If Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn did Meet the Press
The intellectual holocaust known as the Sunday news shows (Meet the Press, This Week, Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, FOX News Sunday) have been criticized for their protectionist treatment of beltway platitudes. If the week’s discussion concerns Afghanistan, then Meet the Press will feature a panel comprised of Rudy Giuliani, Tom Friedman, Harold Ford, Jr., and Tom Brokaw (as Atrios would say, “Document the atrocities”) — all participants who believe it’s in America’s interest to remain in Afghanistan. Conversely, producers rarely use anti-war activists on their panels.
MTP’s decision to invite Rachel Maddow as a panelist on a few shows has been the one genuinely interesting moment in the show’s recent history, namely because Maddow is perceived as somewhat of an outsider, at least when it comes to the recycled corpses normally propped around the table (it’s reported tha David Broder actually sleeps on set).
A majority of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, and yet they are not represented on mainstream news shows. The Sunday bobblehead shows are supposed to frame the national debate, and yet the largest chunk of the puzzle — the American people — are completely missing from the discussion.
MTP and Company continually invite back the people who so frequently get it wrong (on the economy, and on the wars). The same people who gushed about the virtues of the free market, and the “slam dunk” WMDs in Iraq, get to air their wrongness every Sunday, while the ones who were right — the pro-regulation, anti-war crowd, are shut out of the conversation entirely.
You’ll never see a Noam Chomsky or a Howard Zinn on MTP. The closest you’ll likely see is a Rachel Maddow, a woman who just so happens to have a show on MSNBC, which is owned by NBC, MTP’s home network. And yet, the nation would benefit from having these great minds on television. Chomsky has been called the greatest living intellectual by the New York Times, and Zinn is arguably one of the most famous living historians and activists. The guys must have at least as many interesting things to say as Robert Novak.
I recently interviewed Chomsky and Zinn for my radio show, and asked them some of the very same questions directed at the panelists on the Sunday morning news shows. Their answers illustrate why non-mainstream voices aren’t included in these panel discussions. It’s not that Chomsky or Zinn are incapable of saying interesting, valuable things. It’s that their answers directly challenge the establishment — corporations, media, and government — i.e. the very institutions MTP and Company rely upon for survival, including the steady supply of empty-headed Washingtonian puppets.
In the following pretend Sunday Morning talk show, the anti-war voice finally gets to participate in the national conversation.
The Washington Posts’ Charles Krauthammer calls the Khalid Sheik Mohammad trial a farcical show because Mohammad will never walk free. Do you agree with that assessment? (Question from MTP)
What actually went down: Panelist Diane Feinstein replied that she does not think Krauthammer is right. Instead of expanding on the answer, moderator David “Stretch” Gregory proceeded to harp on Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement that “failure is not an option” concerning the KSM’s theoretical conviction. At one point, Gregory asks if Holder’s statement is “appropriate.” Notice, the question if torture is “appropriate” never arises (KSM was repeatedly water boarded).
Panelist Noam Chomsky: That’s a comment by someone who has profound hatred for the Constitution, for law, for justice, and thinks he can use a hammer to beat people you don’t like…It’s a farce because it’s not going to come out the way he wants…Is it a farce? Well, I don’t see how they can have a serious criminal trial after a person’s been put through extensive torture, but that’s a problem for the US justice system. If [KSM] is tried in New York, at least there will be some semblance of a trial.
Do you believe that there should be some kind of political outreach to the Taliban? (Question from Fareed Zakaria’s GPS)
What actually went down: Zakaria’s guest, Manmohan Singh: Well, I think President Karzai, having been re-elected, it is his responsibility and his obligation to harmonize and to bring together all elements who can contribute to the construction and development of Afghanistan. And I hope that he will rise to the occasion.
Zakaria: Has he done so, so far?
Singh: Well, I think there have been limited efforts before. And I sincerely — yesterday, in his inaugural address, he appealed to Dr. Abdullah and other elements to work with him. So, I hope that all elements of Afghan societies which are opposed to the terrorist elements can get together to give a purposeful government to the people of Afghanistan.
Zakaria quickly transitions away from the topic of Afghans:
Zakaria: The United States is trying to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, is trying to help President Karzai establish a stable government there. What is Pakistan’s objective in Afghanistan, in your view?
Do you believe that there should be some kind of political outreach to the Taliban?
Chomsky: If we want to solve the problems of Afghanistan, sure. They’re Afghans. They’re going to have to be part of any solution in Afghanistan. If a large majority of Afghans are in favor of that. Anyway, it’s not our business. We have no authority to make that decision. I think one of the striking things about the intensive debate going on here is that there’s one voice missing: Afghans’. And they’re the ones that have the right to decide. An invading army doesn’t have any right [to decide].
I’m sure there were debates in Russia in the mid-1980s, but we all know there was one problem with those debates — they were not considering Afghans. Are we any different? No, so the whole discussion is skewed. There is a very deeply rooted imperial culture in the west. We take for granted imperialist assumptions. They’re so deeply rooted, we can’t even see them. They’re like the air we breathe. But there’s no justification for accepting them.
On Meet the Press this week, Joe Lieberman said that Afghanistan has to be “stable,” before US troops can leave. Do you think that Afghanistan can be stabilized by the US, and should that be our goal in the region?
Panelist Howard Zinn’s response: If Joseph Lieberman thinks that we are going to stay in Afghanistan until its stable, he will be long dead before Afghanistan is stable. Not only that, a lot of Afghans will be dead, and he doesn’t seem to care about that. Afghanistan has not been stable for a very long time. Ever since the British imperialists after World War I moved into Afghanistan, Afghanistan has been the play thing of imperial powers: England, Russia, the United States. And the United States government, which has a terrible history of bringing stability to countries — the United States is not going to bring stability to Afghanistan. Lieberman is out of his mind.
If hawkish armchair Generals like Joe Liberman get to pretend that they know anything about military strategy, then left-wing intellectuals like Chomsky and Zinn should at least be permitted to respond to these ridiculous, imperialist statements. At least Howard Zinn actually served in the air force. Joe Lieberman never served in the military, and yet he gets to militarily strategize on national television.
Certainly, intelligent citizens of all kind — those who served and those who haven’t, white-collar, blue-collars, rich, and poor — should all be permitted to participate in the Afghanistan debate. However, this kind of media pro-war bias is harmful. Pro-war chickenhawks should not be allowed to spout their venom unchallenged on a national television program. (Side-note: It certainly is strange that the radically left-wing media consistently shuts out anti-war voices.)
After our interview, Chomsky chuckled and asked if the guests gave any similar answers on Meet the Press. “No,” I responded, “They did not.”