Bob Fisk Outed

Hugh Pope’s memoir on his reporting in the Middle East, Dining with al-Qaeda, is, as they say, a must-read. The former Wall Street Journal and UPI correspondent — he is now at the International Crisis Group — was rated highly by his peers. His pragmatic thinking and rejection of neat ideological ways of looking at things in the region enriched his journalism, which was trustworthy and informative, even for those like me who had stints covering the region.

But not all his former peers in the Middle East UK press corp will be delighted to read what Pope has to say about journalistic ethics — mainly Bob Fisk, the London Independent‘s longtime  Middle East correspondent. Robert was notorious as a reporter who sailed way over the other side of the wind when it came to facts, attributions and even datelines. His departure from The Times to the Independent many years ago prompted few tears and little effort from the editorial management at The Times to dissuade him from leaving. The Independent has given Fisk star billing ever since and one can only hope that its new owner will re-think his role at the paper.

In the second chapter of his memoir, Pope doesn’t pull his punches about Fisk, a journalist he had worshipped when starting out in the business. He goes into great detail about a front-page report Fisk filed in April 1991, in which he “reported” that British Royal Marines and American Special Forces had “cocked their weapons in confrontation with Turkish troops” on Turkey’s south-eastern border after the Turks had gone on a “rampage of looting”.

According to Fisk, the Turkish soldiers had taken “blankets, sheets and food” from frightened Kurdish refugees. In fact, as Pope shows with eye-witness recollections, nothing of the sort happened — all some of the Turks had done amounted to nothing more than petty pilfering. There was no near armed confrontation.

The story as filed by Fisk prompted outrage in Ankara, and the Turkish government ordered Pope out of the country — he was stringing for the Independent among others at the time. He was allowed to remain only when he agreed to stop filing for the British paper. In his memoir, Pope re-visits the episode, partly prompted by reading in a later book by Fisk further embellishments. Fisk changes his third-person report to the first-person and according to him he flew into the area in the back passenger seat of an Apache helicopter with CIA agents who were also US embassy guards!

Again an actual eye-witness, a former British army doctor, questions the whole episode and disputes the confrontation and the rampage. Oh, and another problem, the Apache doesn’t have a back passenger seat, where Fisk claims to have sat. Pope list other massive holes in Fisk’s reporting of this episode.

Why does Fish get away with it? It has been common knowledge for years among British and American reporters that Bob can just make things up or lift other’s work without attribution and embellish it.  I recall him doing it to me on a story in Kuwait about the killings of Palestinians at the hands of Kuwaitis following the liberation of the emirate. I remember also the time Fisk filed a datelined Cairo story about a riot there when he was in fact at the time in Cyprus.

Pope’s theory on this — why Bob gets away with it — is that fellow members of the press corp don’t like to dish the dirt on their colleagues. “The one time I decided to let it be known that a fellow reporter was cheating and passing off others’ work as his own, it was I who became the odd man out, an informer with a chip on my shoulder, and standing joke,” he writes. He notes also that “editors are reluctant to challenge established writers.”

In the case of Fisk, I think, there was also a genuine sadness that Bob did this, an embarrassment and one undeserving of a journalist who had done some great and brave reporting in the 1980s in Northern Ireland and in his early and dangerous years in Beirut.

12 thoughts on “Bob Fisk Outed

  1. Pingback: “I don’t read Hugh Pope” – Robert Fisk « DINING WITH AL-QAEDA

  2. Pingback: 'I do not make stories up,' says an embattled Robert Fisk – Telegraph Blogs

  3. Was this an April Fool’s Day joke? Or is there a campaign to discredit Fisk, after his recent comments about Gaza?

  4. This is one story that is supposedly incorrect.

    Hardly proof of a career of lies and cheating.

  5. “A campaign to discredit Fisk after his recent comments”? Sir, my first blog comment questioning Bob’s reporting was posted on October 13 2009. My review of Hugh Pope’s excellent book was posted here on April 1st 2010. So my comments pre-dated Bob’s recent Gaza remarks by three-and-half years in one case and nearly two years in the other. Some campaign! I, too, have been highly critical at various times of Israeli policy. So, no campaign and nothing to do with being pro or anti-Israel. Not everything is a conspiracy, you know.

  6. I ought to add that Hugh and Ian have been highly critical also at various times of Israeli policy. As a columnist for the now defunct Business Am and for Insight Magazine and the Washington Times I was critical also of the decision to invade Iraq after 9/11. So, who are we meant to be campaigning for to discredit Bob?

  7. HHmmm. I was once sold on Fisk lock stock and two smoking barrels myself. The problem with that is that you end up reading a lot of his copy and after a while, at least in my case, an inner voice starts questioning the validity of this guys work.

    At first it was fatigue at the endless purple prose but after a while it begins to grate, a lot. Really, are all Palestinians noble and lionesque? Are those Palestinian calluses always the product of honest toil on the olive grove? You know maybe they are and maybe they are, but in the end, as a reader, I felt that there was rather too flagrant an attempt to manipulate my feelings in a particular direction and so I began to doubt Bob Fisk and come to think of his story presentation as sleazy and manipulative. I don’t like him anymore and I’m not shocked that many of his colleagues are calling him out on his methods. It’s about time.

  8. Fisk is the one that don’t tell us of Damour massacre because it doesn’t fit his narrative. And that’s only one of many examples.
    Anyway this msm Fisking of today should have happened 30 years ago.

  9. Benjamin @ An old review of Fisk’s book “The Great War for Civilization”: http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/books-beirut-bob

    Interesting but bare – and while Karsh accuses Fisk of having “his own bag of “weasel phrases” … describes as mere “deaths” the cold-blooded murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics” and calls the ” massacre of 26 passengers at Tel Aviv .. “a Palestinian-inspired shooting.” he does much, much worse himself over the attack on Jenin.

    Far from there being 50 dead (that’s just the number found in the hospital, completely blockaded clean through the slaughter) 100s of dead were either removed in refrigerated lorries or bulldozed under piles of rubble. So ineffectual was the latter that Israel kept out all observers for many days and blocked entry by the UN investigative team which they’d promised to cooperate with.The journalists who were eventually allowed a very restricted tour of the camp reported the smell of rotten human flesh all over the place. Even the far smaller pogrom carried out in Nablus a few days earlier netted 80 Palestinians killed.

  10. I don’t know if he is telling the truth, but I don’t believe he is lying either. I have more than once wondered how he manages to get more scoops in a day, often the most unlikely to be had scoops by the way, than most of his colleagues get in a lifetime. But I believe that what I perceive to be his primary premise is true, namely that often terrorists are called freedom fighters, and vice versa, when it furthers the political agenda of the person doing the calling. And I think Fisk is guilty of that same fault at times. But lying? If he is shame on him, and I do have to say that the accusations regarding his Turkish report would seem to fit inescapably into the category of lying, but I think it is more likely that his main fault is a tendency to embellish on an otherwise true story. And if that is the case, then don’t burn his books because they are too good for that, but take them out off the non-fiction shelf and put them on the fiction shelf as the works of historical fiction that they probably are. Stated otherwise, they may not be entirely true, but neither are they entirely lies and they sure are great books.

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