Chomsky on media/Pol Pot

Uday Mohan UM6271A at
Tue Oct 6 20:29:31 PDT 1998

Chomsky and Edward Herman's work on U.S. media treatment of the Cambodian genocide attempts to demonstrate in detail that the massive violence of our enemies gets the media and the intelligentsia foaming at the mouth, while our use of massive violence, or that of our friends, gets marginalized. To demonstrate this they compare U.S. media coverage/mainstream commentary about Pol Pot to that about Indonesia in East Timor and the U.S. in pre-April '75 Cambodia. Part of this method entails sorting out what was known when and how reliable it was. It's an attempt to sort fact from fiction, not defend perpetrators of violence, though some may hear it differently. The first para below actually comes after the next two paras in Herman and Chomsky's book, but I put it up front because it more directly relates to the issues raised here. Uday Mohan.

>From Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, _Manufacturing Consent: The
Political Economy of the Mass Media_, 1986, pp. 280-81 :

As we noted from the first paragraph of our earlier review [Political Economy of Human Rights, vol. II, 1979] of this material, to which we will simply refer here for specifics, "there is no difficulty in documenting major atrocities and oppression, primarily from the reports of refugees"; there is little doubt that "the record of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome" and represents "a fearful toll"; "when the facts are in, it may turn out that the more extreme condemnations were in fact correct," although if so, "it will in no way alter the conclusions we have reached on the central question addressed here: how the available facts were selected, modified, or sometimes invented to create a certain image offered to the general population. The answer to this question seems clear, and it is unaffected by whatever may yet be discovered about Cambodia in the future."

Phase II of "the decade of genocide" began with the Khmer Rouge takeover in April 1975. [Phase I, treated in the preceding pages by Herman/Chomsky, covers the period 1969-April 1975, when the U.S. was bombing Cambodia and sustaining a civil war.] Within a few weeks, the Khmer Rouge were accused in the national press of "barbarous cruelty" and "genocidal policies" comparable to the "Soviet extermination of the Kulaks or with the Gulag Archipelago." This was at a time when the death toll was perhaps in the thousands; the half million or more killed during phase I of the genocide never merited such comments, nor were these assessments of the first days of phase II (or later ones, quite generally) accompanied by reflection on the consequences of the American war that were anticipated by U.S. officials and relief workers on the scene, reviewed earlier, or by any recognition of a possible causal link between the horrors of phase II and the American war against the rural society during phase I.

We will not document here the flood of rage and anger directed against the Khmer Rouge from the outset and the evidence on which it was based, having done so elsewhere in detail. Several facts documented there bear emphasis: (1) the outrage, which was instant and overwhelming, peaked in early 1977 and, until the overthrow of Pol Pot, was based almost exclusively on evidence through 1977, primarily 1975-76; (2) apart from a few knowledgeable journalists, the State Department's Cambodia experts, and probably the majority of the small group of Cambodia scholars--that is, most of those with a basis for judgment--the most extreme accusations were adopted and proclaimed with a great show of indignation over Communist atrocities, the integrity of which can be measured by comparison to the reaction to phase I of the genocide and U.S. responsibility for it; (3) these skeptical assessments, almost entirely suppressed in the media, proved fairly accurate for the period in question; (4) the evidence that provided the crucial basis for the denunciations of Communist genocide was of a kind that would have been dismissed with derision had something of the sort been offered with regard to phase I of the genocide or other U.S. atrocities, including faked interviews and photographs and fabricated statements attributed to Khmer Rouge officials, constantly repeated even after they had been conceded to be frauds; fabricated casualty estimates based on misquoted studies that became unquestionable doctrine even after they were publicly withdrawn as inventions; and highly selective refugee reports that ignored much refugee testimony, including detailed studies by Cambodia scholars, that could not be exploited for what soon became a progaganda campaign at a level of deceit of astonishing proportions.

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