Two takes on Robert Fisk

12 Dec

Today I came across a piece in The Critic, a rag I hadn’t heard of so I checked it out. Its arrival a year ago was as new entrant to the ‘thinking man’s debunker of left wing twaddle’ market, and its funder is Jeremy Hosking, ranked by Forbes at position 351 with £375 million to his name.

One of its two editors is Christopher Montgomery, ex ERG (Tories for a hard Brexit) and one time Chief of Staff to Ian Paisley’s old firm, the DUP. The other is right wing libertarian Michael Mosbacher, his CV taking in Adam Smith Institute, Thatcherite Social Affairs Unit, Taxpayers Alliance and Libertarian Alliance.

The piece I read – Fabricator and Fraudster – is a takedown of the late Robert Fisk by Oz Katerji, known to some of us as an ardent attack dog for empire. He begins:

Robert Fisk was as close to a celebrity as is possible for a foreign correspondent. I met him after a lecture in 2010. For a young journalist in the first few months of my career, it was like meeting David Beckham. I remember the words he said: “The Middle East is not a football match. It’s a bloody tragedy, and journalists have a responsibility to be on the side of those who suffer.”

But it wasn’t his charismatic speech in 2010 that had influenced my understanding of the Middle East. It was learning that Fisk was a fraud, a fabricator and a fantasist … guilty of the same “propaganda campaigns” he accused the Western media of conducting.

Which prompted a response from Jonathan Cook, a week ago in CounterPunch. He begins:

Leading journalists in the corporate media have suddenly felt the need not only to criticise the late, much-respected foreign correspondent Robert Fisk, but to pile in against him, using the most outrageous smears imaginable. He is suddenly a fraud, a fabulist, a fantasist, a liar.

What is most ironic is that the journalists doing this are some of the biggest frauds themselves, journalists who have made a career out of deceiving their readers. In fact, many of the crowd attacking Fisk when he can no longer defend himself are precisely the journalists who have the worst record of journalistic malpractice and on some of the biggest issues of our times.

At least I have the courage to criticise them while they are alive. They know dead men can’t sue. It is complete and utter cowardice to attack Fisk when they could have made their comments earlier, to his face. In fact, if they truly believed any of the things they are so keen to tell us now, they had an absolute duty to say them when Fisk was alive rather than allowing the public to be deceived by someone they regarded as a liar and fantasist.1 They didn’t make public these serious allegations – they didn’t air their concerns about the supposedly fabricated facts in Fisk’s stories – when he was alive because they know he would have made mincemeat of them.

Most preposterous of all is the fact that the actual trigger for this sudden, very belated outpouring of concern about Fisk is a hit-piece written by Oz Katerji. I’m not sure I can find the generosity to call Katerji a journalist. Like Elliot Higgins of the US government-funded Bellingcat, he’s more like an attack dog beloved by establishment blue-ticks: he is there to enforce accepted western imperial narratives, disguising his lock-step support for the establishment line as edgy, power-to-the-people radicalism.

I’m biased of course, since I loathe what Katerji stands for and admire what Cook does. So why not read the two pieces? One of them actually uses evidence.

* * *

  1. Emphasis added in paragraph 3 of the Cook passage. It’s a damning indictment of corporate journalism that no one has picked up on this aspect of the matter.

9 Replies to “Two takes on Robert Fisk

  1. The controversy-even the sordid stuff like the piece by Oz Katerji is really a tribute to a journalist whose death calls for much more than the empty, respectful obituary. Fisk was not afraid of truths and he certainly wouldn’t have been afraid of hatchet jobs by moral midgets.
    The best article I have seen, apart from Cook’s, is this critique by Asad abu Khalil

    Asad has long criticised Fisk from a Lebanese communist/shiah point of view. He certainly didn’t wait for death to start kicking.

    The good news is that though Fisk, warts and all, is unfortunately gone, Asad and Cook are still telling the truth – as they see it and without fear or favour – about Lebanon and the Middle East.

    • Thanks for the link, bevin. Ironic if Katerji repurposed criticisms of Fisk by one whose perspectives on the middle east could not be further removed from those of this empire toady masquerading – like many others, from Bellingcat’s Elliot Higgins through AP’s Ken Dilanian to the Graun’s Luke Harding and Rory Carroll – as fearless iconoclast.

  2. I have nothing but admiration for Dr. Robert Fisk, who lectured across Canada several times. I met him twice. There is no journalist on the planet who has been as deeply immersed in the Middle East as he was. The only concern I had about him was that he was never online and missed some of the perspectives to be found there.

    • A personal connection multiplies the force of the insult, Elizabeth. I had similar when, not long after my sole meeting over coffee with Piers Robinson, he was subject to a scurrilous attack in the Huffington Post.

      I was going to link anyway to my post of two years ago on the latter. Now, having located and skim read it, I see that you get a mention in passing …

      • Well waddya know? I just read my post more carefully, to discover that it was you alerted me to the HuffPo hatchet job on Piers!

  3. Fisk amazed me, and I’d turn to his columns first . . . until the Independent put so many of them behind a paywall.

    Depressing is the number of attacks on Fisk since his death, and I’m shocked that Consortium News published two of them (including one by the “angry arab” or might be better known as the “comfortable professor in Southern California”).

    In addition to the Cook posting, Patrick Cockburn is worth reading on Fisk. These from Unz were originally published in the Independent, here and here

    • Thanks for the additional info, Chet. I’ll read both of the Cockburn pieces later today.

      Speaking more generally, people like Katerji – ‘moral midgets’ as bevin calls them – have a long if inglorious history. Marx was forever having to see off their gnat-bite attacks, often deploying language we wouldn’t nowadays deem PC. That they feature in media supposedly aimed at a critical intelligentsia, or segments of it, just goes to show that said intelligentsia – I can back this up with a good deal of personal experience – is neither as critical nor as intelligent as it likes to think.

      For the vast majority, uninformed and misinformed by right wing and liberal ‘quality’ media alike, people like Katerji can seem impressive. Why not? Using techniques like the Smirnoff move discussed last week in Propaganda Studies, Lesson 9,975,736 and adopting a persona, risible once you’ve seen through it though few do, of sternly critical and fearless pursuit of the truth, they fool those too lazy or stressed out to do their own thinking.

      We must never be dazzled by these popinjays. Though lionised by corrupt interests (at least until, their usefulness spent, they are tossed aside) their job, no matter how clever and subtle they deem themselves to be, is to defend the indefensible. Whether or not they know this is secondary. (FWIW I think it’s a bit of both.) The more important fact is that the ground they stand on is one fat if lucrative lie.

  4. I had meant to reply to your reply days earlier, but I’ve been distracted more than usually (finally beginning revising a novel to which I wrote in rough draft 2 years ago) and also wanted to read your “Propaganda Studies.”

    The only part what I disagree with is your, “lionised by corrupt interests (at least until, their usefulness spent, they are tossed aside)”. My disagreement is, Are they ever tossed aside? In a sense, that’s a lot to hope for, as if there were any justice in the world. For example, the hacks that promoted the Iraqi invasion remain in high positions. Adding names would be too depressing. And so, if only they were tossed aside!

    • You’re probably right. I said this to emphasise their featherweight status as men and women dispensable the moment their usefulness expires.

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