November 28, 2020

ROBERT FISK, FABRICATOR AND FRAUDSTER:

Fisk’s reputation among scholars and journalists in the Middle East was destroyed by years of distortions of the truth in his work on Syria. But even before he started embracing pro-Assad conspiracy theories, Fisk’s relationship with the truth was widely scrutinised. It is a monumental absurdity that we have a word, “Fisking”, in the Cambridge English Dictionary derived from his surname, without any mention of him.

The dictionary defines it as “the act of making an argument seem wrong or stupid by showing the mistakes in each of its points, or an instance of doing this.” The frequency with which falsehoods can be found in Fisk’s work wasn’t so much an open secret as a widely shared joke understood by all who worked in the industry.

Fisk got away with it because he always got away with it. The falsehoods he published were often tolerated, excused or dismissed because people agreed with the stories he was telling. But our job as journalists, especially in the Middle East, isn’t to tell stories — it’s to tell the truth.

Following Fisk’s passing, away from the newspaper obituaries, an entirely different narrative was expressed by those who saw him up close. Syrian journalist Asser Khatab wrote an excoriating article for the online platform Raseef22, sharing his experiences of working alongside him in Homs, including his lack of Arabic and his reliance on a translator connected with the Syrian mukhabarat (secret police).

Of course, Fisk’s greatest online moment will always be his column from December of 2001: My Beating is a Symbol of this Filthy War.

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