in money or power long after its glory days are over. But it’s a world in decline and a propaganda system in decay.

The left is so used to being underdogged that it is often incapable of greeting good fortune when it knocks at the door. Thirty years ago, many of the pieces we run daily in CounterPunch challenging the official nonsense peddled in the mass-market press, would have been doomed to small-circulation magazines or 30-second summaries on Pacifica radio. Thirty years ago, to find out what was really happening in Gaza, you would have needed a decent short-wave radio or a fax machine. Not any more. Now we can get a news report from Gaza or Ramallah or Oaxaca or Vidharba and have it out to a worldwide audience in a matter of minutes.

Naturally, the state doesn’t like the loosening of control. Of course, it could start policing the Net more heavily and start taking down sites more often. Cost of access could shoot up. All of these things could happen and, absent resistance, may well happen. But right now there are new opportunities to be explored and turned, at last, to the advantage of radicals.

A version of this piece originally appeared in the great Australian literary journal Overland.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book  is Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail