Saturday, July 29, 2006

Kamm's Defence

A commenter Owen has this to say about the Kamm post below:
Pick an argument with Kamm about the perhaps cavalier way in which he summarises arguments, but credit him for the essential, which is that he refuses to condone obfuscation of the truth, which is what LM, Deichmann and Johnstone are all about. If Chomsky is unable to take an unambiguous stance on the issue of their mendacity his reputation deserves to live with the consequences.
While much of Owen's comment is too vague to be answered, his attempt to suggest that, in spite of what I wrote, Kamm still has some sort of case against Chomsky regarding Trnopolje warrants a response.

Although Owen has not disputed any part of my argument that Kamm falsely accused Chomsky of misrepresenting Knightley's views, he attempts to brush off Kamm’s own misrepresentation as “perhaps cavalier” summarizing.

I accuse Kamm of more than this, because his case derives entirely from what he left out of Knightley’s testimony: he didn’t provide a summary at all. If he had any knowledge of what Knightley said – and he certainly made a pretence of this – he would have known that the Guardian report he cites does not begin to encompass what Knightley “really said about the case”. Why did Kamm think LM would call a defence witness to lecture the court on the Spanish Civil War?

Charitably assuming Kamm to be merely ignorant, his self-righteous pronouncement about he who “obfuscates and denies the crimes at Trnopolje” is nonetheless baseless. Given this, I find Owen's comment hard to fathom.

Firstly, Kamm’s own performance here entails “obfuscation of the truth”, regardless of his alleged refusal to condone it elsewhere. Until this is disputed, Kamm is not in a position to be an exemplar of historical accuracy. As I have pointed out, he is an obsessive pursuer of Chomsky, and this is only one of a stream of questionable allegations he’s levelled.

Secondly, I have yet to see evidence that Deichmann did substantively misrepresent the truth at Trnopolje. LM lost the case because they were unable to show that ITN had deliberately misrepresented conditions at Trnopolje as being like a concentration camp. There was little dispute that the coverage had been misleading, and that the barbed wire did not serve the purpose that reports implied. The judge said this:

“Clearly Ian Williams and Penny Marshall and their TV team were mistaken in thinking they [the TV crew] were not enclosed by the old barbed wire fence. But does it matter?”

That is, he essentially accepted what Knightley said, and what Chomsky mentioned in the interview. If Kamm had had a passing familiarity with the case he would have known this.

The unqualified accusations of “obfuscation of the truth” are impossible to address because they have no specific content. Who denied what? And what does that have to do with Chomsky? Johnstone, of course, has nothing at all to do with this case.

9 Comments:

Blogger james higham said...

Thank you and I'm serious, not being ironic. Pro-war right? Actually, if you mean Iraq, I'm against it for the reason in my piece about 'israel the vanguard' [today]. But this will only get me into further hot water with you because of my reference to THAT religious superstition. As for Oliver Kamm - Ive taken this up with him.

3:07 pm  
Blogger james higham said...

"The unqualified accusations of “obfuscation of the truth” are impossible to address because they have no specific content."

But surely that makes them equally valid? I've scoured Oliver Kamm's words on this and can't see the problem.

3:34 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

I was hoping to avoid creating a new links category -- never mind.

The "unqualified accusations" I had in mind were those of Owen, not Kamm (although Kamm does like to make generalised accusations of a similar nature). Owen apparently suggests Chomsky should disavow these purveyors of "obfuscation" without specifying what obfuscation he has in mind.

I'd be surprised if Kamm responded to the points raised here.

5:23 pm  
Blogger james higham said...

I think he keeps a fairly close eye on proceedings but you're right - you're not the favourite gentleman for them. I thought Kamm's piece on bloggers, which I did a piece on - naked truth about blogging was interesting.

11:01 am  
Blogger steven poole said...

Kamm is no more to be trusted on sources than he claims Chomsky to be. He is also plain wrong on his claim re Nicholas Wheeler. See my post here at Crooked Timber, intially giving Kamm the benefit of the doubt, and my subsequent comment #320.

11:10 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

Thanks Steven. I liked the book.

I saw Kamm's comments about Wheeler's book, and planned to investigate. It's very useful to see your analysis. As on other occasions, it seems he's magnified a minor slip or ambiguity into an "intellectual scandal" and wholesale denunciation, meanwhile discarding his own vaunted scruples regarding source material.

Another example is their exchange in Prospect. He jumps up and down over Chomsky incorrectly accusing him of misquotation, but notably fails to address the rebuttal of his charges regarding Moynihan's memoirs; instead he just repeats them.

His recent foray on the Balkans doesn't reflect well on him either. Aside from the interview fiasco, his lengthy series on "bamboozling" in the Balkans seems to reduce to: the attribution of a statement from Robin Cook to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to the committee itself, and a possibly overreaching interpretation of Wheeler. On the deficit side, he himself misrepresented Wheeler more seriously than Chomsky, and based an entire post on his ignorance of a source he claimed Chomsky was abusing.

Given that Kamm claims to have read every political book by Chomsky, and has spent at least eight years straining to attack him, I'm amazed at the inaccurate, nitpicking nature of what he's managed to unearth. If, as he says, Chomsky is an "intellectual crook" whose "handling of source material is an intellectual scandal", why is this all he has produced?

12:37 pm  
Blogger steven poole said...

Hi Stuart,
Glad you liked it, thanks. :)
As I said in the original CT post, if you're going to charge someone with deliberate distortion and wilful dishonesty, you'd better have the evidence to back it up, as was so abundant in eg the David Irving trial. Nothing I've seen on Kamm's site, and that he subsequently appealed to again in the comments thread, constitutes such evidence. Still, I suppose absurd accusations such as that Chomsky thinks the US is morally equal or inferior to Nazi Germany, and is an intellectual crook, are more provocative - and perhaps saleable - than reasonable statements such as that Chomsky, like all human beings, sometimes errs, even errs badly.

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