Counter-Revolutionary Violence describes in intimate detail the bloodbath that the United States was perpetrating in Vietnam. Chomsky had long been suspicious that certain elite groups were combining their efforts to suppress anti-status-quo versions of events, but he was about to learn that, if anything, he had underestimated the lengths that these powers would go to quell their opposition.
Counter-Revolutionary Violence was suppressed by Warner Communications, the giant parent company of the publisher Warner Modular. This, in itself, sounds implausible: an American megacorporation decides to destroy a book it has already published. Furthermore, because Warner Modular refused to stop distributing the book after Warner Communications issued the order to kill it, the parent company actually put the publisher out of business. It gets worse. The book appeared in French translation (Bains de sang) the following year (1974), but, Chomsky insists, it was "mistranslated to satisfy the ideological needs of the French left at that time" (31 Mar. 1995).
The idea that a corporation would be willing to forgo profits in the name of ideology, or that a work would be tampered with in translation because it doesn't conform to specific ideological needs, invariably raises the eyebrows of those who have come to believe in the sanctity of the free market and such concepts as freedom of expression. It also raises nagging questions. Why did Warner feel that in order to suppress a single book (a book, moreover, by two established intellectuals employed by leading American universities) it was worth it to cripple one of its own subsidiaries? Ben Bagdikian's book The Media Monopoly (published by Beacon Press in 1983) confirms Chomsky's account of the incident and is an important source in the canon of references that Chomsky cites in his later condemnation of, among other things, media collusion with powerful elites.
Warner Communications had acquired Warner Modular in order to capitalize on the surge in university enrollment and the concomitant growth in interest in the country's institutions. Located in Andover, Massachusetts, and therefore close to the large intellectual community in and around Boston, Warner Modular published books, pamphlets, and monographs that could be used to supplement required-reading lists for university courses. Its publisher was Claude McCaleb, who "was developing a list to meet the growing request for fresh analyses of national and world events"(Bagdikian 33). The Chomsky-Herman book was a part of this list. It upheld the thesis that "the United States, in attempting to suppress revolutionary movements in underdeveloped countries, had become the leading source of violence against native people"(Bagdikian 33). When the president of Warner Communications, William Sarnoff, saw the ads for the book in August of 1973, he phoned Warner Modular to find out if "this was another Pentagon Papers case that would embarrass the parent firm"; the answer was no, it was a book written by two respected intellectuals.
Later on in the day, Sarnoff called again, asking that McCaleb bring a copy of Counter-Revolutionary Violence to him in New York City that night. This was not possible, as the book was just being printed because advance copies were scheduled to be delivered to the New York meeting of the American Sociological Association in a few days. So the next morning, someone from McCaleb's office delivered the manuscript to Sarnoff. Shortly thereafter, McCaleb was summoned to Sarnoff's office. An incensed Sarnoff attacked McCaleb for having published the book. In McCaleb's words, Sarnoff claimed that Counter-Revolutionary Violence was "a pack of lies, a scurrilous attack on respected Americans, undocumented, a publication unworthy of a serious publisher."He then announced that the book was not to be released, cancelled the ads for it, and "ordered the destruction of the Warner catalogue listing the Chomsky-Herman book and its replacement by a new catalogue with the book omitted"(Bagdikian 34).
McCaleb, not surprisingly, was stunned by the news. He reminded Sarnoff about previous agreements between Warner Communication and Warner Modular concerning who would be responsible for making publication decisions, and cautioned him about the impact that this decision would have on the academic community. According to McCaleb, "Sarnoff answered that `he didn't give a damn what I, my staff, the authors, or the academic community thought and ended by saying we should destroy the entire inventory of [Counter-Revolutionary Violence]'"(qtd. in Bagdikian 34). Warner Modular was subsequently sold to another firm, only to disappear shortly thereafter.
But the censorship wasn't over yet. Efforts continued that year to seal off the the few small access routes that Chomsky had to the mainstream press. Herman explains:
During the Vietnam war era, a period of a sizable and active anti-war movement, roughly from 1965 to 1972, Chomsky wrote and spoke extensively, but even then his access was confined to radical publications like Ramparts and Liberation, plus the New York Review of Books, the mainstream exception through 1972. Chomsky has never had an Op Ed column in the Washington Post, and his lone opinion piece in the New York Times was not an original contribution but rather excerpts from testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The New York Review of Books exception closed down in 1973, not as a result of any change in Chomsky but following a sharp move to the right by the editors of the journal, who thereafter excluded a number of left critics. ("Pol Pot" 599)
That one of America's most well-known intellectuals and dissidents would be thus ignored and even ostracized by the mainstream press seems quite remarkable. But, according to Chomsky, this kind of thing had been going on since he first became publicly involved in political issues:
When wasn't I ostracized? In the '60s and early '70s, I was indeed virtually ignored, with the sole exception of the New York Review of Books, which, from about 1968 1972, allowed an opening for dissident opinion, reacting to currents among young intellectuals and academics that they couldn't ignore; when these subsided, the window closed. During that period, they also ran articles by Paul Lauter, Peter Dale Scott, and many other dissidents. Since then, they've kept almost entirely to exactly the types who were criticized by the dissidents they formerly allowed (they were always open to mainstream liberals and the right, of course). (31 Mar. 1995)This seems to suggest that the late 1960s and early 1970s were periods during which diversity, debate, and dissent were permitted to flourish. Certainly, such a view would coincide with official accounts of the period. Chomsky disagrees: "In the '80s, as popular movements became more vigorous. . . the press opened up too, to some extent. So, I've had far more media opportunities since the early '80s than ever before, though the national media in the U.S. (New York Times, Washington Post, national public TV-radio) remain as closed as ever"(31 Mar. 1995).
In sharp contrast to the increasingly enthusiastic interest in Chomsky's political work demonstrated by a growing segment of the population, the intellectual elite seems to have been broadly influenced by easily digested generalizations: he's anti-Zionist, he's a Communist, and so on. Those who have not actually read his political works express total disbelief that Chomsky has been ostracized on the basis of his dissident opinions. The standard line is that such opinions are the very backbone of the mainstream press, and that people with various perspectives are regularly given the opportunity to attack the government. Those who are more familiar with Chomsky and his work, and who have a better understanding of his relationship with mainstream media organs, have a different view. Chomsky's own assessment of all this is characteristically insightful, acerbic, and humorous:
There are many illusions. . . concocted for obvious reasons ("we used to allow him to appear all over, but then he went crazy, so what can we do. . . "etc.). And much of this is actually believed by people who don't know the facts, which can easily be ascertained. In the late '70s, for example, after the collapse of Ramparts and Liberation, just about the only journal in which I could publish regularly was Inquiry, the journal of the ultra-right Cato Institute. Remember: that was before my alleged crimes. Again, easily checked, but not known.. . . (31 Mar. 1995)