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Evil Scholars? Another Rebuttal

by John Kenneth Rucell

Note: This is the fourth in a series of seven articles.

From: rucell@psu (John Kenneth Rucell)
Date: 1 Jun 1995 02:20:40 GMT

I would like to retract my first foolish statement, to which you properly took exception to, about the evacuation of Phnom Penh. I have no desire to talk about something I know nothing about (what happened in Cambodia), as opposed to the press coverage, which I have indelible and clear memories of. I have little doubt that what you say about the brutality of the evacuation is true. I do not enjoy putting myself in this position, but there is another possible reason other than the desire for "purity" and "self-sufficiency" for the Khmer Rouge to refuse aid - simple xenophobia and suspicion. I would still say however that the U.S. government sources (mainly AID and State Department, and their recommended experts, rather than the CIA) and the testimony of the one non-Cambodian in the evacuation, Shane Tarr, should not be rejected out of hand. Of course Chomsky and Herman were more careful than I was and do not say what I foolishly did.

I also misread what you wrote about Vickery's book: I thought -you- were saying it was the best overall survey, not quoting C & H, and so was quite puzzled by some of what you wrote. (Again, I think you should read his most recent statements in Z if you haven't already. I think you are exaggerating the difference between him and several other experts.)

He aims at presenting the side less frequently seen... There is one factual issue I would like to dispute: you criticize Chomsky for saying the US bombed Cambodia in 1975. No-one disputes the fact that it did! He probably was referring to, and you may be forgetting, the Mayaguez incident, wherein the US with incredible viciousness bombed the then Khmer Rouge -run Cambodia AFTER they had returned the crew of a US merchant ship which they claimed had gone into their territorial waters. Adequate explanation for a degree of xenophobia, I think.

In any case I think it's not a very reasonable criticism; everyone in the world knows the US pulled out of direct intervention in Indochina in 1973, and a statement otherwise is but a slip of the tongue. ( I wrote the year 1985 on a check not too long ago.)

Regarding the media campaign, I did not read and see a lot about Cambodia because of some pre-existing interest, I and millions of others became interested because of the enormous barrage of coverage, which really did exist long before the Vietnamese invasion. I would estimate the amount of coverage as somewhere in between that of the Korean airline incident and that of the entire Gulf War. I urge you again to ask other people about it and carefully read Chomsky and Herman's books and check their sources and analysis. I reiterate that their book is difficult to read but if one keeps in mind that one should give them the benefit of the doubt as to meaning precisely what they write, with no ulterior motive, one can understand it and keep the multifarious strands of deceit straight.

Regarding the media coverage I would prefer that you thought me a) insane b) dishonest to c) mistaken about what was undoubtedly the biggest foreign-affairs story of the year.(Of course what I would like is that you consider me d) a 1st - hand witness to what I am talking about, who should be taken seriously.)

What Shawcross's motives are for his dishonesty, I neither know nor care, nor do I think that searching for motives is a reasonable approach for discerning the truths of the matter when one can read and check references showing him to be a liar, and I and many others can consult clear memories of what he denied to exist. Chomsky and Herman also wonder in print at the motives for various dishonesties after accurate reportage. What were the US Government's motives for supporting the Khmer Rouge throughout the 80's?

In any case, consider the initial plausibility of the Shawcross-Sophal Ear- etc ad infinitum thesis: in your more recent memory does the coverage of crimes of client states drown out that of the coverage of official enemies? Has this ever occurred in the history of the press of ANY nation?

How can you refer to the Reader's Digest book of Barron-Paul of 1977 and still contend that there was little coverage? I stand by my statement "much of the documentation and argument come from AIM (Accuracy in Media) . . ." (A group which everyone in the world, including I am sure themselves, call rightwing. In their own view, of course, right of the left-wing media which controls the government, and which is in turn controlled by Noam Chomsky.) I was of course referring to the (small amount of) documentation and argument in five or six pages at the beginning of chapter 4 which is relevant to the issue of news coverage before the invasion. In fact the AIM stuff is the ONLY serious evidence presented. The rest I would consider self-refuting to anyone who knows of the size and reach of the news outlets being compared. I strongly urge anyone reading to get a copy of this thesis to see how flimsy the evidence presented is; many of his quotations and sources seem to me to bear a remarkable resemblance to those used by Chomsky and Herman to prove their theses! (As I said before, I have seen only chapters 4 and 5, but they seem to be the relevant ones.)

I think "-partially- self-refuting" is adequate qualification concerning his bibliography.

Since "We would both agree that that [refugee-account-deniers] does not reflect the nature of media coverage." this is a very minor point, but contrary to "before 1980, there are MORE denying the refugee accounts than those which supported them" I count 18 sources "supporting" refugee accounts versus 10 "denying" (I think "questioning" is more proper for some of these) In any case, you give no quotation from Chomsky or Herman about the main accusation that they denied the existence of atrocities in Cambodia, for as far as I know, such do not exist, and they do denounce the atrocities beginning from the first page of their account. Since as Sophal Ear says, they make few positive statements one way or the other and their book is almost entirely press-review, he finds it difficult to find things which he thinks they should retract.

Concerning the sickening issue of the numbers, you seem to give 15% of the total population as your estimate. There were, of course, many far higher than that.

Shawcross, Sophal Ear, and you (as quoted by Sophal Ear) claim that Chomsky and Herman ascribe a role to the US Government in the media coverage. They do not.

Finally, one should take Chomsky's utterances regarding the quite possibly biased sources like Hildebrandt and Porter together with his frequent statements (see e.g. The Fateful Triangle) that he aims at presenting one side of the story, the side less frequently seen. (In the case of Cambodia this side contained, remarkably enough, the US Government analyses) It is ridiculous to demand that one person should be an entire "unbiased" news service.

I hope that what I have said at least puts some doubt into your mind as to the issues I discussed. Your serious and thoughtful post certainly made me think, though I would disagree with most of your conclusions. Hopefully, we could come to closer agreement about these issues of which anyone, I think, would say are hard to grasp because of the sheer volume and ramification of lies they have accreted.

P.S. Aside from Manufacturing Consent and After the Cataclysm, there are short articles on Cambodia reprinted in "The Chomsky Reader" and "Towards a New Cold War".

P.P.S. I retract my left-wing (anti-Quayleian) spelling of "potatoes".

For a reply to this rebuttal, click here.
This is the fourth in a series of seven articles on this topic.

A more complete discussion of the Chomsky Cambodia controversy can be found in the article Averaging Wrong Answers, at

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