Monday, September 27, 2010

Fisk on Fisking

Fisking is an internet term for a "point-by-point debunking of lies and/or idiocies", which is not necessarily fun to read. It started when Robert Fisk wrote the following lines about a beating
If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find

Apparently, the reporter was setting himself up for a different kind of bruising. In the blogosphere, Fisk's article was widely mocked for its mawkishness. The Ur-fisking below is blogger Andrew Sullivan's takedown of Robert Fisk's page one account of being attacked by Afghans. Sullivan's fisking was nearly a fisting, some bloggers observed, before promptly imitating the tiresome style. Geekish wingnuts soon became particularly prone to the pastime of fisking, and it's the usual modus operandi of the text-scourers who run the so-called Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Here's Sullivan, back in 2001 when he was also penning loveletters to "Rummy", the reprehensible Donald Rumsfeld.

THE PATHOLOGY OF ROBERT FISK: His account of his ordeal at the hands of an Afghan mob – a mob that apparently cried “Infidel!” as they attacked and tried to rob him – is a classic piece of leftist pathology. You have to read it to believe it. Even when people are trying to murder Fisk, he adamantly refuses to see them as morally culpable or even responsible. I’ve heard of self-hatred but this is ridiculous: “They started by shaking hands. We said, 'Salaam aleikum' – peace be upon you – then the first pebbles flew past my face." That sentence alone deserves to go down as one of the defining quotes of the idiotic left. If it weren't so tragic, it would be downright hilarious. Who needs Evelyn Waugh when you have this?

"I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME": But wait, there's more. "A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.” What does this mean, you might well ask? What it means is that someone – anyone – is either innocent or guilty purely by racial or cultural association. An average Westerner is to be taken as an emblem of an entire culture and treated as such. Any random Westerner will do. Individual notions of responsibility or morality are banished, as one group is labeled blameless and another irredeemably malign. There’s a word for this: it’s racism. And like many other members of the far left, Fisk is himself a proud racist, someone who believes that the color of a person’s skin condemns him automatically and justifies violence against him. So the two extremes touch and are, in fact, interchangeable. Rightist racism springs from the premise that some races are somehow morally superior. Leftist racism springs from the premise that some races are also morally superior. The only difference is the color of skin. Alleged “victimization” sanctifies any evil perpetrated by the oppressed race. Just as the Nazis and Communists claimed self-defense for the mass-murder of their “oppressors,” so some modern leftists claim the absolution of self-defense even for a mob attacking a carful of innocent, harmless journalists. Or a sky-scraper for that matter.

THE VICTIM OF THE WORLD: You know the expression: you wouldn't understand a culture if it actually hit you in the head? Fisk has now officially retired that expression as a metaphor. He goes on: “There were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others…” Notice that phrase – “whose brutality was entirely the product of others.” What can that possibly mean? We’re not talking about extenuating circumstances – things that might help us understand or contextualize the hatred of one people for another. We’re talking about a priori moral absolution. Take this passage: “Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist – the mark of the tooth I had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any crime except that of being the victim of the world.” No, Mr. Fisk, that man who attacked you was not truly innocent of any crime. You were. He was not the victim of the world. You were the victim of a thieving, violent mob. For those who believe that the left-wing intelligentsia is capable of critical thought or even a modification of their ideology in the face of evidence, this incident is a wonderful example of why it won’t happen. They won’t recognize reality, or abandon their racism, or moderate their spectacular condescension to the inhabitants of the developing world – even when reality, literally, crushingly, punches them in the face.

When the Feral Beast encountered Robert Fisk this weekend, the topic of fisking was raised. As a reporter whose name has become a verb, what does he feel about fisking nine year on?

"But that only exists on the internet, not in the real world, so it's of no concern," the veteran war reporter mused between sips of his gin and tonic. This Brit still eschews the hate-spewing virtual world. He is a reality maven, and quickly comes across as an erudite trainspotter, planespotter and weaponry gearhead. The Independent's intrepid reporter, who has expanded his beat outward from the Middle East to include Southwest Asia and now India, takes pride in remaining a cyber-Luddite. The sun doesn't seem to set on Fiskworld. His command of dates and details while speaking extemporaneously is most impressive. And he doesn't mince words, self-censor or run with the hack pack. Oddly, his fans have designed a couple of Facebook pages for him anyway.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Muslim Superhero Hits Comics

A Muslim Superhero Hits Comics - The Daily Beast
A super-Muslim on wheels is about to hit the stands, acc to the Associated Press The unlikely comic book hero is the brainchild of U.S. philanthropist and businessman Jay T. Snyder.

He told the AP that he was inspired by President Barack Obama's effort to reach out to the Muslim world in his January 2009 inaugural address. Last month, Snyder flew 12 disabled Americans to Damascus to meet a group of disabled young Syrians, and one of their main goals was to come up with ideas and story lines for the new superhero.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RIP Murray Sayle: adventurer and tireless investigator of 1945 Atomic Bombing

Peter Popham writes in the Independent about the life of an investigative reporter, and the demise of an industry.

A big, barrel-chested, hatchet-faced man with a broken nose and a sardonic smile, Murray Sayle was one of the most brilliant journalists of his generation and at his frequent best demonstrated a passion for his craft both as a tool for establishing truth and as a vehicle of literary delight. All you needed to be a journalist, he liked to quip, was a little literary ability and rat-like cunning. But behind the Aussie cynicism lay a belief in the value of his profession when practiced with total commitment which was an inspiration to many who crossed his path. Few journalists took their investigative work more seriously, or placed more onerous demands on their chosen editors.

Murray was an outstanding member of the great Australian literary diaspora that hit London from the early-1950s onwards and included such stars as Germaine Greer, Richard Neville, Philip Knightley and Clive James. Like them he possessed a protean energy and a refusal to acknowledge conventional boundaries or limitations which left their British competitors gasping.

The son of a railway executive, born in New South Wales in 1926, he studied psychology at the University of Sydney but became so absorbed in his work for the student magazine, Honi Soit, that he missed 90 per cent of his lectures and was excluded from taking his finals. He made up for it some 64 years later when the university awarded him an honorary doctorate.

On leaving university he was quickly taken up by the Sydney media, working for the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror and national radio. Then in 1952 he left for London where he was hired by The People, at the time a vigorous and very profitable Sunday scandal sheet. Working alongside the paper's legendary crime reporter Duncan Webb he picked up, or possibly invented, the catchphrase, "I made an excuse and left."

But his first marriage was breaking up and in 1956 he left The People, journalism and London, beginning an improbable interlude selling encyclopaedias in Germany and writing a novel based on his Fleet Street experiences entitled A Crooked Sixpence. It might have made his name had not a friend called Michael Alexander, who was broke at the time and hoping for an easy pay-out, complained to the publisher that one of the novel's characters was based on himself, threatening to sue. Instead of paying him to shut up the publisher pulped all copies and the book disappeared without trace. It was recently re-published and acclaimed as a Fleet Street classic.

By the mid-'60s he was back in London and doing newsroom shifts at the Sunday Times, where his tireless digging for facts, his vigorous, flinty style and his ironical wit soon got him noticed. Harold Evans, the legendary editor of the Sunday Times, made him the paper's chief foreign fireman, with license to roam the world's hot spots, reporting the Vietnam, Indo-Pakistan and Six-Day wars among other big stories, and being awarded Journalist of the Year for his Vietnam reports. But Murray was never satisfied in running with the pack, and his most memorable and extraordinary dispatches were all done solo: using a light airplane to track the round-the-world yachtsman Francis Chichester as he sailed around Cape Horn, then, on the same expedition, searching for (though not actually locating) Che Guevara in Bolivia, becoming the first journalist to report that the guerrilla leader had left Cuba for South America.

Sayle also exploited his cachet as one of Harry Evans's "licensed eccentrics" to climb Mount Everest and sail single-handed across the Atlantic, among other macho exploits on the margins of serious journalism. But as a veteran war reporter his obsession, lasting for the rest of his working life, was with official violence and the lies with which it becomes encrusted to justify or obfuscate it.

His investigation into Bloody Sunday in 1972 led him to the conclusion, vindicated in the government's admission earlier this year, that the British paratroopers had not been fired on by those they shot, killing 13. But when the Sunday Times spiked his report, with its claim that the killings had been planned in advance, he resigned, and his mercurially brilliant London career was over.

With his second wife Jenny Murray he moved east, first to Hong Kong and then, in 1975, to Japan, which was to become the family's home for nearly 30 years. They settled in the remote and entirely obscure village of Aikawa, in Kanagawa Prefecture, where they lived in a traditional wooden house, freezing cold in winter, from which Murray would descend on the Foreign Correspondents' Club in central Tokyo at intervals to hold court among his peers. But despite the apparent seclusion, these were years of great productivity: he had arrived in Japan at the most pregnant moment of its postwar history, and was to witness and record its long years of boom, its precipitous slump and slow recovery in witty, erudite and immensely long pieces for The Independent Magazine, the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, among others. His obsession with official cover-ups remained a constant: he wrote copiously about Tiananmen Square and the disappearance of the Korean airliner KAL007, reaching controversial conclusions backed by exhaustive research.

His crowning journalistic achievement, for which the New Yorker cleared out an entire issue in 1995, was entitled "Did the Bomb End the War?" and concerned one of those facts that "everybody knows" but which, in his view, was not actually true: the notion that it was the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that persuaded the Japanese to surrender. Sayle advanced a powerful case for believing that actually it was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, with the implicit danger that they would then invade Hokkaido and force a division of Japan like that of Korea, which was actually the crucial event.

The Sayle family moved back to Australia in 2004 when Murray was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His honorary doctorate described him as "a witness to history in the classic tradition of journalism and foreign correspondence." That a career such as his is unthinkable today, with or without a video camera to hand, is a measure of how much more challenging the profession has become.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Problem With Burning Qurans

What if they burnt a Koran and nobody came? It already happened two years ago, according to the NY TIMES. Some soul-searching is under way in the media. And in The Problem With Burning Qurans Tunku Varadarajan dissects the latest media frenzy - what Arianna Huffington likens to the Balloon Boy.
What is the media responsibility in this coverage? Can the genie be put back into the bottle at this stage? Burn, baby , burn!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Are Reporters a vanishing breed?

The American Journalism Review questions whether new foundation-funded hacks can make up for the loss of so many watchdog reporters from mainstream news jobs. In a file funded by George Soros's Open Society Institute, oddly enough, Mary Walton ponders the coming "investigative shortfall" in a piece on the vanishing species who find themselves 'Kicked out, bought out or barely hanging on', the victims of too many paper cuts and the shallow 24/7 cable news. (hat tip to Romenesko)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How a U.K. Tabloid Got Its Royal Scoops - The Daily Beast

How a U.K. Tabloid Got Its Royal Scoops - The Daily Beast

How's this for a breach of journalistic ethics? An upcoming piece in The New York Times Magazine details how two News of the World staffers—a reporter and a private investigator employed by Britain's largest paper—hacked into the phones of British royal family aides. Clive Goodman, a reporter, and Glenn Mulcaire, an investigator working for the paper, obtained PIN codes to access the voicemail inboxes of royal aides. Aides grew suspicious when messages were marked as listened to and saved when nary a person had checked them. In 2006, News of the World ran a story about Prince Harry's wild night out at a strip club, and later that year ran a followup exclusive chronicling his girlfriend's heartache over the issue in which is printed verbatim a voice message that had been left on Harry's phone. A Scotland Yard investigation has revealed that Mulcaire has potentially hacked into the phone messages of more than thousands of people. A search of his apartment turned up 91 mobile PIN codes. Scotland Yard for its part, however, has decided to stick solely to investigating the pair's involvement with the royals.

One result of this dubious reporting method was the Sun scoop:“Harry Buried Face in Margo’s Mega-Boobs. Stripper Jiggled . . . Prince Giggled.” At least five people have filed lawsuits accusing News Group Newspapers, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire that includes News of the World aka News of the Scres, of hacking into their cell phone voice mail.
Er, that's why they call them hacks. That's what they do. On your private mobile. Be warned.