Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fixer turns on 'War tourist' hack

Beirut's Moe Ali Nayel takes caustic aim at "war tourist journalism." "I am writing this because I am sick and tired of the stereotypes and narrow angles taken by ignorant and prejudiced foreign observers," he blogs on The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: He is fed up: read An Arab fixer draws a line in the sand. Hat tip to Dion Nissenbaum for this particular rant. And Shame on You, Ruthie. Do your homework. And don't sell out to the startling ...unless you really are getting lots and lots of shekels!

"Last month I had a terrifying experience as journalism betrayed me for the first time in my four years of working as a fixer. When I first met freelance journalist Ruthie Ackerman in a cafe in Beirut in early September, I realized that she did not know anything about Lebanon. Ms. Ackerman had arrived in Beirut to do a story on social networking, but it quickly became apparent that this reporter had not done her homework. Ms. Ackerman did not know who Hassan Nassrallah was. Ms. Ackerman did not know that Saad Hariri was the name of the prime minister of the country who’s coffee she was then sipping. When, later, I took her to see a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut she asked, “Where are the tents?” Ruthie Ackerman’s ignorance of even the current status of a country she planned to write about was, in short, shameful. Though taken by surprise at this, I considered that perhaps her interest in social networking meant her cultural and historical background knowledge could afford to be less than someone writing a more political piece. I was wrong. Ms. Ackerman did not end up writing a piece on social networking in Lebanon, but rather chose to cover the visit of the Iranian president Ahmadinejad to Lebanon. She published these in the Atlantic, and Slate here:
Would it surprise you to learn that Ms. Ackerman did not even know that Ahmadinejad was visiting Lebanon until the very day before, when I (most regrettably) told her? Ruthie emailed me saying, “I had no idea he was coming or I would have planned to be back for it!!” Keep in mind that this visit had been the talk of news agencies around the world (including the USA) for the full two months preceding. Is it any surprise, then, that Ms. Ackerman’s articles fit into a steady stream of ill-informed and orientalist media propounded by journalists in the West and around the world? That her articles promote misinformation, perpetuate cultural stereotypes, and propagate racist caricatures of the Middle East? Does Ruth Ackerman realize how her irresponsible ‘war tourist’ journalism compounds the problems faced by the people of the Middle East in light of the way ‘the West’ views and treats us? In my job as a fixer, I provide foreign journalists with the necessary contacts for a story. I arrange, facilitate, and translate all sorts of social interactions, including interviews with everyone from shoe-shine boys to top governmental figures. As the journalist’s local eyes and ears I am oftentimes the one to provide a foreign journalist with the story—‘the scoop’—itself. In Beirut, where I live and work foreign journalists come to town usually in need of a fixer and I am one such fixer.

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