Larry King on British Journalists

Those of us forced to read the London papers sometimes speculate about which is greater: the average British hack's sloth, mendacity, ignorance, obsequiousness, capacity for drink, or aversion to paying for that drink. Smart money tends to split between the latter two.

I'm generally in the minority. I argue for ignorance. British journalists often sound bright and well-educated, because they're facile writers with a flair for argument. Americans especially can mistake that for learning. Our morons sound like morons. But in fact a lot of the local hacks don't know much.

Even when they do know something, they're awfully sloppy about how they use it. For example, a viciously anti-American creature named Robert Fisk, who scrawls for the wildly misnamed Independent, is often described as a Mideast expert with decades of experience. He may be, but look at this segment of a rather fawning and credulous interview with Fisk, which not entirely surprisingly was conducted by the NPR station in Madison, Wisconsin:

Q: First, in your recent column, you said that Osama bin Laden's attack on the United States was not simply a statement but some kind of a lure, a trap, an engraved invitation to retaliation, to some kind of massive retaliation. What exactly do you mean and how would that fit the agenda?

Mr. Fisk: . . . Well, you see, in all his conversations with me, and I've met him three times, once in Sudan and twice in Afghanistan, one of the principal, indeed much more obsessional than he used on the United States, a place he's never been to and which he's a little obsessional about, his principal concern was always he wants American forces out of the Gulf area and he wants the overthrow of the pro-Western regimes in the Middle East. That's to say the kingdoms and emirates of the Gulf - the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan.

Note that Fisk gives the impression he believes Egypt and Jordan are bordered by the Persian Gulf. Jordan is separated from the Gulf by Iraq and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States proper -- Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the U.A.E. Egypt is separated from the Gulf by all of the above, including Jordan, and the Red Sea and Israel as well.

Note also that Fisk seems determined to prove wrong everything I said about British journalists at least being articulate. On the evidence above, he's barely coherent.

To be fair, the transcript may be faulty. And in any case, Fisk was speaking off the cuff, where it's easy to lose track of your thoughts, particularly if the thoughts aren't too substantial to begin with. In his actual writing, he presumably pays more attention to what he's saying. So, look at this story of his, which I chose at random.

Note that of the nine paragraphs in this story, the first five deal approvingly with an Arab peace plan; the two concluding paragraphs deal with alleged Israeli transgressions. Buried in the second part of the sixth paragraph is what some might consider a salient point regarding Israeli doubts about that plan. A suicide bomber attacked a Passover dinner two days earlier and killed 20 people. Whatever else you want to say about the story, it hardly strikes me as objective reporting covering all aspects of the situation.


Larry King is an American-born expatriate I know who lives in London. He is not the talk show host, nor is he the author of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. From time to time, he contributes a Letter From Europe to my column. Below, I list the letters that have appeared so far.

Larry King's Letter from Europe: Very Little Happens in August (Sep. 6, 1999)

Larry King's Letter from Europe (Feb. 2, 2000)

Larry King Takes Over The Column: Spring in London (April 10, 2000)

Of Twits And Things (July 24, 2000)

Larry King on Eurostar (March 19, 2001)

Joe Brancatelli and Larry King on Rail Travel (March 26, 2001)

Larry King on Foot and Mouth and British Tourism (April 2, 2001)

Larry King on 9/11 (Oct. 15, 2001)

Larry King on Lords and Dukes And Journalists (Feb. 11, 2002)

Larry King on Presidential Greatness (March 4, 2002)

Larry King on British Broadcasting (March 11, 2002)

Larry King on England, the U.S. and the Middle East (April 29, 2002)

Larry King on the case FOR the war with Iraq (March 24, 2003)

Larry King Deconstructs A Blunkett Remark (August 19, 2004)

Larry King On The British Election (May 9, 2005)

Larry King On 7/8 Bombing (July 10, 2005)

Larry King: Bye Bye Blair (May 28, 2007)

Larry King: Thoughts On The State of Journalism and Teaching (January 18, 2008)

Larry King Letter from London: American Ex-Pats Vote (May 19, 2008)

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