Martha Gellhorn. Chester Wilmot. Clare Hollingworth. All war correspondents admired for their independence and tenacity. When Gellhorn wasn’t selected to cover the Normandy landings in 1944, she got herself smuggled on to a beach on D-Day. Wilmot sacrificed his press accreditation in Papua in 1942 by refusing to keep silent about what he regarded as incompetence in the Australian forces’ generalship.
Then there’s Robert Fisk.
Robert who? You may well ask, given the complete lack of attention he’s afforded by the rest of today’s, mainly chair-bound, UK media. Fisk was one of the first journalists from a ‘western’ outlet to get on to the ground in Douma on Tuesday.
He looked for evidence of the alleged chemical weapon attack that the UK, US and France, used as the pretext for that rusty oxymoron, a ‘humanitarian missile strike’. Fisk went to the hospital where the video of children being sprayed with water was filmed. The scene was real, he was told by a doctor, but the people were actually being treated for hypoxia caused by inhaling dust and smoke created by a conventional bomb strike.
The panic and water spraying shown began when the person with the camera shouted ‘Gas!’ Then the camera person just left. Soon afterwards the ‘chemical attack’ video went online along with apparently-posed and re-posed photos of dead people at the alleged site of the ‘chemical’ attack.
Fisk talked to many people ‘amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups’. He didn’t find any of the 500 people said by the World Health Organisation to have been treated in Douma for chemical weapon after-effects.
In short, Fisk did what a war correspondent should do. He went and saw for himself. Walked the streets. Talked to people. Checked out the scene of the ‘atrocity’.
He reported what he saw and what he was told by those who lived through the fighting in Douma between Syrian forces and the US and Saudi-backed Islamist rebels.
He found no evidence of the alleged chemical weapons attack, which the leaders of the UK, US and France – the FUKUS coalition – claimed to have been totally convinced about by their intelligence services and social media.
For reporting these things, Fisk is labelled by many fellow British journalists as an ‘apologist for Assad’ – that 21st century repackaging of the 1930s traducement, ‘appeaser.’ Journalists who would burst into tears of rage if you called them a useful idiot who served our own WMD dossier-concocting establishment are happy to call Fisk a useful idiot who serves Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies.
QuadRanting owes Robert Fisk an apology. Fifteen years ago, when QuadRanting was still fully immersed in the hologram, he switched from the Independent to another newspaper because he disliked Fisk’s polemical presentation of stories like his December 2003 report on the aftermath of what appeared to be a Coalition missile strike on a Baghdad marketplace crowded with civilians
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it could have been one of ‘our’ missiles, or that I didn’t know that such incidents are a commonplace or war, or (especially) that I believed Tony Blair and his dodgy dossier designed to deal us into a war he must have known would kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.
It was because Fisk was telling the truth – that is the facts, truthfully with not just the blood and bandages but a palpable sense of the wrongness of what he’d witnessed. And at the time, to coin a phrase, I couldn’t handle the truth.
When Fisk filed his report from the market place at Shu’ale, he was holding a shard of metal from the missile: maybe weighing only a few ounces but nevertheless much, much more solid than the ‘evidence’ on which Mrs May based her personal decision to send in the Tornadoes this weekend.
We’ve rarely needed more than now to give ourselves time for sober reflection and to painstakingly strip away the noise to arrive at common interpretations of the signals before rushing to judgement and the missile launchers.
In the absence of state actors we can trust, and in the presence of a completely cognitively-captured mass media, we need the Robert Fisks and Patrick Cockburns of this world more than ever. Mr Fisk, I’m sorry for 2003.