Noam Chomsky, a prominent political activist and respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor, was met with a standing ovation both before and after his speech Tuesday night.
Chomsky spoke to a packed crowd of about 1,700 people in the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
His talk, “Policy and the Media Prism,” was the start of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Civic Media Center.
The 84-year-old drew on his many years of academia to comment on a host of hot-button issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Syria and Edward Snowden.
His talk highlighted the differences between the mainstream media coverage of these issues and alternative views.
“What’s being presented to the public is a version of reality,” said Chomsky of these issues. “It doesn’t allow the public to participate meaningfully in the discussion, and it should not be tolerated.”
Chomsky made many references to the U.S. being a “rogue state,” which relies on “the passive assumption that we have the right to be a rogue state and to rule the world by force.”
Joe Courter, director of the Civic Media Center, called the event “wonderful”.
“Just seeing how many people were there and how happy they were to be there, not only to see Chomsky but to see that large of an audience, was really a powerful thing,” he said.
However, UF students like Raya Elias-Pushett, a 19-year-old anthropology sophomore, called Chomsky controversial.
She said she found some of his characterizations, particularly of the Middle East conflict and the U.S. involvement, unfair.
“I think that he focused too much on what is neglected in the media and not enough on how facts are presented, period,” she said. “I think that his point of view, although academic and respected because of his previous work, is not necessarily the most accurate or the most nonbiased.”
Anusha Hudda, an 18-year-old UF pre-nursing freshman, agreed that Chomsky’s opinions were thought-provoking, if not entirely neutral.
“Even though we could tell what side he was on, and what he was trying to accomplish with the speech, it was nice to hear a different side,” Hudda said.
Ryan Dargan, an 18-year-old UF mechanical engineering freshman, said Chomsky’s views should be taken with a grain of salt.
“He definitely brought up a lot of great, thought-provoking points that kind of opened my eyes in a sense,” he said. “A lot of it though, you have to take it that it’s just his opinions.”
A version of this story ran on page 1 on 10/16/2013 under the headline "Chomsky tackles media controversies in UF speech"
Noam Chomsky, a world-renowned linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and logician, delivers a special guest lecture Tuesday evening at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.