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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Noam Chomsky Book on 9/11 Best-seller

Aired May 9, 2002 - 08:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: A controversial book that says, in effect, America has itself to blame for the events of September 11 has become a surprise best-seller in this country. In the book "9-11," author Noam Chomsky calls the U.S. "a leading terrorist state." Still, it has sold 160,000 copies, made five national best-seller lists, been translated into dozens of languages and has sold especially well on college campuses.

And joining us now from Washington with his take on this and other issues of the day, Bill Bennett, CNN contributor and co-director of Empower America.

Good morning, Bill. Welcome.

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning, Paula. Thanks.

ZAHN: All right, Bill, just, let's just set up for a moment for the audience some of what Mr. Chomsky writes. He -- and we'll put up on the screen just a very small chunk of this book -- he says, "We can think of the United States as an innocent victim only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of its actions and those of its allies."

All right, this basically gives us a sense of what he's trying to communicate here. It is selling so well. How do you explain it at a time when the president has all time popularity ratings and where clearly the American public supports this war on terror?

BENNETT: Well, we may -- I should comment first, Paula, this may be a television first. I wrote a book on the same topic. The net effect of this segment may be to increase sales of the book with a totally opposite point of view of mine. And I say this not as...

ZAHN: Are you just smarting because this book is selling better than yours right now?

BENNETT: No. I'm actually not smarting because although it is selling better than my book, it's not a matter of sour grapes, but there is a matter of I told you so. Let me just give you a little background.

In my book, "Why We Fight," I said at the beginning of that book that there is a small but influential group of critics who will end up blaming the United States for this attack. When I said it, and in a number of reviews of my book, people said that's nonsense. That's ridiculous. There won't be any groundswell of opinion saying that the United States was at fault. Well, you just pointed out 160,000 copies is a pretty substantial number of books. It may be a surprise to some people, but not to me.

Look, Chomsky says in the book that the United States is a leading terrorist state. That's a preposterous and ridiculous claim. We can debate it. You know I'd be happy to be on your show with Chomsky. I'm sure you guys have asked him to come on.

But it's a ridiculous claim. The interesting thing culturally is that this thing is taking hold among intellectuals, having some hold and influence on college campuses, and this is, if I can say, just what I predicted would happen. Everybody said no, you know, the United States, everybody is being patriotic. Everybody is waving the flag. This kind of criticism won't happen. And if there is, if it does happen, there won't be people who will take it seriously.

There are a lot of people who take this view seriously.

ZAHN: Why do they take it seriously, Bill?

BENNETT: For whatever reasons. There may be psychological reasons. It may be that there is some deep hatred of America and American institutions. It may be that the state of our educational system is so bad at some institutions that kids are ready to believe anything bad said about the United States. And when you think about the lead notion in this book, that the United States is a leading terrorist nation, you know, if one knew history, if one knew, for example, what we have done for Europe, what we have done against terrorism, what we have done for Muslims in the world -- you know, the leading killer of Muslims in the world is Saddam Hussein.

What we have done is liberated Kuwait, helped in Bosnia and the Balkans. We have provided sanctuary for people of all faiths, including Islam, in the United States. We tried to help in Somalia. I mean the historical record is clear that America is the great hope of the earth.

Do we have faults and imperfections? Of course. The notion that we're a leading terrorist state is preposterous yet...

ZAHN: Yes, and what does he base...

BENNETT: Yet is sells.

ZAHN: Yes. And what does he base that theory on, for people who haven't picked up this book?

BENNETT: Well, the book is really a series of interviews with Chomsky. And what he does is he talks about everything in American history for the last 50 or 60 years, but only, if you will, the dark side. If there was ever, if we ever had an ally, if we were ever linked with anyone who ever did anything wrong, he puts the entire bill at the foot of the United States. In terms of the good that we have done, there is very little, very little mentioned by Noam Chomsky.

ZAHN: What is the harshest example...

BENNETT: Again...

ZAHN: ... he uses that would support his theory that in some way that America was a terrorist state?

BENNETT: I guess the harshest example -- I don't know which one would be the harshest. There's so much misinformation. I think probably his discussion of what we have done in Europe and in the Middle East. And, again, most of it is preposterous.

We're all for free speech. No one is for banning books. It is interesting culturally that six months -- what are we, eight months, nine months past 9/11, a very successful book takes the United States to task and says essentially it was our fault that we were hit.

ZAHN: Yes, well, it's interesting because we've spoken about this other book before, the best-seller in France, which basically said in some way the American government was behind the attacks of 9/11, which, of course, hasn't sold well here. But...

BENNETT: You've got it.

ZAHN: ... it's a best-seller in France.

BENNETT: The number one best-seller in France. And Gore Vidal has a book that is almost equally critical of the United States, which is making its way up the charts. The point here is just, is to be ready, is to be aware of what's going on and not to lull ourselves into some notion that, you know, everyone is proud of the United States, everyone feels this is a great country, that, you know, this euphoria of flag waving has taken over the nation and that there aren't deep and serious haters and critics of the U.S. who have profound influence on our campuses and in intellectual circles. It makes the debate a real debate.

ZAHN: Well, we'd love to have you on with Mr. Chomsky. We'll keep on working on that. That will be quite a...

BENNETT: You've got my number. I'm available 7-24.

ZAHN: ... fiery segment to watch.

BENNETT: Good.

ZAHN: OK. Thanks, Bill. Take care.

BENNETT: Thank you.

ZAHN: And keep us posted on how your book is chalking up there with Mr. Chomsky's.

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