'..the best way to report a story is to write it as if it’s a letter to a friend.'

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'Crystal balls are dangerous objects in the Middle East. Mine have been broken several times. But there’s no reason why Donald Trump should be immune from the fate of so many of his predecessors. It’s no longer good enough to say merely: “Watch out.” We all do that by nature these days. But the Arabs and Muslims who live in territory which many of the American supporters call the holy land may well decide his future; after all, he thinks he can decide theirs.'

- Robert Fisk, Middle East dictators always end up bringing their western allies down – and now they've got their coils in the White House, November 29, 2019

'Archives are for all. There must be no “historians-only” rules. They belong to us. But the care of these precious original resources must be as jealously guarded – and protected – as medieval parchments and Renaissance paintings.'

- Robert Fisk, Is seeing believing? How documentaries are taking liberties with historical truth, December 3, 2018

'I’ve always believed that the best way to report a story is to write it as if it’s a letter to a friend. “Here’s what I saw”. “This is what they said”. “This is the recent record of events I witnessed”. And “here’s what I think/suspect or” (let us be frank) “am outraged about”. In other words, our job is not to write for sub-editors on a news desk or editors or MPs or politicians – how many times have I heard my colleagues say that they have to call the office “to see what the desk wants” – but to write for the readers. They are the “friends” we should be thinking of, even if some might describe themselves as our enemies. And we should remember that these “friends” are often (usually?) better read and educated than we are.

And it’s interesting that whenever I’m giving talks abroad – when I actually meet the readers who peruse the words that spark off our anvils of literature – they do seem to have questions quite different from the “experts” who expect us to agree with their every politically correct view. Very often, these readers want to talk about history. When we write about Egypt, why don’t we bring Britain’s colonial rule into our stories, its crushing of free debate after the First World War, its exile of the great Egyptian democrats of the early 20th century? Why don’t we recall the 18th century love affair between the House of Saud and the crazed Wahabi sect when we report on Saudi Arabia? Or the famine of the Levant when we write about Lebanon? Or French rule in Syria when we reflect upon the current Syrian war.

Yes, of course we mention these historical facts, but more as an addendum to our reporting – a sidebar, as we say in the trade – rather than what this history represents: a part of the life of everyone living in these countries whose actions and decisions and wars often derive, directly, from these events. A Palestinian in the slums of Lebanon or the West Bank can often tell reporters more about the Balfour Declarationthan journalists know themselves. After all, the Palestinians live Balfour’s 1917 support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. They breathe it today in the dust of their refugee camps. If only we arrived on assignments not with a clippings file or print-outs of recent articles but two or three history books, to be read rather than surfed. Readers know this literature rather well. We often don’t.


In any event, by this stage of the Second World War, Zygielbojm’s wife Manya and their son Tuvia were in the Warsaw Ghetto where both died in the destruction of the ghetto in 1943. Broken by this terrible news and the public’s indifference to his reporting of the mass murders, Zygielbojm took poison. The murders were the responsibility of the Nazis, he wrote, but humanity had “not taken any real steps to halt this crime”. In crude terms, I suppose, the “desk” didn’t want the story. After all, they hadn’t seen the story anywhere else. And this lesson in journalistic history should haunt us today. Check for exaggeration in Rotterdam in case it influences the course of the war – and there is evidence it hardened many hearts in Britain – but for heaven’s sake, when the facts are clear, checked, undeniable (except by the Nazis) and obviously a turning point in history, indeed “the greatest massacre in world history”, we must publish and be damned.


No, it’s not just about cliches or easy, lazy statistics. It is about history and precedent, about the need to write with power so that the journalist, the soldier and the refugee speak, if you will, the same language. And it’s about remembering, always, that the reader probably knows more than us, has read more, studied more, thought more – and wants something better than our football-game coverage. What we are reporting is history. But we shouldn’t forget what went before.'

- Robert Fisk, Lack of perspective: Why journalists should be haunted by a history of blinkered reporting, November 22, 2018


'..Syria .. how do you repair its people?'

'..a country that does not build on a foundation of love will ultimately wither away with the poison it feeds off.'

'..a higher criticism of the Koran .. Christians indulged in this higher criticism of the Bible at the end of the 19th century.'

'..we should find a new way of understanding what happened between 1914 and 1918.'