Chomsky Foucault Debate – Review


Two titans, King Kong Chomsky and Fallout Foucault, met in the Netherlands on November 1971 to battle to the bitter end. It was the clash of the century; the analytic philosopher against the continental philosopher, the two schools of modern leftist thought went to war. A mighty crowd gathered to watch the two gladiators fight to the death and…

Nothing really happened. I’m surprised people even talk of Chomsky and Foucault as debating each other. It looked to me more like two pretentious hipsters discussing philosophy at a Starbucks. – I mean, Cafe Harwich. Starbucks is for noobs. We’re dealing with level 80 warlocks here. – It was as if a being from Mars and a being from Venus met each other. They get along great and agree on many things, but sometimes they simply don’t see eye to eye.

Chomsky and Foucault have different methods of approaching things. Chomsky is what snobs call an analytic philosopher, like a classic Enlightenment man is science. He approaches problems with a strong bent on reason and the scientific method, in essence an optimist un believing people can solve even the most difficult problems if they are persistent and principled. enough. He is somewhat dry and boring in his work but he is the practical man you can count on to do the political work.

Foucault, in contrast, is what eggheads call a continental philosopher. He belongs to a large continent of thinkers who come from diverse schools of thought, from Theodore Adorno to Simone de Beauvoir. But they all have some things in common: they focus on critiquing the issues of the 20th century in ways they feel the thinkers of the Enlightenment have not yet considered. Most were deeply inspired by Nietzsche, like Foucault himself, and expanded on Nietzsche’s thoughts to fight their battles.

Chomsky and Foucault assume a unique relationship in their debate. They are not opponents. Chomsky is like the scientist who, after decades of careful tedious research, has refined his body of work into several relatively solid theories. Foucault is like the skeptical philosopher who is not too certain about what science exactly is. They collide head on, nor do they try to refute each other, but build on what the other person said, despite their differences.

You can split the debate into two halves: one on human nature, the other on leftist politics. Chomsky basically says some kind of human nature exists, since children construct language within certain limits no matter what culture they are from [1]. Chomsky thinks science helps us progress in knowledge and build better societies. The progress we make is far from simple and linear; we walk on a winding road in a dark forest but we are getting somewhere [2].

Foucault thinks a people’s culture and power relations play a much bigger role in determining what “human nature” even means. Before the eighteenth century, people had no real sense of “human nature”. They imagined a vast hierarchy with minerals at the bottom, then plants, animals, women, men, and scholarly man at the top. They never considered plants and animals to even have a “nature” that could be compared to humans. Only with the advent of modern science, when people compared humans to other animals like they were similar things, did they did they conceive of a “human nature” [3].

As for science, Foucault points out that as we develop new theories and methods in the sciences, some worldviews, or perceptions, die off, and therefore become shut from us, while we develop other worldview. The alchemist’s mystical experiences of the world, of human nature, and sense of occult divine order in creation, are cut off from us. We don’t explore that line of reasoning anymore [4].

And how does Chomsky respond? Well, bringing up our different worldviews throughout history is a sound critique, but it doesn’t disprove anything. No matter where you travel in time or what you believe, humans will always have certain basic traits and act in certain basic ways. We will always be bound by certain severe limits. Even a Martian, if she visited earth, would see us behave in predictable ways, similar to how we observe other animals behaving in predictable ways [5].

To get really basic, we eat, have sex to continue the species, and die of natural causes around seventy. We also have a huge blind spot in the center of our vision. To get more advanced, our brains are made in specific ways: we are terrible at math and logical reasoning but are very good at association. We easily remember hundreds of human faces while a computer struggles to tell a human face from an electric socket.

We separate people into “us” groups and “them” groups out of habit, even for things as trivial and meaningless as skin color and zodiac signs. We are extremely biased in favor of “us” and against “them”. And as Chomsky stated, the way we learn language and therefore even the way we think is limited in certain ways.

Chomsky says some harsh words about behaviorists, or people who tend to wave human nature aside as something that just comes from the environment. Behaviorists have no real theory of their own but say “the environment” as a cop out for any theory that suggests some kind of human nature. Chomsky thinks this is bad for scientists since it impedes their studies [6].

When it comes to politics, Chomsky stands on more shaky ground. This does not surprise me, as every philosopher with a system will have problems putting it into practice. It is David Hume’s old problem; you can’t cross the bridge from “is” to “ought”.

Chomsky speaks of how, one day, we could organize anarchist societies made of equal mutual factions that balance each other out. This runs into a problem, as anarchists since William Godwin have been thinking of how a society with no fork of oppression could exist, but none of them put such a society in practice.

But in Chomsky’s defense, Chomsky says it is important to think about ways people can live with each other without a state, even if the ideas are imperfect. Capitalism is exploitative and dehumanizing; it cannot be justified. We have to try better, to make a world where human living and working are more meaningful [7]. Like a scientist, an activist has to draft different theories and put them into practice, and learn from experience. There is no way around trial and error, but “playing it safe” by refusing to change anything is a danger in itself [8].

Chomsky moves on to justice versus the law, saying it is morally right to break a law if the law is unjust and you are pursuing a higher justice. This begs the question of how one figures out what is more just than something else, and Foucault points this out. Ever since Nietzsche, no one really knows what a moral is, or how you could defend a moral as somehow being valid, something you can fight and die for [9].

What exactly is justice? To Foucault, it means different things to different classes of people. But it is the ruling class that has the power to turn it’s wants and values into law. The ruler’s morals become the morals of the state in general, and this is what creates justice. It’s your sense of morals combined with your power to enforce them, directly or through the law. You can even see this political process in institutions such as education and psychiatry [10].

Even the proletariat, a class of people Marxist advocate for, got their moral ideals from their bourgeois rulers. It is good for a man to be educated, productive, free thinking, and having the freedom to choose, as opposed to being a cog in the capitalist machine. But having a high education, being productive, being a free thinker, and having personal freedom are all bourgeois values [11].

Chomsky has a nuanced take on international law. Clearly, international law was created by the most powerful businessmen, politicians, and military leaders of the world, and they designed the law to serve them first. But the laws themselves can be positive, and activists can adopt the ideas behind them to try to make a better world. Chomsky brings up the Nuremberg Trials, how world leaders used the lessons they learned from the Trials to improve international law [12].

Two little professors live inside me, Continental Bogdan and Analytical Bogdan. Continental Bogdan is so skeptical of everything he thinks every part of human life is a mental construct, and therefore not truly real. All he knows is that he knows nothing else. Analytical Bogdan mostly agrees but is more practical. Yes, our thoughts and values will always be made-up. So? Some actions help us, others hurt us. Some things work, some things don’t, and we have lots of work to do.

Chomsky and Foucault believe in a similar kind of activism. The activist must challenge unjust power structures, and the pervasive assumptions that let them exist, wherever she can find them, and take them apart. Politics and philosophy are very closely tied together, as both men know very well. Foucault says in the debate, “How can I not be interested in politics? Everything is somehow political and relevant to me.” The best way to leave the debate is to ask ourselves, “What do we do now.”

1. Chomsky, Noam, and Michel Foucault. The Chomsky-Foucault Debate on Human Nature. New York, London: The New Press, 2006. 3-4.
2. Ibid. 36.
3. Ibid. 6-7.
4. Ibid. 18.
5. Ibid. 23-24.
6. Ibid. 34-35.
7. Ibid. 38.
8. Ibid. 45.
9. Ibid. 46-47.
10. Ibid. 40
11. Ibid. 43-44
12. Ibid. 48-49

Chomsky Critiques the News Part 2: America Bombs Laos


While traveling with Chomsky, I stop by page 213 in his book Who Rules the World , where Chomsky critiques another article from the New York Times, “One Woman’s Mission to Free Laos of Millions of Unexploded Bombs” from journalist Thomas Fuller. Chomsky seems to not take issue with the article as a whole, where Fuller describes the efforts of Ms. Channapha, the Laos born woman who founded the activist group Legacies of War and lobbied Congress to raise $12 million so she could remove the dormant cluster bombs America had dropped on Laos from 1964-1973 during the Vietnam War.

Cluster bombs are some of the deadliest weapons of modern war. Not only did we build the bombs well to destroy a wide range of land, we also built the bombs badly so most of them would not even explode at the right time. What we get, or rather what the Laos people get, is a war unending, where children of 8 years still get blown to bits by striking a dormant bomb while farming or playing in the fields. Whether we designed cluster bombs to lay dormant for decades out of cruelty or botched them to not explode out of incompetence is beside the point. We protract the Vietnam War to this day.

Ms. Channapha got involved with Laos when she saw drawings of the Laos bombings, created by the refugees who witnessed the mass slaughter firsthand. The activist Fred Branfman later collected the drawings, and used them to disclose the Laos bombings, then secret, to the American people to oppose the Vietnam War. When I read the Fuller article, I get the “activist hero story” vibe you see in a lot of news stories; a spunky underdog dares to “make a difference” in the world against huge odds, with only a shoebox operation to work from, armed only with charm, conviction, and persistence, waking us up to the Laos tragedies [1].

Next, we will begin a “conversation” about war and foreign policy, things not even the rulers of the world fully understand and do little but make a few token gestures. Meanwhile, we bomb children in Iran using drones. Obama paid Laos a visit, shed a few tears, spent a few pennies to clear out the bombs and, his ablution complete, returned to the Oval Office to continue spending half the federal budget on the army [2]. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. Business as usual.

The Vietnam War, the theater of war behind the bombings on Las, was Machiavellian politics as usual. A boilerplate history to jog our memories: Communist militants formed the People’s Army of Vietnam in 1944, then drove away the French and Japanese colonists occupying Vietnam at the time in 1949. Around the same time, the anticommunists formed a rival faction. Thus Vietnam split in two, a communist North Vietnam and a republic South Vietnam. America and the Soviet Union soon got involved with the two Vietnams, hoping to use them as pawns in their political game. The Soviet Union sided with North Vietnam, which wanted to reunite Vietnam as a communist country, and America sided with South Vietnam, which wanted to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

Laos faced a similar struggle as Vietnam, with the communist Pathet Lao army battling the Royal Lao Army for control of the country. North Vietnam soon took advantage of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, using it to send supplies to the communist troops deep in South Vietnam. America got wind of the communists’ strategy and started bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1964 to snuff out the communists, hitting the Plain of Jars in the crossfire, killing the hundreds of thousands of Laos farmers who lived there.

None of this news or history disturbs Chomsky too much, since he knows more than anyone else how we Americans do foreign policy, but one line from Fuller’s article did annoy him. Fuller wrote, “ The targets were North Vietnamese troops — especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a large part of which passed through Laos — as well as North Vietnam’s Laotian Communist allies.” Fuller is correct in fact, as American bombers did nail a few communists here and there, but he covers the greater truth, something more sinister.

Chomsky quotes Branfman from Voices From the Plain of Jars [3], “One of the most shattering revelations about the bombing was discovering why it had so vastly increased in 1969, as described by the refugees. I learned that after President Johnson had declared a bombing halt over North Vietnam in November 1968, he had simply diverted the plains into Northern Laos. There was no military reason for doing so. It was simply because, as US Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the US Committee on Foreign Relations in 1969, ‘Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just stay there with nothing to do. [4]’”

I was shocked when I first read the quote, and I searched for all the sources I could to verify it, and indeed I have four sources: Chomsky in Who Rules the World , Branfman in Voices From the Plain of Jars , Kurlantzick in A Great Place to Have a War [5], and Branfman again from the Zinn Education Project [6]. Sadly, I could not find any direct source online, as I would have liked to read the entire transcript of the Committee of 1969, but while I did not dig up gold I did unearth other precious jewels. I would love to cover myself with a blanket, sip a hot chocolate, and flip over the Pentagon Papers one evening [7]. William Beecher, in his 1969 article for the New York Times, writes that President Nixon would not allow his ground commanders to deploy infantry in Laos and Cambodia following the air raids, which began in secret in 1964 until Branfman exposed the them in 1969, making this article a good cross reference to Branfman [8].

I would like to make several comments on Branfman’s quote. Fuller’s error lies not in lying but omitting the truth. While America did at first bomb Laos to attack the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnam communist armies, she ramped up the bombing on Laos after it made a truce with North Vietnam in 1968. People in New York love to complain about the propagandists at Fox News but less often about the propagandists of the New York Times, probably because the staff at Fox News is so blundering. A competent propagandist does not use lies but gaps in our knowledge and truths that blur our convictions, then works from there to fill in the blanks, creating an opinion for his followers.

Obama worked good propaganda when he visited Laos in 2016. He said to the world, in effect, “We Americans are deeply sorry for the slaughter and mass destruction we caused to the Laos people. We acted from misguided beliefs and ignorance; we knew not what we did. We learned our lesson and will never savage another people with such pointless cruelty again – Honest! Pinky swear!” The Laos people, of course, do not buy it, neither do the Vietnamese people, nor the Iranian people, nor the Serbian people, nor the American natives. This trick is getting old.

Our cruelty against the Laos is less from malice and more from ignorance. Lyndon Johnson and Monteagle Stearns did not seek to harm any farmers when they decided to bomb Laos more intensely; they simply did not care. We see this theme again and again in American history, when only rich white property owners count as people while everyone else simply do not matter, but I will leave that specific truth aside. Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States and Chomsky in Who Rules the World cover that history, past and present respectively, far better than I ever could.

Neither can you single out America as the only tyrant in the world and, if you do, you are a naïve reader. America is merely an empire and a typical one at that, like China today, like the British Empire not so long ago, like the Aztec Empire a few centuries ago, like the Roman Empire of revered antiquity, like the Egyptian Empire long before that. America, like all empires, is a business first and foremost; the market must constantly expand, we must seize more and more wealth from the earth and the spoils of other nations to meet the bottom line. Otherwise, civilization will collapse. How then, dear reader, will you get a new iPhone at the Apple Store or cheap coffee at the local deli or diner? Our enormous wealth comes with a price, and people we never see, like the Laos farmers in the Plain of Jars, pay that price.

We average Joes aid the Empire all the time, either passively consuming its products or actively managing the Empire’s business machine, which politics and the military naturally fall under. We do so not because we are wicked but because we need to eat, as the serpent must eat newborn chicks to avoid starving.

Of course, we cannot speak of our slavish needs so rudely. The idiot obeys God, carrying the white man’s burden on his shoulders, bringing “civilization” to the savages while abroad, and defending the Crown justified by Divine Right while home. The other idiot believes we can do away with all that nasty business if only we elect the right presidents, restrict the greedy businessman with the right laws, enforce more human rights for the poor, women, and nonwhites with more bureaucracy, and have more “conversations”. The cynic waifs the matter away with her hand; she knows all cruelty but thinks our government is the least bad thing out there – then she takes Prozac to dull her depression.

But what of the Laos people themselves? If I do not speak of them, I treat them as nonpersons, which justifies our American attitude of “the whole world is about me”. To start crudely, from the raw data of the Laos bombings: America dumped over 270 million cluster bombs from 1964-1973, 80 million of cluster bombs did not detonate, only 1% of dormant bombs have been destroyed to this day, America spent $13.3 million a day bombing Laos while it spent only $4.9 million dollars a year to clean up the mess [9].

As I said before, we protract the Vietnam War to this day. On the 21 st of March of 2017, two children named Seng Lee and Lab Lee found a metal ball when walking home from school, unaware it was a dormant bomb. When Lab dropped the ball it exploded, killing her instantly and horribly injuring the twelve people around her at the time. The last people to perish from the Laos bombings died just last year; on the 5 th of August of 2017, two farmers named Phone and Abo tried dismantling a dormant bomb to harvest its metal, but the bomb exploded, killing both men instantly [10].

Branfman first saw the Laos people in 1969, five years after President Johnson began bombing the country, and formed deep relations with them. He became very close to the village elder, Paw Thou Douang, who was also the leader of the village Buddhist congregation, a medic, farmer, and local spokesman for the Pathet Lao during the Vietnam War. He also interviewed the many Laos villagers he befriended during his stay, which allows us the rare gift of hearing a people tell their story in their own words, without the need of a privileged middleman such as me.

A nurse, 26 years old at the time of the bombings, described the lives of the Laos farmers: “ Around that village of mine were green and beautiful mountains, and the land and the fields my neighbors had sweated over and labored on since the time of my ancestors. My neighbors were all farm­ers, honest and hardworking. Our happiness was full and over­flowing because we were content with our lives, even though we lived in the wilderness.”

A farmer of 39 years describes life before the bombings: “ Travel between villages was easy because there were so many all close together. Boys and girls playing the flute and enjoying themselves in the village was easy. When it came time to work the fields, we went to work together. We shared the labor in a fulfilling way for us young people. When the field work was finished, we joined in the yearly festivities with the sounds of singing, dancing and laugh­ter.”

Other Laos villagers told Branfman horror stories of the American bombings. One refugee said: “ There wasn’t a night when we thought we’d live until morning, never a morning we thought we’d sur­vive until night. Did our children cry? Oh, yes, and we did also. I just stayed in my cave. I didn’t see the sunlight for two years. What did I think about? Oh, I used to repeat, ‘Please don’t let the planes come, please don’t let the planes come, please don’t let the planes come.’ … The past has pelted away. Our lives have passed like a dream. There is nothing which can make up for the sorrow.”

The same nurse of 26 years later wrote: “We who were young took our sweat and our strength, which should have been spent raising food in the rice fields and forests to sustain our lives, and squandered it digging holes to protect ourselves. For many days and nights, having enough food to survive on became a gigantic problem, which pressed upon our hearts. The fields, paddy and seedbeds all became bomb craters. All that remained for our people were sad faces, and tired and weak hearts, disgusted with hating the war, which was like a large stone weighing upon us. We could not understand or imagine why something like this could happen.”

Meanwhile, the same farmer of 39 years could not understand why America would treat his people so horribly: “In all our years, we had known no more than the word “airplane.” We were all heavy hearted and mournful almost to the point of losing our minds. The other villagers and I got together to consider this thing. We hadn’t done anything, nor harmed anyone. We had raised our crops, celebrated the festivals and maintained our homes for many years. Why did the planes drop bombs on us, impoverishing us this way?”

A Laos woman of 30 years pleads: “Why then don’t we people love one another? Why don’t we live together in equality? Why don’t we build happiness and progress together? In reality, whatever happens, it is only the innocent who suffers. And as for the others, do they know all the unimaginable things happening in this war? Do they?” [11]

– A few critiques, if I may. I get suspicious when I read something that looks like an ideal account of poor people, like the Laos describing their village life before the bombings. It sounds too much like the noble savage cliché, which touches the heart of a simple person but makes the cynic untrusting. Chomsky, in his book, misattributes the quote of the refugee as a quote of the nurse, at least going by my source [12].

While the plea of the Laos woman of 30 years does sound like the liberal cliché “Why can’t we all live together?”, the woman does raise pressing questions. Why are we so hostile to people who look slightly different than us. Why do we swindle, plunder, and destroy other people to build empires, only to feel profoundly unhappy and helpless, when we could live a better life? Why do we have coercive and abusive relationships as the norm when we could have positive and genuine connections with each other, and live as complete human beings? These are deep questions; people wrote volumes addressing them, so I certainly cannot answer them in a small article. –

Branfman gives another striking personal account of Laos when Chomsky himself visited the country to report on the American bombings. Chomsky quickly befriended Paw Thou Douang and his family, as Branfman did, and had dinner together. Branfman describes Chomsky as listening in earnest, with his heart as well as his ears, while Paw Thou tells the story of the lives of the villagers before, during, and after the American bombings. Chomsky wept upon hearing the story.

This shocked me almost as much as it shocked Branfman himself, and Branfman goes into more detail. He describes how journalists from the New York Times would visit the Laos, interview them for a while, then leave with the scoop to write an article that, like the Fuller article I cited above, would mildly provoke the reader but little beyond that. I cannot help but contrast the warm and earnest Laos village elder with the sophisticated and cynical journalist from the New York Times. The two people reveal the stark differences between the rustic and civilized human, between the untamed and domestic animal. Chomsky, in an unconscious way, built a bridge we can cross to meet our past on the other side [13].

Again, I suspect Branfman makes an ideal of the Laos people, but I do think he gets the basic truth right, that the Laos villagers have something we do not because we somehow lost it.

In the next article, I will cover the Obama doctrine of 2017, including his foreign policy and how it relates to the Vietnam War. As I said before, the Vietnam War is protracted, but is itself the protracted Korean War war before it, which is a protracted war before it, which is a protracted war before it…

Works Cited:

1. Fuller, Thomas. “One Woman’s Mission to Free Laos From Millions of Unexploded Bombs.”The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2015, of unexploded-bombs.html.

2. Labott, Elise. “Obama Announces $90 Million to Clear Laos’ Unexploded Bombs.” CNN, Cable News Network, 6 Sept. 2016,

3. Chomsky, Noam. Who Rules the World? Penguin, 2017. pg. 215

4. Branfman, Fred. Voices From the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War. University of Wisconsin Press, 2013. pg. 36

5. Kurlantzick, Joshua. A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA. Simon & Schuster, 2018. pgs. 178 – 180

6. “Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War.” Zinn Education Project,

7. “Pentagon Papers.” National Archives and Records Administration,

8. Beecher, William. “Raids in Cambodia by U.S. Unprotested.” 9 May 1969.

9. Legacies of War. “Secret War in Laos.” Legacies of War, 2018,

10. Vongvirath, Manininh. “Casualties & Survivors.” Legacies of War, 2018,

11. “Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War.” Zinn Education Project,

12. Chomsky, Noam. Who Rules the World? Penguin, 2017. pg. 214

13. Branfman, Fred. “When Chomsky Wept.” Salon,, 15 June 2012,

Chomsky Critiques the News Part One: “A Rape On Campus”


I feel like going down a rabbit hole whenever I write a news story. Hence why I’m reluctant writing anything that could be called journalism, because most journalists these days must research the Internet to find credible sources, and doing so is like getting lost in a labyrinth; an honest skeptical writer easily gets overwhelmed by all the information online.

I sometimes play a game where I follow online sources as far as I can, to see how far I can dig down in the mine before I hit the bottom. For instance, while doing research on The Rolling Stone’s article, “A Rape On Campus”, I hit a pit of PDFs of legal documents or get lost in a zone with nothing do with The Rolling Stone. You should try it sometime; sail into the sea and watch where the flighty winds take you.

For example, I begin with the Columbia Journalism Review article on the Rolling Stones[1], then follow a link to a source from the Huffington Post describing one of the high profile rape cases of the year 2013[2], then follow the link to Yale University’s Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct[3], then follow the link in the report to a Yale webpage storing all reports to the present day[4], which leads me back to Yale’s 2013 report. I reach a dead end.

Another example; I follow another link in the Huffington Post article, leading to an article about Yale facing a $165,000 Clery Act Fine[5] – I admit seeing Huffington Post site itself as a source gives me some suspicion and contempt, since right wing websites cite themselves and each other all the time to deceive gullible readers. – I follow a link to a Cornell Law School webpage describing a section of the Clery Act[6]. I have strayed far from Rolling Stones by this point, leaving the drug-addled hipsters in the basement to meet the poor unpaid interns in the office learning the fine arts of diffidence, greed, and trickery.

So why did I lure you into a wild mole chase for sources for a rape case four years old, and not cut to the chase, as a so-called good journalist should? Because I want to show you an important truth, that our knowledge of the world is unreal, that falling into error of bias or the snares of a propagandist i too easy, that we have no right in our so-called Information Age to hold confidence in our grasp of the truth. We must, instead, hold a severe suspicion to all the powers of the world, including the stories we tell our friends or write about in news articles, because no matter how you spin it, we are always taking someone’s word for it.

Enter Noam Chomsky, a scholar and activist who earned his fame rebuking our country’s fine statesmen for their commitment to justice, such as in his book Who Rules the World. While Chomsky spends most of his time describing our ceaseless wars against the poor at home and against the poor overseas, he devotes one chapter to critique The New York Times for one little day; April 6, 2015. He mentions an article from the Columbia Journalism Review critiquing the flawed Rolling Stones report on the campus rape of a student named Jackie in the University of Virginia in 2014, which also condemns our press for invention, plagiarism, and lack of skepticism[7].

Chomsky quickly moves on to discuss the New York Times articles regarding our imperial wars in Laos, Cuba, and Iran, subjects closer to him, to show more examples of invention and lack of skepticism in the press. I will devote this article to the Rolling Stones to show how an example of how journalists fail us in researching a rape case before showing how journalists fail us in reporting our grand global wars.

A boiler plate summary of the events to jog our memories; a student under the false name “Jackie” confesses to the journalist Sabrina Erdely the story of her rape, which occurred in a Phi Kappa Psi frat party hosted by a third year lifeguard named “Drew” on September 2012. Erdely sincerely cared for Jackie and published her article on The Rolling Stone called “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA”, but her story fell apart when police could not find more evidence for the case. Sean Woods, principal editor of the story, retracted the article[8].

What went wrong? Let us discuss the errors of Erdely and The Rolling Stones in a list fitting for BuzzFeed.

1. Erdely let her convictions cloud her judgment when researching Jackie’s rape case. As the Columbia Journalism Review states, men often rape women on campus, citing high-profile cases from Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Vanderbilt, and Florida. Erdely, rightly moved by compassion at the plight of those young women, rightly indignant at such injustice, vowed to report a compelling rape case, one that revealed “what it’s like to be on campus now… where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there’s this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture”[9]

History professor KC Johnson in Minding the Campus, who obtained a full recording of Erdely’s interview with Jackie[10] and cropped select moments to make his case[11], claimed Erdely and Jackie both held rigid beliefs; both despised fraternities, Erdely saying campus groups value so-called social capital more than the students’ safety[12] and Jackie wishing to punish fraternities for being chauvinist in general[13]. Erdely did hold righteous anger but she also held deep prejudice against people she judged abusive to women.

2. Erdely used only one source, her interview with Jackie, and did not bother sniffing around campus for more evidence, especially from people without bias. To Erdely, Jackie had “a stamp of credibility”, telling her everything she wanted to hear, so she took Jackie’s word for it. Without much surprise, she ran into many problems. For one, neither Erdely nor Rolling Stone could contact “Drew” to confirm if he even existed, and Erdely disparaged Jackie’s friends and Dean Nicole Eramo, which required her to present strong sources to prove her charges; otherwise it would be slander, which is what Erdely did in effect[14].

Neither did the police around campus find any evidence to support Erdely’s story. Haven Mohan, the first man Jackie claims to have raped her, never existed. Phi Kappa Psi never held a frat party the night of the rape. There was no evidence Jackie was assaulted by four men after she was raped. Jackie claimed the frat members assaulted two other women, which never happened. Lastly, Jackie did not help verify any details to the police.[15].

Erdely made an official apology on April 5, 2015, after Jackie’s rape case was refuted, confessing: “I did not go far enough to verify her story. I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.”[16]

I will not condemn Erdely too much, as rape cases are extremely difficult, by nature, to bring to justice. It is very hard for police and detectives to gather evidence; a woman who was raped must willingly undergo a second invasion of her person soon after the first offence made against her to collect evidence in a rape kit; women delay in pressing charges for years, if they press charges at all, as they fear the community will strike back at them, especially men; and traumas such as rape, by their nature, afflict a person’s memory of the event.

Still, a journalist can approach a rape victim in an adroit manner. Kristen Lombardi, the staff writer for Sexual Assault on Campus, for example, makes it clear to any victim who wishes an interview that she must collect evidence, obtain documents, and interview the accused person; yet she also allows victims the power to determine the time and place of the interview, giving them the room to speak when and where they feel comfortable[17].

You, if you are a tender reader, may find Lombardi cruel and unyielding for setting herself such strict boundaries when researching a rape victim’s case, but researching a case in such slapdash manner, as Erdely did, would be truly cruel, as it will ensure the rape victim the crime committed against her will never be brought to justice and make men more hostile to any woman who wishes to press charges in the future. Doing shoddy research in the name of justice only hurts the people who need justice the most.

Next article, I will cover Chomsky’s critique of the New York Times article about the American bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, and how he sniffs out the propaganda America created about the war to justify it to her people.

[1] Coronel, Sheila, et al. “Rolling Stone’s Investigation: ‘A Failure That Was Avoidable.’” Columbia Journalism Review, 5 Apr. 2015,

[2] Kingkade, Tyler. “Yale Fails To Expel Students Guilty Of Sexual Assault.” Huffington Post, 1 Aug. 2013,

[3] Spangler, Stephanie S. “Yale University Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct Brought Forward from January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2013.” 31 July 2013,

[4] “Reports: Complaints of Sexual Misconduct.” Reports | Office of the Provost, Yale University,

[5] Kingkade, Tyler. Yale Faces $165,000 Clery Act Fine For Failing To Report Sex Offenses On Campus. Huffington Post, 15 May 2013,

[6] “20 U.S. Code § 1092 – Institutional and Financial Assistance Information for Students.” LII / Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School,

[7] “One Day in the Life of a Reader of the New York Times.” Who Rules the World?, by Noam Chomsky, Peguin, 2017, p. 213.

[8] Coronel, Sheila, et al. “Rolling Stone’s Investigation: ‘A Failure That Was Avoidable.’” Columbia Journalism Review, 5 Apr. 2015,

[9] Coronel, Sheila, et al. Rolling Stone & UVA: Columbia School of Journalism’s Report. Rolling Stone, 5 Apr. 2015,

[10] Box,

[11] Johnson, KC. “Erdely-Jackie Conversations.” Academic Wonderland, 24 Oct. 2016,

[12] Schow, Ashe, and Ryan M. Kelly. “4 Things We’ve Learned about a Rolling Stone Author’s Rape Bias.” Washington Examiner, 24 Oct. 2016,

[13] Johnson, KC. “THE ‘JACKIE’ INTERVIEW IN THE UVA FAKE RAPE.” Minding The Campus, 25 Oct. 2016,

[14] Coronel, Sheila, et al. “Rolling Stone’s Investigation: ‘A Failure That Was Avoidable.’” Columbia Journalism Review, 5 Apr. 2015,

[15] “Cops Shoot Holes in Rolling Stone’s UVa Rape Story.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 23 Mar. 2015,

[16] Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Writer of Rolling Stone Rape Article, Issues Statement. The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2015,

[17] Coronel, Sheila, et al. “Rolling Stone’s Investigation: ‘A Failure That Was Avoidable.’” Columbia Journalism Review, 5 Apr. 2015,