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Noam Chomsky Dead? False Reports Stir Controversy While Famed Linguist Recovers in Brazil

Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist, philosopher, and social critic, was at the center of a media frenzy on Tuesday as false reports of his death circulated widely. Despite the rampant rumors, Chomsky, 95, is alive, though he remains in recovery following a severe stroke he suffered last year. The erroneous reports, initially published by several reputable outlets, highlighted the perils of the modern media landscape.

The confusion began when both Jacobin and The New Statesman published obituaries for Chomsky. Jacobin’s piece, originally titled “We Remember Noam Chomsky,” was quickly retitled to “Let’s Celebrate Noam Chomsky,” while The New Statesman removed its obituary entirely. These premature publications did not verify the claims of Chomsky’s death, leading to widespread misinformation.

Chomsky’s wife, Valeria Wasserman Chomsky, promptly addressed the false reports. “No, it is false,” she confirmed in an email to The Associated Press. Valeria explained that Chomsky had been hospitalized in Brazil, where the couple has resided since 2015, but he was discharged on Tuesday to continue his treatment at home.

The stroke, which Chomsky suffered a year ago, has significantly impacted his ability to speak and has affected the right side of his body. He is under the care of various specialists in São Paulo, aiming for a gradual recovery. Despite these health challenges, Chomsky remains engaged, showing interest in current events, particularly the ongoing conflicts in Gaza.

The premature obituaries sparked a flurry of activity on social media. Old videos and tributes to Chomsky were widely shared, causing further confusion. On Wikipedia, editors grappled with conflicting reports, attempting to confirm the truth about Chomsky’s status.

This incident is not without precedent. Historical figures like Mark Twain have similarly faced premature death reports. However, the rapid dissemination of false information in today’s digital age amplifies the impact. The media’s failure to verify such a significant claim underscores the critical need for rigorous fact-checking.

Various commentators criticized the media’s role in propagating the false news. Brazilian journalist Cauê Seigner Ameni, who contacted Valeria Chomsky directly, expressed disappointment. “Shameful and sad that Valéria Chomsky had to deny news of Noam Chomsky’s death over the phone here in Brazil,” he stated, highlighting the haste with which some outlets published their reports.

Sabrina Fernandes, a Brazilian academic, condemned the rush to publish unverified information. “Since no outlet that reported the death decided to post an errata, it only got worse,” she noted, pointing to the competitive nature of the “online scoop and attention industry.”

The irony of this situation was not lost on many, given Chomsky’s extensive critique of the media. His seminal work, “Manufacturing Consent,” co-authored with Edward Herman, dissects how media can manipulate and control public perception. Observers like Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat wryly noted, “Chomsky is NOT dead. If Chomsky was dead, he would be turning in his grave to see how quickly rumors spread and how social media functions.”

Noam Chomsky, who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona, remains a vital intellectual force. His extensive body of work includes over 100 books on topics ranging from linguistics to political critique. Known for his outspoken views on U.S. foreign policy and support for anti-imperialist causes, Chomsky continues to influence and inspire activists and scholars worldwide.

In light of the false death reports, the academic community and Chomsky’s followers are urged to exercise caution and verify information through reliable sources. As Chomsky recovers, his legacy as a critic of media and political power remains ever relevant, highlighted by this very incident of premature media reporting.

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