Turkish Newspaper's Fake Chomsky Interview Lost In Translation
The Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2013
ISTANBUL -- Coming from Noam Chomsky, the following sentences may look as if the famed American linguist was seeking to develop a new syntax: "While there have been tampered with, sometimes with the Republic of Turkey won democracy. It ruled democratic elections."
Except they didn't belong to Mr. Chomsky, but to an imaginative Turkish newspaper, while the quotes appear to have been translated into English using Google's translation tool.
On August 27, Turkish daily Yeni Safak, or New Dawn, published a front page article headlined -- "The Arab Spring Has Now Found Its True Spirit" -- which it claimed was based on an e-mailed exchange with Mr. Chomsky. The interview, which was conducted in English and centered on the crisis in Egypt, had taken place two weeks previously, the story said.
According to Yeni Safak, the renowned antiwar activist spent a considerable part of the exchange defending policies parallel to those of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The newspaper also cited several answers by the world's most famous linguistics professor in unintelligible English.
"This complexity in the Middle East, do you think the Western states flapping because of this chaos? Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West. I've seen the plans works," Mr. Chomsky allegedly said in an answer to one question.
The text, however, flows perfectly in Turkish. Plugging the Turkish content into Google Translate shows that Mr. Chomsky was left uttering phrases like "milk port" -- a direct translation of an idiom derived from sailing that means "calm."
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Chomsky denies uttering these nonsensical sentences: "I received quite a few letters, including some from friends, informing me that an interview had appeared containing statements I could not possibly have made," the professor told The Wall Street Journal in an e-mail. "Some friends suggested that I respond with a brief comment, including the text of the actual interview. After doing that I left the matter to friends and Turkish journalists."
The interview gripped Turkey's newspaper readers last week, fanning widespread concerns that pro-government publications disseminate false information as Ankara tries to shape the public discourse amid mounting political and economic challenges.
The newspaper initially said the answers came to additional questions from reporter Burcu Bulut, but eventually issued a correction on Monday, and apologized from Mr. Chomsky and its readers for "errors that don't comply with the principles of journalism."
Yeni Safak's headquarters didn't answer repeated calls for comment. The newspaper is owned by Istanbul-based Albayrak Holding, with businesses ranging from construction to energy, media, textiles, transportation and tourism.
The newspaper's editor in chief, Ibrahim Karagul, is in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit and didn't immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment. Ms. Bulut didn't return an e-mailed interview request.
Analysts say Yeni Safak's contortion of the professor's words to meet its editorial stance is far from shocking in Turkey.
More than 80 journalists have been sacked and quit their posts in connection with public protests in June, according to Turkey's Journalists' Union. Reporters Without Borders, an international group pressing for freedom of information, says Turkey is the world's top jailer of journalists with 31 reporters behind bars.
The government denies claims of media meddling. Officials also dismiss journalist imprisonments, saying the people it put in custody amid the protests aren't licensed journalists with press passes but rather members of illegal organizations who aid terrorism.
"That the government isn't interfering with the press isn't a defense, but an admission of guilt because the media has surrendered to such an extent that authorities don't even have to intervene. They created a partisan media, with a self-censorship mechanism that worked so well that it left no need for inspection," said Can Dundar, a columnist who was fired for his coverage of the protests from Milliyet, a leading daily. "Newspapers are downright working as propaganda machines."
Throughout June anti-government protests, Yeni Safak took a staunchly pro-government stance, alleging that foreign spies provoked the unrest and that a group in Houston used walkie-talkie app Zello to coordinate the events, ordering people to not back down even in the face of death.
Indeed, Mr. Chomsky was an odd interview choice for Yeni Safak as the professor had declared his solidarity with the protesters in June. And deluged with interview requests, Mr. Chomsky told WSJ that he had no time to research the publication.
"I don't recall having heard of Yeni Safak ... but suppose that the communications from them seemed reasonable. I know some really outstanding Turkish journalists, and have been pleased and honored to be able to join with them a few times in their courageous protests against state terror and repression," Mr. Chomsky said.
Yeni Safak ultimately released a curt apology and was lampooned on Twitter for its surreal English text. To steal from translated remarks fraudulently attributed to Mr. Chomsky: "Who had built the way it will have to pay a very painful price."