Thus are reports about the Middle East are generated
A few days ago, the respected Israeli historian Emmanuel Sivan published a short note in Haaretz complaining about the sourcing of Sy Hersh’s claim that Fatah al-Islam had received funding through pro-US Lebanese politicians:
Hersh said he heard the story from Robert Fisk, the bureau chief of The Independent’s Beirut office. But Hersh did not check out the story himself. For his part, Fisk said he heard the unconfirmed report from Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence agent and the founding director and Middle East representative of the Conflicts Forum, a non-profit organization that aims to build a new relationship between the West and the Muslim world. Crooke, who gained his reputation through his involvement in the conflict in northern Ireland, does not know Arabic. When Lebanese journalists spoke to Crooke about the report, they said he told them only that he had heard it “from all kinds of people.”
Thus are reports about the Middle East generated, I thought to myself.
I thought it was absolutely hilarious – but evidently not for the same reasons that everyone else did. To my surprise, the piece was generally received as a successful debunking of Hersh. I was baffled. Wasn’t anyone paying attention? The piece was obviously a joke. In an essay about a reporter’s poor sourcing and thin evidence, what was Sivan’s sourcing and evidence? “Sharp-eyed reporters in Beirut read the article in astonishment”; and… that’s it. Nothing else. (Alistair Crooke told me that “For the record – if this matters now in the way articles on the Middle East are written – I have never met Robert Fisk, nor spoken to him, and Sy did not quote him in his 5 March article. He quoted me and what I said to him was subsequently twice ’fact-checked’ by the New Yorker staff to ensure that there was adequate sourcing.“)
Sivan must have been wagering that once Hersh’s critics picked up on it, a new ’fact’ about the Middle East would be generated despite being based on poorly-sourced gossip. Then he would be in the perfect position for the Alan Sokal reveal: “you fools have proven my point!” I didn’t think it would work, since he tipped it off in the title (“Thus are reports about the Mideast generated”), but so far it is. I hope he goes for the punchline soon, before the joke goes too far, though… unless, it actually isn’t a joke? Naaah.