Noam Chomsky on Mass Media Obsession With Russia and the Stories Not Being Covered in the Trump Era

The New York Times reports special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing President Trump’s tweets as part of Mueller’s expanding probe into Trump’s ties to Russia. This latest revelation in the Mueller investigation is part of a nearly 24-hour stream of headlines about Trump, Russia and the administration’s various scandals. But is the mainstream media missing the real stories amid its obsession with “Russiagate”? For more, we speak with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and professor Noam Chomsky on media manipulation in the Trump era.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our interview with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned dissident, linguist and author, now in Tucson at the University of Arizona. I asked him about a recent mix-up on Fox & Friends, in which the hosts thought they were interviewing former Democratic congressional candidate, a current one, Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, who supports Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, but, in fact, they were actually speaking to a Massachusetts Democratic congressional candidate, Barbara L’Italien, who opposes ICE. Here is how the interview started.

SEN. BARBARA L’ITALIEN: Good morning. I’m actually here to speak directly to Donald Trump. I feel that what’s happening at the border is wrong. I’m a mother of four. And I believe that separating kids from their parents is illegal and inhumane. I’m actually Barbara L’Italien. I’m a state senator representing a large immigrant community. I’m running for Congress in Massachusetts. I keep thinking about what we’re putting parents through, imagining how terrifying that must be for those families, imagining how it would feel not knowing if I’d ever see my kids again. We have to stop abducting children and ripping them from their parents’ arms —

ROB SCHMITT: OK —

SEN. BARBARA L’ITALIEN: — stop putting kids in cages —

ROB SCHMITT: You want to —

SEN. BARBARA L’ITALIEN: — and stop making 3-year-olds defend themselves in court.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Barbara L’Italien said a lot there, but she was then cut off, with the shock of the Fox & Friends crew in the morning that they had the wrong Democratic congressional candidate. But this kind of media activism also just goes to the whole issue of the media, Noam Chomsky, the issue of Fox News becoming really state media, with — you have the person who supported the sexual harasser Roger Ailes, Bill Shine, now a top aide to President Trump in the White House. That’s gotten little attention. So you have Fox being a mouthpiece for Trump and a place for him to hear what people have to say, and the other networks very much running counter to Trump, on certain issues, CNNand MSNBC. But your thoughts?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, my frank opinion is that — I must say I don’t pay much attention to television, so I don’t know a great deal about it. But, in general, I think the media — first of all, Fox News is, by now, basically a joke. It’s, as you said, state media. The other media, I think, are focusing on issues which are pretty marginal. There are much more serious issues that are being put to the side. So, the worst of — even on the case of immigration, once again, I think the real question is dealing with the roots of immigration, our responsibility for it, and what we can do to overcome that. And that’s almost never discussed. But I think that’s the crucial issue. And I think we find the same across the board.

So, of all Trump’s policies, the one that is the most dangerous and destructive, in fact poses an existential threat, is his policies on climate change, on global warming. That’s really destructive. And we’re facing an imminent threat, not far removed, of enormous damage. The effects are already visible but nothing like what’s going to come. A sea level rise of a couple of feet will be massively destructive. It will make today’s immigration issues look like trivialities. And it’s not that the administration is unaware of this. So, Donald Trump, for example, is perfectly aware of the dangerous effects, in the short term, of global warming. So, for example, recently he applied to the government of Ireland for permission to build a wall to protect his golf course in Ireland from rising sea levels. And Rex Tillerson, who was supposed to be the adult in the room before he was thrown out, as CEO of ExxonMobil, was devoting enormous resources to climate change denial, although he had, sitting on his desk, the reports of ExxonMobil scientists, who, since the ’70s, in fact, were on the forefront of warning of the dire effects of this accelerating phenomenon. I don’t know what word in the language — I can’t find one — that applies to people of that kind, who are willing to sacrifice the literal — the existence of organized human life, not in the distant future, so they can put a few more dollars in highly overstuffed pockets. The word “evil” doesn’t begin to approach it. These are the kinds of issues that should be under discussion. Instead, what’s being — there is a focus on what I believe are marginalia.

So, take, say, the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke. First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support. Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies — what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015. Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress trying to — calling on them to reverse US policy, without even informing the president? And that’s just a tiny bit of this overwhelming influence. So if you happen to be interested in influence of — foreign influence on elections, there are places to look. But even that is a joke.

I mean, one of the most elementary principles of a functioning democracy is that elected representatives should be responsive to those who elected them. There’s nothing more elementary than that. But we know very well that that is simply not the case in the United States. There’s ample literature in mainstream academic political science simply comparing voters’ attitudes with the policies pursued by their representatives, and it shows that for a large majority of the population, they’re basically disenfranchised. Their own representatives pay no attention to their voices. They listen to the voices of the famous 1 percent — the rich and the powerful, the corporate sector. The elections — Tom Ferguson’s stellar work has demonstrated, very conclusively, that for a long period, way back, US elections have been pretty much bought. You can predict the outcome of a presidential or congressional election with remarkable precision by simply looking at campaign spending. That’s only one part of it. Lobbyists practically write legislation in congressional offices. In massive ways, the concentrated private capital, corporate sector, super wealth, intervene in our elections, massively, overwhelmingly, to the extent that the most elementary principles of democracy are undermined. Now, of course, all that is technically legal, but that tells you something about the way the society functions. So, if you’re concerned with our elections and how they operate and how they relate to what would happen in a democratic society, taking a look at Russian hacking is absolutely the wrong place to look. Well, you see occasionally some attention to these matters in the media, but very minor as compared with the extremely marginal question of Russian hacking.

And I think we find this on issue after issue, also on issues on which what Trump says, for whatever reason, is not unreasonable. So, he’s perfectly right when he says we should have better relations with Russia. Being dragged through the mud for that is outlandish, makes — Russia shouldn’t refuse to deal with the United States because the US carried out the worst crime of the century in the invasion of Iraq, much worse than anything Russia has done. But they shouldn’t refuse to deal with us for that reason, and we shouldn’t refuse to deal with them for whatever infractions they may have carried out, which certainly exist. This is just absurd. We have to move towards better — right at the Russian border, there are very extreme tensions, that could blow up anytime and lead to what would in fact be a terminal nuclear war, terminal for the species and life on Earth. We’re very close to that. Now, we could ask why. First of all, we should do things to ameliorate it. Secondly, we should ask why. Well, it’s because NATO expanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in violation of verbal promises to Mikhail Gorbachev, mostly under Clinton, partly under first Bush, then Clinton expanded right to the Russian border, expanded further under Obama. The US has offered to bring Ukraine into NATO. That’s the kind of a heartland of Russian geostrategic concerns. So, yes, there’s tensions at the Russian border — and not, notice, at the Mexican border. Well, those are all issues that should be of primary concern. The fate of — the fate of organized human society, even of the survival of the species, depends on this. How much attention is given to these things as compared with, you know, whether Trump lied about something? I think those seem to me the fundamental criticisms of the media.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, author and linguist, now a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He taught for 50 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tune in next week when we continue our conversation with Noam Chomsky about Gaza, Israel’s new nationality law, the recent Trump-Putin summit, Iran, North Kora, the war in Yemen and more. In December, Noam Chomsky will be celebrating his 90th birthday.

Oh, and happy birthday to Rob Young here at Democracy Now! And Democracy Now! has a job opening for a broadcast engineer in our New York studio. Find out more at democracynow.org.