Famed Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk addressed a packed auditorium at the Hall Building last Sunday about Western mainstream journalists’ failure to ask the “why” question in their coverage of the atrocities of 9/11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan and maybe now in Iraq.
Fisk, a journalist who writes for the British daily The Independent, has covered the Middle East for 26 years now and has met with Osama Bin Laden several times.
He started his talk by saying the events of Sept. 11 “did not change the world” and that “over and over this has become the outstanding, dangerous lie that journalists have been propagating.”
“Sept. 11 may give President George W. Bush an excuse to change the world, but that should be exposed for what it is, a manipulation of grief and fear in order to start a war that has nothing to do with the international crimes against humanity,” he said.
Fisk said his talk was “about the dangers now posed to journalism.” He fears the mainstream media is falling into a “bland [of] misleading government statements, which are parroted into titles and headlines.”
With a focus on the Iraqi dimension to 9/11, Fisk adamantly pointed out angles to the conflict that he says journalists, as the watchdogs of society, don’t investigate enough.
“At what point did Osama Bin Laden fade away to be replaced by Saddam?” he asked.
Journalists, he said, should have caught on to this particular switch yet this transition in U.S. foreign policy went largely unnoticed.
Instead, according to Fisk, western reports jumped on the U.S. government propaganda bandwagon.
“The New York Times and Washington Post suddenly began to run long stories on the supposed intelligence links between Bin Laden and Iraq,” he said.
He added: “While we are prepared to discuss the wisdom of starting yet another war in the Middle East we remain quiescent, we do not want to investigate just how target Kabul became target Baghdad and in the coming days may be target Damascus or target Beirut.”
According to Fisk, sensationalized references to a “blood price” and a “blood debt” have become key terms in the mainstream journalistic lexicon.
“Even when our dear Prime Minister Tony Blair returned from the U.S. telling us that there could be a ‘blood price’ not a single journalist point[ed] out that this would be a ‘blood price’ principally paid by the Iraqis, not by us [the West].”
Last December, Fisk made headlines when he was attacked by an angry mob of Afghans, in the town of Kila Abdullah, who, after having lost relatives in the bombing of Kandahar by the U.S., thought he was an American.
In reporting this story, he knew he had to handle it carefully because he did not want other journalists to turn the attack into another “Muslim bashing” article and leave out the ‘why’.
“I hate the what and where stories that leave out the why!”, he said. “If I was one of those grief filled Afghan men, I too would have attacked Robert Fisk.”
Following the attack, in an article in The Wall Street Journal written by Mark Steyn, criticizing Fisk, the subhead read: “A self-loathing multiculturalist gets his due.”
Fisk was one of the only journalists who wrote about the history of deceit and lies in the Arab world, only a day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, looking at a reason for the attacks, not praising them.
He then went on to say that he received hate mail from several people who labeled him a “psychotic” man who was “in cahoots with the arch terrorist Bin Laden.”
He added those who suggested a reason for the attacks were called anti-American, or even anti-Semite.
“Oddly, the fact that the mass murders were all Arabs was not regarded as a problem by reporters or readers,” he stated, “Arab terrorists are familiar from Hollywood films, of course.”
Despite the current moratorium on Middle Eastern discussions at Concordia, Fisk criticized the toning down from “occupied territory” to “disputed territory.”
“By deleting occupation from their lexicon, journalists erase the colonies illegally built for Jews only in Arab Land,” he added before he showed clips from a Discovery Channel documentary on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“Journalists should really tell it like it is,” Fisk concluded.