Kristin Szremski is news editor of a suburban Chicago newspaper.
Saying that Americans are practicing a "dangerous form of self-absorption," English journalist Robert Fisk excoriated mainstream media coverage of the war against terrorism, the causes of Sept. 11, and the Middle East during a speech at Chicago's North Park University in April.
Though he was critical of media reports in both Britain and the United States, Fisk characterized American coverage as "lobotomized." His speech, "Sept. 11: Ask who Did It, but for Heaven's Sake, Don't Ask Why," was well received by the overflow crowd. Fisk, who lives in Beirut and has covered the Middle East for 25 years, discussed the complicity of the American media in perpetrating a bevy of misconceptions thrust upon the country by Washington regarding the Sept. 11 attacks and U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"I hate the `what' and `where' stories that leave out the `why,'" Fisk said. He used himself as an example of skewed media coverage. On Dec. 8, Fisk, reporting from Afghanistan, was brutally beaten by a mob outside Kandahar after his car broke down. The angry men bashed his head with rocks, and he was "kicked and cut." An elderly, religious man came to Fisk's rescue. Still, Fisk said, he worried about giving the story proper treatment. He didn't want to add "one more Muslim-bashing story" to the overwhelming number of Islamophobic articles that appeared after the bombing of Afghanistan began.
Most journalists, he feared, would report that a colleague was attacked by a mob of Muslims. Fisk said, however, that he understood that, as a Westerner, he represented to that group of men who had just endured savage bombing and the loss of loved ones, the military might that had caused their suffering. The context in which these events occur are extremely important, he emphasized, but largely overlooked in typical media coverage.
Twenty years ago, he pointed out, the very same people the U.S. now is pursuing were used by this country's military to fight against the Soviet Union. Then, he noted, Afghan guerrillas were called freedom fighters.
"How they fought for us, those Afghans," Fisk said. "How they believed in our words."
Regarding the media's lackluster and less-than-truthful coverage of Afghanistan, Fisk pointed out that the camps now called breeding grounds for terrorists were actually built by the CIA.
"Strange, isn't it," he asked, "that those simple facts didn't make it into news reports?"
Media coverage of the Middle East is flawed and biased, Fisk alleged, and language purposely has been watered down or "differentiated" to provide a skewed viewpoint.
"Our reporting has become incomprehensible," he maintained. "It doesn't render any real understanding."
As an example, Fisk cited the word "terrorism," which, he contends, has become overused and has taken on racist connotations. Pointing to coverage of the 1982 Israeli-backed massacres of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, Fisk said that the Phalangists responsible for the murders were never called terrorists.
And Baruch Goldstein, the American Jewish settler who gunned down men worshipping during Friday prayers in a Hebron mosque, was called a "deranged fundamentalist."
According to the mainstream media, Fisk said, "Palestinians are terrorists. Arabs are terrorists. Israelis are not. The Palestinians as a people are reduced to the level of criminals, generically violent."
Another example of manipulating truth through the use of particular words, Fisk cited the use of "disputed territories" vs. "occupied territories" when referring to the West Bank and Gaza. "By deleting the word `occupation,'" he argued, "you're erasing the Israeli checkpoints, the Israeli settlements."
Using the word "settlement" instead of "colonies" and "settlers" instead of "colonizers" also helps legitimize the illegal occupation of Palestine, he said. …