Wednesday, November 09, 2005

QUOTE: Robert Fisk on American journalism's failure to challenge authority

On November 9, 2005, Amy Goodman, the host of the weekday U.S. news program "Democracy Now!" interviewed Robert Fisk, author of "The Great War for Civilization," and a veteran war correspondent. Fisk has written for the London Independent, and is based in Beirut, Lebanon. Goodman asked Fisk for his views on the American press, and in particular a decision by the editors of The Washington Post not to give the names of two nation's where it is alleged the United States takes political prisoners for torture. Here is a transcript of that portion of the interview, as provided by Democracy Now!.


AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of the Washington Post exposing a secret C.I.A. prison in Eastern Europe, and yet complying with the Pentagon's request?

ROBERT FISK: Yes, but they wouldn't say where they were, would they? In fact, the prisons are about 100 miles from Warsaw in Poland and also quite a considerable way from Bucharest, but in Romania. It was very amusing to find that the Washington Post would not say that Poland and Romania were the two countries involved, and most American journalists have fought shy of saying that. But Poland and Romania are the two democracies where these people are taken for torture by the C.I.A.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you make of them complying with the Pentagon request not to name the countries?

ROBERT FISK: Well, this is the same problem that's existed all along with American journalism. And that is this osmotic, parasitic relationship between the press or journalists, in general, and power, where to criticize your country's foreign policy, especially when it's war, is seen as a form of unpatriotic behavior and thus of potential subversion. Add to this the sort of American school of journalism, where everyone has to have 50% of each story, each side, which is ridiculous. The victims should be the subject of the story if we have any kind of compassion at all as human beings. When we reach this stage, I think, you know, journalism ceases to perform its function.

What we should be doing is challenging authority, which is what Helen [Thomas] was trying to do in that clip we just saw from the White House press conference. But if you want to see the normal White House press conference, you'll quickly see the relationship between the journalist and the President. It will be "Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President!". And then George W. Bush will say, "John," "Amy," "Bob," whoever it might be, right? That is the relationship that exists now, and it should be much more combative. You know, Amira Hass, the very fine Israeli journalist, a friend of mine, we were discussing the purpose of being a foreign correspondent about two years or so ago, and I was going on about, you know, "We write the first pages of history," in my Brit way. And she said, "No, Robert, our job is to monitor the centers of power." And we don't do that.

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