The Internet threat to truly honest reporting
In the States, the Internet is challenging the monopoly of pro-Israeli news
By Robert Fisk, The Independant UK, 28 May 2001
I don't use the internet. I've never sent an e-mail in my life. But I've got to admit a new political fact. The internet is changing the American view of the Middle East. For the first time in decades, the monopoly of pro-American, pro-Israeli news ­ in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the big US TV networks­ is being challenged by the websites of dozens of European papers whose reporting on the tragedy in the Middle East is far less skewed towards the Israeli-US State Department point of view.

And the Israeli lobby groups in the States don't know how to react. Several papers, including The Independent, have been bombarded by hundreds of letters and e-mails from supposedly outraged American "readers" ­ most of them from parts of the United States where The Independent, for example, is not on sale ­ and many of them written in vitriolic, even violent language. A number have been written in answer to an appeal from an outfit called "honestreporting.com", which carries a series of misleading and, in some cases, untruthful statements about my own articles.

They are balanced, however, by large numbers of letters and e-mails asking why the American press doesn't give the full coverage of events found in The Independent and other European newspapers.

Among my recent mailbag has been a letter that wishes my swift departure for Hell and eternal punishment ("Dear Mr Shit Fisk," it begins), and another from an American law student at Oxford who addressed me as "You evil, fucking man". The student, who said he was Jewish, added his phone number to the letter and apologised for his language after I threatened to take his letter to the police.

Of course, it was ever thus. The Bahraini press has cartooned me as a rabid dog for revealing details of Arab secret- police torture ­ since rabid dogs have to be exterminated, this was a threat, not a joke ­ and the Egyptian press has called me a "black crow" for condemning Egypt's fraudulent elections. An Arab student in the American Midwest is e-mailing friends with the information that I'm a member of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, apparently because a Jewish family invited me to speak at a local university.

But honestreporting.com's supporters ­ whose letters often reveal that they've never actually read anything I've written ­are in a class of their  own. Only last month, I wrote a comment-page article in The Independentdescribing the way in which any serious journalist who criticised Israeli policy ­ the operation of death squads, for example, or the building of illegal Jewish settlements on stolen Arab land ­ was reviled as "anti-Semitic". This, the most disgraceful of the accusations made against Western journalists, permeates many of the letters provoked by honestreporting.com.

There's no doubt what prompted this revealing deluge of purple prose. Honestreporting.com urges its supporters to read The Independent's website. It would like, somehow, to close down The Independent's Middle East coverage ­ and, to be fair, The Guardian's as well ­ and return Americans to the bland, generally pro-American (and thus pro-Israeli) reports of the US press. Much of my ordinary mailbag ­ I'm not counting the lobby boys ­ now comes from the US. University departments are asking me and other European journalists to lecture in the States, where our discussions tend to be a lot more straight-talking than that of our American colleagues.

But honestreporting.com's methods are themselves revealing. In one "communiqué", it manages to quote my 1982 description of a Palestinian woman's face as that of a Madonna and a Lebanese friend's (described by the outfit as a Palestinian) weeping at the departure of the PLO from Beirut. What they don't mention is that they were weeping because they feared that in the absence of Palestinian fighters, they would be massacred by Israel's brutal Lebanese allies ­ which is exactly what happened a few days later.

Then it quotes from my article of 17 April this year, in which I remarked that some Israeli leaders had been "bestializing" [sic] Arabs, referring to my account of how Palestinian taxi drivers are humiliated as they approach Israeli checkpoints on Arab land. But honestreporting.com ­ and the "honest" bit is a joke in itself ­ didn't mention that the quotes come from two different articles. The "bestialisation" story referred to Israeli leaders who had at various times called Palestinians "serpents", "two-legged beasts", "cockroaches in a glass jar", and "crocodiles". Of course, honestreporting.com erased all mention of that in its "communiqué".

So, long live the internet. It certainly seems to be frightening the guys who want to prevent Americans from hearing our voice on http://www.independent.co.uk
 

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