“Fisk scolds U.S. journalists” is the way Romenesko sums up “Telling it like it isn’t,” an op-ed tongue-lashing in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times (which was fairly mild for Fisk). Now have a look at some excerpts from his book, “The Great War for Civilization,” where the journalistas come in for some really heavy-duty spanking — no punches pulled (which is more typical of him) and not limited to American scribes. Here Fisk speaks about the media’s mistreatment of the Palestinians:
[W]ho are those people? In the taboo-ridden world of Western journalism, every effort continues to be made not only to dehumanise them but to de-culture them, de-nation them, to dis-identify them. A long article by David Margolick in Vanity Fair explains Israel’s policy of “targeted killing” — the murder of Palestinians chosen by the Israelis as “security” threats — although Margolick never mentions the word “murder.” Some of Israel’s “targeted killing” operations, he says, are “dazzling.” Yet nowhere in the article is it explained where the Palestinians come from, why they are occupied — or why Jewish colonies are being built on their land. In the Mail on Sunday, Stewart Steven writes that “there is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There is no specific Palestinian dress. Palestinians are indistinguishable from other Arabs.” Jerusalem, he adds, “was never visited by Mohamed.” Palestinians speak Arabic but with a distinctive Palestinian accent. There is a Palestinian culture of poetry and prose and — among women — of national dress. … It could equally be said that there is no language known as American, that American culture is of English origin, that there is no specific American dress, that Americans are indistinguishable from other Westerners. Legend, not the Koran, has it that Mohamed visited Jerusalem. Perhaps he did not. But Christians do not deny the holy nature of the Vatican or Canterbury Cathedral just because Christ never visited Italy or England.
Far more disturbing and vicious paradigms of this contempt for Palestinians regularly appear in Western newspapers. In the Irish Times, for example, Mark Steyn felt able to describe the eminently decent Hanan Ashrawi as one of a number of “bespoke terror apologists.” A visit to the West Bank in 2003, Steyn wrote, “creeped me out.” It was “a wholly diseased environment,” a “culture that glorifies depravity,” which led the author to conclude that “nothing good grows in toxic soil.”
Once the identity of Palestinians has been removed, once their lands are subject to “dispute” rather than “occupation,” once Arafat allowed the Americans and Israelis to relegate Jerusalem, settlements and the “right of return” to “final status” negotiations — and thus not to be mentioned in the meantime, for to do so would “threaten” peace — the mere hint of Palestinian resistance can be defined as “terrorism.” Inside this society there is a sickness — “disease,” “depravity,” toxic soil.” Buried in Palestinian hearts — in secret — must remain their sense of unresolved anger, frustration and resentment at a multitude of injustices.
Fisk goes on for pages about the misuse of language and the lies it spawns. Here he talks about the inequality of descriptions when comparing Israeli and Palestinian killings. His comments bear on the meaning of “genocide,” which is especially appropriate in view of the postscript from Doug Ireland, objecting to William Osborne’s deployment of the word in yesterday’s post, WHAT’S GOIN’ ON? Ireland contended it was “sloppy use of language” because “the word has a very precise meaning, and is, unfortunately, much over-used by anti-imperialists of a certain stripe.” But listen to Fisk:
So when does a bloodbath become an atrocity? When does an atrocity become a massacre? How big does a massacre have to be before it qualifies as genocide? How many dead before a genocide becomes a holocaust? Old questions become new questions at each killing field. The Israeli journalist Arie Caspi wrote a scathing article … which caught the hypocritical response to the Jenin killings [in April 2002] with painful accuracy:
Okay, so there wasn’t a massacre. Israel only shot some children, brought a house crashing down on an old man, rained cement blocks on an invalid who couldn’t get out in time, used locals as a human shield against bombs, and prevented aid from getting to the sick and wounded. That’s really not a massacre, and there’s really no need for a commission of enquiry … whether run by ourselves or sent by the goyim.
The insanity gripping Israel seems to have moved beyond our morals … many Israelis believe that as long as we do not practice systematic mass murder, our place in heaven is secure. Every time some Palestinian or Scandinavian fool yells “Holocaust!,” we respond in an angry huff: This is a holocaust? So a few people were killed, 200, 300, some very young, some very old. Does anyone see gas chambers or crematoria?
These are not idle questions. Nor cynical. … [I]f at least two dozen Palestinian dead in Jenin was not a massacre, how should we describe the four Israelis dead at the Adora settlement? Well, the official Israeli army spokesman, Major Avner Foxman, said of the Adora killings: “For me, now I know what a massacre is. This is a massacre.” The Canadian National Post referred to the Palestinian assault as being “barbarous,” a word never used about the killing of Palestinian civilians. I don’t like the mathematics here. Four dead Israelis,including two armed settlers, is a massacre. I’ll accept this. But twenty-four Palestinian civilians killed, including a nurse and a paraplegic, is not a massacre. (I am obviously leaving aside the thirty or so armed Palestinians who were also killed in Jenin.) What does this mean? What does it tell us about journalism, about my profession? Does the definition of a bloodbath now depend on the religion or the race of the civilian dead to be qualified as a massacre? No, I didn’t call the Jenin killings a massacre. But I should have done.
Yet our responsibility does not end there. How many of our circumlocutions open the way to these attacks? How many journalists encouraged the Israelis — by their reporting or by their wilfully given, foolish advice — to undertake these brutal assaults on the Palestinians. On 31 March 2002 — just three days before the assault on Jenin — Tom Friedman wrote in The New York Times that “Israel needs to deliver a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay.” Well, thanks, Tom, I said to myself when I read this piece of lethal journalism a few days later. The Israelis certainly followed Friedman’s advice.”
Fisk goes on like that for page after angry page. It is harrowing and bracing, both. It is why his book runs to more than a thousand pages and why it is worth the sacrifice of every tree felled to publish it. Having made it this far, you may be interested to read an interview with Fisk, where he lets it all hang out, and a dispassionately admiring review of the book — actually, a profile of Fisk as much as a review — by Phillip Knightley, author of “The First Casualty,” which explains the high value we place on Knightley’s opinion.
— Tireless Staff of Thousands