Consolidation of media corporations during the Reagan '80's, created vast changes to television, radio and newspapers. News stories became as much a product as the swill advertisers placed on broadcasts and newspaper pages, and the ever decreasing "news hole" made analysis a precious commodity.
Some reporters never took to the new "McPaper" standard, and refuse to reiterate government handouts as a substitute for actual reporting. Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for British newspaper The Independent, is among this iconoclastic group.
Fisk speaks passionately about the withering investigative nature of media today on a new CD produced by Alternative Tentacles and AK Press entitled War Journalism and the Middle East. The recording is a series of edits from various speeches made by Fisk around the US, with a bonus radio interview conducted by acclaimed radio host David Barsamian right after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and a printed excerpt from a panel discussion in New York City this past April. Throughout each piece, Fisk's observations of American influence over the Middle East and how the media promotes such influence are a fascinating, lurid journey into so-called democracy building.
"I had dinner with an Iraqi family recently," says Fisk, "and I asked the young father about civil war, did he believe it was coming soon. He told me that Iraqi's are not a sectarian people, but tribal." "We intermarry, Shiites and Sunni's," the man said, "We have no need for civil war." With this, and many other interviews, Fisk tries to dispel the notion of a civil conflict instigated between the religious factions in Iraq, and instead, alludes that civil war in Iraq is a creation of Western forces, boosted by Western media.
Later, Fisk talks about his encounters with American academia, who want to see their views more prominent in reporting on the Middle East. Fisk told a group of them "You know the people you should be trying to influence are the crews on the Amtrak trains and the truck drivers going down the turnpikes, because they are the people who need the money for education. Who go and join the Marines and get sent to Iraq."
It's difficult to argue this logic. However, the great problem I see with Fisk's approach is his reporting comes with an agenda of enlightening readers with his own view of the truth, rarely endeavoring to give the other side to the events he reports. Throughout War, Journalism and the Middle East, Fisk attempts to tie American and British intelligence forces to insurgent activity in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Yet, he offers no proof other than his allegations. While it's certainly important for all Americans to have a better understanding of the current crisis in Iraq and the Middle East, giving them only half the picture isn't just. More importantly, it's hypocritical to charge mainstream media with co-opting opinion by lazy reportage when Fisk disregards the government view as propaganda.
What Fisk fails to address in his lectures on War, Journalism and the Middle East is the need for balance in reporting. Yes, certainly publish the interviews with Iraqi citizens, and how the war is decimating the population and eroding trust of the West. But also give an unbiased review of the events through the eyes of Iraqi ministers, American and British forces and the statesmen strategizing events. We need fewer arbiters of truth, and more reporters who'll abandon their personal slant, and allow the viewers, listeners, and readers to decide what the truth is.
Without such objectivity, Fisk ends up preaching to the converted. He speaks of an interview he did with a French journalist on the launch of his book The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest for the Middle East, who asked "What do you think you've achieved as a journalist in the Middle East?" Fisk paused for a long time, and said "Nothing." Fisk's reporting, while giving succor to the anti-war movement and the progressive left, has not changed the way governments go about their business.
War, Journalism, and the Middle East contains some passionate insights from a man who feels deeply rooted in the region he reports on. But passion alone isn't enough to further understanding of an extremely complex area, engaged in very complex wars.