Many Americans may have been outraged or just perplexed by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez's attack on President Bush as "the devil," but the New York Times saw Chavez's plug for a Noam Chomsky book as a light front-page feature on Saturday- he's apparently a Latino male Oprah.
The actual Amazon.com review of the Chomsky book "Hegemony or Survival" is blunt: "Chomsky indicates that America is just as much a terrorist state as any other government or rogue organization." But the Times headline is mild: "U.S. Best Seller, Thanks to a Rave By a Latin Leftist." Reporter Mokoto Rich began: "All the authors currently clamoring for a seat on Oprah Winfrey's couch might do well to send copies of their books to the latest publishing tastemaker: Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez."
Rich explained the paperback edition of the book hit number one on Amazon.com, and was in the top ten on other sites as well. Then we're told that Chavez has great "stature" as a book critic: "It doesn't normally happen that you get someone of the stature of Mr. Chávez holding up a book at a speech at the U.N.," said Jay Hyde, a manager at Borders Group in Ann Arbor, Mich.
While Chavez is saluted for his "stature," Chomsky was a darling: "Mr. Chomsky, 77, is hardly an obscure writer. Many people have heard of the outspoken professor, who is a darling of the left, even if they have not yet read his work."
Chomsky's theories are never seriously challenged in the article, and no conservative is quoted. There is criticism of Chomsky's style. Rich noted that Samantha Power's book review in the Times in 2004 found it was "a raging and often meandering assault on United States foreign policy." Liberal professor Alan Dershowitz is quoted as saying his books are unreadable: "I don't know anybody who's ever read a Chomsky book." We're told, for no apparent reason, that Dershowitz "said he first met Mr. Chomsky in 1948 at a Hebrew-speaking Zionist camp in the Pocono Mountains where Mr. Dershowitz was a camper and Mr. Chomsky was a counselor."
Chomsky is now anything but a Zionist.
The Saturday article is matched by a sidebar quoting a couple of paragraphs from the Chavez-endorsed tome, and they were calm, anodyne paragraphs. The introduction to the clipping demonstrated the Times was quite receptive, certainly unoffended, by the concept that America is a force for global tyranny and oppression:
"Chomsky offers a broad critique of American foreign policy from the 1950's to the Bush administration's war on terrorism, arguing that United States actions in Cuba, Nicaragua, the Far East and elsewhere are part of a long tradition of foreign interventions carried out by an oppressive power."
Chomsky was also promoted in Friday's Times in an article by Marc Santora, with another light touch. The headline was "A Scholar Is Alive, Actually, And Hungry for Debate." Chavez mistakenly said he would have liked to meet the late Chomsky. Santora described the man as a "luminary" like Mark Twain:
Yesterday, a call to Mr. Chomsky's house found him very much alive. In fact, he was struggling through "10,000 e-mails" he had received since the remarks by Mr. Chávez, who urged Americans to read one of Mr. Chomsky's books instead of watching Superman and Batman movies, which he said "make people stupid."
At 77, Mr. Chomsky has joined the exclusive club of luminaries, like the actor Abe Vigoda and Mark Twain,who were reported dead before their time, only to contradict the reports by continuing to breathe.
"I continue to work and write," he said, speaking from his house in Lexington, Mass.
Mr. Chávez, while addressing world leaders at the United Nations, flagged "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance," which Mr. Chomsky published in 2003, as a must-read. Mr. Chomsky said he was glad that Mr. Chávez liked his book, but he would not describe himself as flattered.
Mr. Chomsky said that he would not choose to use the same harsh oratory, but added that the Venezuelan leader was simply expressing the views of many in the world. And he said Mr. Chávez's anger was understandable.
"The Bush administration backed a coup to overthrow his government," he said. "Suppose Venezuela supported a military coup that overthrew the government of the United States? Would we think it was a joke?"
Proving that he was still up for a lively debate, Mr. Chomsky then went on to talk about income inequality in Latin America, the history of the United Nations, Iraq, Iran, Fidel Castro and, finally, the man who so fervently admires him, Mr. Chávez.
"I have been quite interested in his policies," Mr. Chomsky said. "Personally, I think many of them are quite constructive." Most important, he said, Mr. Chávez seems to have the overwhelming support of the people in his country. "He has gone through six closely supervised elections," he said.