Sue Him, Noam!
Press Action, November 10, 2004
The disturbingly authoritarian journalist Andrew Sullivan is an easy target, but this time he may have gone too far. A gay far-right winger who spent years enamored with Bush, only to endorse Kerry to retain credibility among his vast readership who feels there’s nothing wrong with siding with a mass-murderer, but if he’s against gay marriage than he’s got to go. One could even, if one were so inclined, credit the phantom story of Democrats who were as vocally opposed to gay marriage as were Republicans losing because of their perceived support among those who wield “the homosexual agenda.” As a Time magazine columnist, Sullivan is perhaps the most visible gay man in America, a regular at the Bohemian Grove.
After September 11, Sullivan wrote that while he wasn’t worried about the heartland, “decadent coastal liberals may well mount a fifth column.” This in response, as is well known, to a thoughtful New Yorker essay by Susan Sontag. Sullivan, who Eric Alterman—not usually a sharp wordsmith—memorably calls “Young Roy Cohn” later issued “Sontag awards.” His attitude and his popularization of a sort of Lynne Cheneyist position on what “Views” are improper and thus should not be publicly aired, probably did far more damage to civil liberties than Joe McCarthy’s pal Roy, who at the very least didn’t take himself seriously.
In fact, it is Sullivan who did the most to legitimate the Patriot Act as well as—by repetition and big lies—the Imperial adventures of the last few years. While requisitely disturbed by Abu Ghraib, like Walt Winchell, he made it his aim to not argue with “the left” or the “fifth column,” but to repeatedly lie, redbait and attempt to outright destroy careers of people, including progressives within news organizations such as the New Republic, on which he is on the board. It used to be said that wing-nut ideologues like Sullivan were CIA agents, but I would assume even his agenda is too radical for the agency. Sullivan most likely is speaking for the management of the news division of Time magazine, the war-loving adventurers with very little talent. Unlike other propagandists, Sullivan is not a good writer—his skill is televised temper tantrums.
A recent one could get him in big trouble, though the recipient is probably too decent by half. As has been widely reported on the internet, Noam Chomsky was recently interviewed by a very respectful Bill Maher, on his HBO show.
After the interview, which is worth watching even without the aftermath, Sullivan was unable to contain himself, lashing out eventually at Maher and fellow guests for even allowing themselves to hear Chomsky. He was particularly angry—palpably so—at Maher for even having Chomsky on cable television. When queried as to why his views were appropriate for television and Chomsky’s were not, Sullivan eventually, after repeating the no-longer acceptable post-911 tropes about “not being OK to besmirch our troops” red-baited Chomsky, specifically saying he was, during the cold war, a supporter of the Soviet Union.
He picked the wrong person. As anyone who has any familiarity with Chomsky’s writings is concerned—starting with his classic essay “Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship”—Chomsky is as harshly Anti-Leninist as he is opposed to American Imperialism. Some on the left to this day criticize Chomsky for his early comparison between the “new mandarins” during the Vietnam War—McNamara, etc.—with a Leninist vanguard party. Long before the current “neocons-are-Trotskyites,” genuine antiwar thinkers and radicals have always noticed correlations between Soviet and Imperial American power.
Now there were some leftists who did support the Soviet Union’s existence, if not policies, some who were Trotskyites—like Sullivan’s friend Hitch—but Chomsky was not one of them. He was and is to the left of Bolshevism, and his political roots are in anarcho-syndicalism, Rocker, as well as more recent libertarian socialists like Bertrand Russell.
Thus, I make a plea to Chomsky to sue Andrew Sullivan for libel and defamation of character. He could claim reputation damage; the Soviet Union is still enough of a bogeyman in the States for probably at least a couple of hundred people who were persuaded by Chomsky’s arguments to reconsider their position upon picturing the Gulags. Further, Chomsky could claim that it distorts the historical record and demand a retraction or further charges will be made.
This is a simple way that Chomsky and all of us can fight the fascists who have mounted a fifth column inside the American media, and support progressive forces fighting uphill battles within that ideological state apparatus.
Sue him, Noam!