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An itinerant seller of quack medicines

One need not be an uncritical admirer of the work of Howard Zinn to wonder idly why noted obituarist Oliver Kamm is so keen to denounce an ideological opponent as not only wrong but a charlatan (Merriam-Webster: “one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability: fraud, faker”). Might it somehow be related to the fact that Kamm himself has an impressive track record of pontificating about subjects on which he has failed to do the most elementary research or of which he lacks the most rudimentary understanding? ((Previously in “The ‘scholarship’ of Oliver Kamm”: Discomfited; Meld; A stale image; Implicitly believes; The dominance of western music; A blatant distortion.))

  1. 1  sw  February 1, 2010, 3:56 pm 

    If there’s unspeak – and there is! – then perhaps there should be unscholarship? I’m thinking, for example, of the cock-swinging corrections in Kamm’s obit and his sudden, unprompted citation of an academic paper as if it slams the door as Zinn makes his way out. These prissy little trappings of intellectual rigour, these academic affectations, bundle up and (barely) hide ignorance and ill-will – not the type of ignorance or ill-will that would fill a Grand Canyon, but the type that might clog your average public lavatory.

  2. 2  Leinad  February 2, 2010, 1:08 am 

    Steven you’re normally on the ball but this time it is you who has made the huge blunder – Kamm has simply mistakenly placed Zinn in the lineup of a veteran UK indie rock outfit.

  3. 3  Alex Higgins  February 2, 2010, 1:11 am 

    I really struggle to find words to describe someone who counts among their principle hobbies, publicly defending the use of nuclear weapons against Japanese civilians at the end of the Second World War.

    This is considerably more nauseating than writing a gloating piece on your blog every time someone on the antiwar left, or even tenuously connected with it, dies.

    I’m also confused by this:

    “It was, in the circumstances, unfeeling of you to appeal to Zinn for help after I had first pointed out your ahistorical assertions on the A-bomb.”

    What does unfeeling mean here?

    I use it to mean lacking compassion or empathy as in: ‘one who repeatedly justifies using the atom bomb on civilian populations with unconvincing references to their scholarly credentials is unfeeling‘.

    Kamm then objects to Zinn saying this, calling it “disgraceful”:

    “I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over. I wake up thinking: the US is in the grip of a president surrounded by thugs in suits who care nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water or the air, or what kind of world will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.”

    He adds:

    “….this was the language of far-right conspiracists such as Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber. The notion that the world’s greatest democracy is not only led by an Administration you politically disagree with but is occupied by alien forces is a fantasy that incites violent protest.”

    Really? We are obliged then, those of us who disagree with the administration Kamm supported, to pretend that the Bush White House in fact showed some concern for human life at home and abroad, and that it cared what happened to the earth, water and air? What evidence, scholarly or otherwise, is there for that then? A huge mound of evidence and corspes speaks to the contrary.

    Violent protest is of course deplorable and disgraceful, unlike incinerating tens of thousands of civilians on purpose. That is a matter of scholarly debate among gentlemen. And we should deplore that someone like Howard Zinn, a WWII bomber pilot who personally apologised to Japanese victims of the A-bomb, ever sought to participate in it.

    Is there anyone writing in the British press who exudes such hatred of others in their writing as Oliver Kamm? I’m not sure Melanie Phillips or Richard Littlejohn are quite so vindictive.

  4. 4  Steven  February 2, 2010, 2:22 am 

    Which reminds me that, in a cack-handedly composed twofer, noted obituarist Kamm also exploited the occasion of Kurt Vonnegut’s death to defend the bombings of both Hiroshima/Nagasaki and Dresden, while also seeking to smear Vonnegut by association with David Irving.

    (I did lol at #2.)

  5. 5  Leinad  February 2, 2010, 4:08 am 

    One day I’ll write some more thought-out responses that aren’t just music refs. One day.

  6. 6  Tawfiq Chahboune  February 2, 2010, 5:37 am 

    Steven, that’s about right: for Oliver Kamm the only test seems to be whether someone shares his views. So he’s happy to completely distort the writings of exceptionally fine writers and journalists he has political disagreements with.

    Some of his writings are embarrassing. He once dismissed a book because the author misspelt Mitterrand. Evidently, it never crossed Kamm’s mind that it might be a printing error or that author’s occasionally make spelling mistakes. No, for Kamm spelling mistakes show lack of intellectual rigour and slopiness. Kamm’s own spelling mistakes aren’t subject to the standard he demands of others.

    Recently, Kamm claimed that Iranians speak Farsi. They don’t. They speak Persian. Farsi is the Persian for Persian. Should Kamm therefore be ignored because of this mistake? His “standards” do indeed demand this: after all, a commentator who does not know something as elementary as what language Iranians speak evidently has proven himself lacking in the intellectual authority necessary to then speak about important matters.

    While he’s at it, he never looses an opportunity to praise a now notorious “interview” in which questions that were never asked were met with concocted replies. But since the interviewee was Noam Chomsky, someone Kamm seems to be obsessed with, the concocted replies, ran Kamm’s peculiar logic, should stand.

    Here’s another nice example of Kamm’s M.O., which I pointed out elsewhere:

    “The late Paul Foot,” wrote Kamm, “of whom Cohen himself wrote an admiring obituary, was so far steeped in this form of thinking [the belief in “root causes”] that he surmised in his Guardian column in October 2001 that the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia had been one of the contributory factors in provoking 9/11.”

    Kamm is referring to an article Foot wrote for the Guardian (16 October 2001) entitled A Shabby Excuse For Democracy. The column was concerned with the alternatives to war, in which Foot remarked, reasonably, that the West’s cosy relationship with, and support of, the extreme chauvinism and bloody despotism gripping most of the Islamic world was a root cause of terrorism: “Stop cuddling up to feudal and sexist dictatorships such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which are every bit as foul as the Taliban.”

    Foot was making a point about Saudi Arabia, which he just happened to describe as a “feudal and sexist dictatorship”. As you will note, Kamm claimed that Foot was arguing that the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia was “one of the contributory factors in provoking 9/11”.

    There are very many instances of Kamm doing this sort of thing, especially with Chomsky and in the past Foot. Kamm can’t argue the merits of his own arguments, so he misrepresents the arguments of those he dislikes. Now, Kamm either knows exactly what he’s doing (and so a sinister menace to journalism, intellectual honesty and liberal values) or is incredibly unlucky in being an almost guaranteed source of misrepresentation.

    Since you mention David Irving, if you examine Kamm’s method you’ll find it uncannily reminiscent of what Richard Evans says about Irving’s own method in his book “Telling Lies About Hitler”.

    While Kamm is a source of dangerous propaganda (see his stuff on Iran), it is disconcerting that his mother, Anthea Bell, was the source of so much childhood pleasure. She’s the translator of the Asterix books. At least she’s done something constructive and valuable.

  7. 7  Rojo  February 2, 2010, 6:41 am 

    Oliver Kamm
    What a small, small man

    a poem by Rojo.

  8. 8  Rojo  February 2, 2010, 6:44 am 

    What’s really amazing is that, for all the vindictiveness Kamm displays, the charges are so insubstantial. Hell, at least with Chomsky, they accuse him of supporting Pol Pot.

  9. 9  PJD  February 2, 2010, 11:12 am 

    Some of Oliver Kamm’s research is pretty lame. Look at his confusion here about Media Lens and the Gandhi award they received:

    He rubbishes a Gandhi award, but not the one won by Media lens.

    When I point this out he doesn’t respond at all with an apology or even a counter-attack.

    I wonder if we will see more on the Alleged Iranian ‘Nuclear Trigger’ documents.

  10. 10  Bruce  February 2, 2010, 2:35 pm 

    Kamm and Medialens deserve each other. Two sides of a very dull reduction of everything to two sides.

  11. 11  Jenny P  February 2, 2010, 8:53 pm 

    The peculiar thing about this blurb for The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Grifiin is that Howard Zinn remained unpersuaded that 9/11 was an inside job. Truthers first asked Zinn to sign a petition calling for an independent investigation, including the possibility the Bush administration had advanced knowledge, and Zinn said ‘Fine, in the spirit of openness, I will sign your petition’ (see his accompanying note). Grifiin’s book discusses more than just the attacks. He traces plausible avenues of assistance and funding (r.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) including powerful friends in high places. Zinn obviously found something “persuasive” about this area of his work to recommend. In this regard he is no more a conspiracy theorist than Gerald Posner and Craig Unger, as both individuals continue to believe the Bush administration withheld important/embarrassing information relating to funding. Truthers quickly turned on Zinn because he refused to beleive 9/11 was an inside job and several articles appear on various sites denouncing him–like Chomsky–as some kind of leftist “gatekeeper”. Oliver Kamm tells you nothing of this.

  12. 12  StuartA  February 2, 2010, 9:25 pm 

    I disagree that Kamm and Medialens are comparable. I haven’t followed either recently, but Medialens provided a useful analysis of, e.g. the media’s Iraq War coverage. Kamm’s non-leader output largely divides into two categories: a) bilious, borderline-fraudulent attacks on political opponents, particularly dead ones and b) Pooteresque witterings on what he apparently believes marks one as a superior sort — a reverence for the earlier editions of Fowler’s, the appropriate fountain pen [1], and so on.

    That he has a media platform at all is evidence, in my view, that Chomsky’s theories in Manufacturing Consent cannot be entirely wrong, which is of course the opposite of the conclusion Kamm would like his readers to reach.

    [1] I don’t believe you can truly understand the man without considering his disquisition on this subject. (“Pens aren’t luxury items. What matters is what you do with them.”)

  13. 13  Bruce  February 3, 2010, 2:04 am 

    I disagree that Kamm and Medialens are comparable. I haven’t followed either recently, but Medialens provided a useful analysis of, e.g. the media’s Iraq War coverage

    It’s the kind of “analysis” in which the conclusion was always known in advance (“Chomsky was 100% right”). Kamm does the same thing (“Chomsky was 100% wrong”). It’s not about increasing understanding, seeing things in a new light. It’s more like theological “analysis”. I think Medialens are as deeply conservative in their thinking as Kamm. I would bet money that both are “pomophobic” (I dislike that word, but can’t come up with anything better).

  14. 14  ThepowerofX  February 3, 2010, 2:29 am 

    Oliver Kamm formuli:

    “Noam Chomsky (sometime co-author of Ed Herman) resides two blocks from a known paedophile.”

  15. 15  StuartA  February 3, 2010, 2:36 am 

    Oh, you’re absolutely right. We must allow some murderous imperial wars if only to avoid “conservative” thinking and dullness and dangerous accusations of pomophobia.

  16. 16  Bruce  February 3, 2010, 3:40 am 

    StuartA writes:

    Oh, you’re absolutely right. We must allow some murderous imperial wars if only to avoid “conservative” thinking and dullness and dangerous accusations of pomophobia.

    Only in a black-and-white universe where people who disagree with you over a media criticism website “must” logically also be war apologists.

  17. 17  StuartA  February 3, 2010, 4:17 am 

    Only in a black-and-white universe where people who disagree with you over a media criticism website “must” logically also be war apologists.

    You’re absolutely right — it’s an unconscionably crude caricature of your delicate pomophiliac position. Allow me to make another attempt:

    Medialens coverage of the Iraq War was clearly against the invasion and occupation and the exculpatory media coverage thereof. This, as we now know, is evidence of tedious doctrinaire Chomskyism, what with him opposing numerous US interventions over the past few decades. They refuse to see the delicate shades that must be borne in mind when considering, say, a million dead civilians. Their attitude is in fact — one pauses here to savour the rarely appreciated irony — conservative! Ha!

    Does that cover it?

  18. 18  Bruce  February 3, 2010, 12:24 pm 

    Sigh. One can abhor imperialist wars without being a Medialens acolyte. No “delicate shades” required, just a functioning brain.

    Kamm, Medialens, Kamm fans, Medialens fans – they deserve each other.

  19. 19  StuartA  February 3, 2010, 6:17 pm 

    Only in a black-and-white universe would expressing a preference for Medialens’s output over that of Kamm’s render one a “Medialens acolyte”. Pompous newspaper received wisdom peddlers, “plague on both their houses” pseudo-balanced commenters — they deserve each other.

  20. 20  Daniel Simpson  February 3, 2010, 10:52 pm 

    What about other people’s murderous wars? Is it cool to make stuff up about them for no good reason? And if it isn’t, does it matter that who says so too?


  21. 21  StuartA  February 3, 2010, 11:11 pm 

    What about other people’s murderous wars? Is it cool to make stuff up about them for no good reason? And if it isn’t, does it matter that who says so too?

    I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I haven’t read Medialens for several years, and I don’t intend to read your blog. Sorry.

  22. 22  Daniel Simpson  February 3, 2010, 11:30 pm 

    No worries. Most of it’s about other stuff anyway. To summarise the relevant bit: Ed Herman and his co-author David Peterson make stuff up about Balkan war crimes. Media Lens reprint it, and say its great. Then Oliver Kamm sticks his oar in, and Media Lens readers conclude a binary opposite: nasty imperialists are the ones who do the lying. Not compassionate media critics. As for Chomsky, fuhgedaboudit.

  23. 23  Guano  February 4, 2010, 4:42 pm 

    Oliver Kamm writes for the Times, and claims to even be a leader-writer for the Times. MediaLens is a rabble-rousing web-site. I worry more about the foibles of the former than of the latter.

  24. 24  Bruce  February 5, 2010, 10:54 am 

    Perhaps, but Kamm’s views on the word “discomfited” concern me less* than Medialens’s entries in the Unspeak Hit Parade:

    (*Although I enjoy Steven Poole’s commentaries on it).

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts