Is Robert Fisk a Psychologist?

Much of what journalist Robert Fisk writes strikes a congruent cord with me; however, there are patches of his writing where he brays discordantly. In his recent article, ((Robert Fisk, “First it was Saddam. Then Gaddafi. Now there’s a vacancy for the West’s favourite crackpot tyrant,” Independent (UK), 19 March 2011.)) Fisk launched into an ad hominen-laced tirade against Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Writes Fisk, “Gaddafi is a fruitcake and … he probably does occasionally chew carpets as well” and “Gaddafi is completely bonkers, flaky, a crackpot on the level of Ahmadinejad of Iran and Lieberman of Israel…” Yes, Fisk did add in Lieberman, but the implication is that Arab rulers are flakes while flakes do not become rulers in Israel.

Fisk avers that seldom do fruitcakes rule in Europe: “The Middle East seems to produce these ravers – as opposed to Europe, which in the past 100 years has only produced Berlusconi, Mussolini, Stalin and [Hitler] …”

Fisk acknowledges that “there is a racist element in all this.”

And for Fisk, the apple does not fall far from the tree, as he describes Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, as “crazed” and states the father-son “should meet their just rewards, along with their henchmen?”

Did Fisk ever write that Bush Sr and Bush Jr “should meet their just rewards, along with their henchmen?” Does Fisk ever describe the mercenaries ((Mercenary is arguably an apt term for fighters in western “volunteer” militaries because surely a number of them enlisted for a paycheck)) of the US, UK, Canada, etc. as “henchmen?” Is this not tendentious reporting, if not racist?

When did Fisk become a psychologist?

What makes western rulers such as George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, David Cameron, Stephen Harper saner than Gaddafi? Was aggressing Iraq on a contrived pretext and slaughtering upwards of a million Iraqis and forcing millions more to become refugees sane?

Can mass murders be sane? Is not mass murder the apical quintessence of sociopathology? Meanwhile, the killing continues under Obama whose sanity Fisk has never called into question.

Fisk’s entire piece is tinged with bias and demonization. For example, he writes of “Gaddafi’s tanks,” but would he write of “Blair’s tanks,” ((My internet search turned up nothing attributable to Fisk on this nor for “Blair’s warships,” “Blair’s ships,” “Blair’s planes,” and since the British public is Fisk’s main readership, this search was deemed sufficient. I leave it to more diligent readers to try and snoop out such a quotation.)) Cameron’s planes, or Obama’s warships?

What are readers supposed to deduce from Fisk’s superfluous ad hominem? Has he lost a journalistic marble or two?

That Arabs are saddled with authoritarian rulers is immensely due to western states foisting such rulers upon the people, as Fisk well knows.

Instead of rabbiting on about the mental delusions of Arab or Iranian rulers, Fisk might define sanity for his readers and what makes western rulers such as Bush, Blair, Cameron, Obama sane versus Middle Eastern rulers. Otherwise, he is casting stones from a glasshouse.

Fisk realizes that the invasion of Libya now is “a Nato force committed to regime-change…”; however, he does not delve much into the more important matter of whether regime change is legitimate or sane.

He does address whether “we” should be the ones to invade. In doing so he neglects recent history when he writes: “However bad our behaviour in the past, what should we do now?” He finds such a question is too late. Late or not, surely a retreat into a distant past is unnecessary when invasions/occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and succor to coups in Honduras and Venezuela are current history. And there is the decades-old, ongoing western — overt and tacit — support for the dispossession of, discrimination against, and killing of Palestinians.

Gaddafi may well be mentally unbalanced, but he is not launching insane massive invasions of far-flung countries. Criticizing his long tenure as a “leader” in Libya is also fine; however, this criticism should be applied equally to other countries. There is virtually no US criticism of the unelected Abdullahs in Jordan or Saudi Arabia, the unelected king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Bahrain, nor was there of the despotic ruler of Egypt — Hosni Mubarak.

Surely what “we” should not be doing now is focusing on psychologically assessing the mental fitness of rulers from afar, while giving free passes to “our” own rulers who are, at a minimum, accomplices in mass killing. As for colonially created nation states, I submit what they should do now is try to undo the monumental crimes they committed against Indigenous peoples whose land they stole and remain in occupation of before passing judgement on others.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

26 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on March 21st, 2011 at 10:16am #

    Robert Fisk is an old man. He will be 65 in July. I am not much younger myself. The great challenge, as one gets older, is to realise that the familiar certainties of our youth have evaporated in a world in which there is no “end of history”. Robert Fisk was once a great journalist (I’m old enough to remember!) but the time to quit while he was ahead, so to speak, came (and went) a while ago. He is not the only elderly author on this and similar website of whom that can be said and I would criticise Mr Petersen (while we still can!) for being more than willing to post “rants” from Mr Fisk and others when he agreed with their contents. A good journalist is not one who agrees with you, Mr Petersen, and a journalist who disagrees with you is not necessarily a bad journalist.

  2. John Andrews said on March 21st, 2011 at 10:54am #

    I’m reading Fisk’s ‘Great War of Civilisation’ at the moment. Whilst I agree with some of Mr Peterson’s reservations about some of Fisk’s writing, I do not agree at all with the suggestion that he’s some sort of apologist for western tyrants (“giving free passes to “our” own rulers “). I don’t know of any other writer who has done as much as Fisk to highlight the Armenian Holocaust and ensure its survival in history (an issue that sparked his departure from The Times many years ago).

    I accept that the Piece by Fisk that Mr Peterson is referring to was not his finest moment in journalism – but then we’re all entitled to an off-day. As establishment journalists go, Fisk is one of the best.

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 21st, 2011 at 10:58am #

    Kenney am 62 and read a few my age that see and hear. The point you miss is a new way of thinking if we wish to survive with some sense of dignity. It’s a big one as never been done and so far the will to try is not there. That’s why sometimes I write nice cup of coffee game of checkers as when we shift into second many will wish for just that. There is that evil and not millions but billions then off to the stars I guess.

  4. hayate said on March 21st, 2011 at 11:52am #

    It seems fisk always knows which is the “right” leader to demonise. I came to the conclusion years ago he is just another apologist for the ziofascist/fascist establishment whose job is to make “progressives” feel good about believing the propaganda of the ziofascists/fascists and supporting their aggressions around the world. It’s an old ploy he uses. Mouth the demonisation propaganda to grease the population to accept the aggression against the victim later, then claim after it is too late that one opposed that aggression. It is similar to how the zionist mass media will ignore or lie about something, and then when it’s too late (usually years later) provide a more accurate picture of it, only what fisk does (and his many “liberal” corporate report-alikes do) is a more sophisticated deception where they can employ a phony opposition stance to make the ziofascist propaganda appear to be true.

  5. Gary S. Corseri said on March 21st, 2011 at 11:54am #

    Bravo, Kim!

    I was also disturbed, a couple of days ago, by that same Fiskian, braying column!

    I agree that Fisk has done some fine work in the past. But he can get sententious at times. I believe he has been based in Lebanon for a long time and he can be very one-sided, very factional, in his interpretation of Middle East and Arab events.

    His most recent column is not, unfortunately, a singular event, not an “off day” as Mr. Andrews avers. Also, let’s note: if a writer has produced a fine book, let us praise him/her for that; but let us not be chary of criticism when that writer/thinker stumbles. It is wrong to withdraw laurels, but we need not defer to the crowned head forever.

    Finally, Mr. Kenny above claims that Mr. Fisk at 65 is an old man and therefore his untasteful transgressions may be pardonable. As I was born in exactly the same Chinese Year of the Dog, I am sorry to hear that 65 is pasture-roaming time (but, nevertheless, happy to report that my faculties seem fairly intact!). It is rumored that some people actually grow wiser as they grow older. Howard Zinn wrote sterling prose and insightful social commentaries well into his 80’s; Bertrand Russel was still ripsnorting-formidable into his 90s; and Sophocles produced “Oedipus at Colonus,” perhaps his greatest play, in his 90s. Old dogs can learn new tricks; and it is incumbent upon all of us not to indulge in the kind of toxic memes which Kim Petersen has sagely called to our attention.

  6. MICHAEL said on March 21st, 2011 at 1:19pm #

    To the Vanguards guarding the gate: 3/21/2011
    The iron gates of the “comment section” are
    about to close – Forever ?
    The murkiness of this command,
    will lock out the voices of many,only to let one stand.
    Words are meant to flow – to and fro,
    you murmur something ? Can you refrain ? You must GO !
    Is this a form of censorship, I say ?
    Keep open these gates of wisdom, learn to listen and understand.
    Thanking you for your attention to this matter,

  7. mary said on March 21st, 2011 at 2:46pm #

    Mr Fisk certainly got it badly wrong this time when he couldn’t distinguish the psychopaths from his elbow.

    A previous piece on Palestine and the necessity of UNWRA for the survival of the Palestiniand was far better and was discussed on medialens.


    As I write the psychopaths in the House of Commons are still discussing UN Resolution 1973. All are supporting it – even the Opposition, the previous warmongers. They have been gassing for seven hours and the vote is coming up soon. It’s another case of ‘Oh! Oh! Oh! What a lovely war’. It has been n0ted that they makes slips of the tongue (or perhaps it’s intentional) but they say Iraq instead of Libya and sometimes Saddam instead of Gaddafi! Totally obscene, the whole dammed shower of them.

  8. shabnam said on March 21st, 2011 at 3:19pm #

    Many people have found Fisk’s reporting BIASED. He seems racist to me when he paints Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad with the same brush as Lieberman, a ziofascist. His reporting is not trusted by many who know the region. His ‘analysis’ fluctuates accordingly, to be aligned with the empire’s agenda in Lebanon. For example, when Britain – Israel – US, hold Syria responsible for assassination of Rafiq Hariri, then his ‘analysis’ showed this line of thinking. The criminal states used this LIE to force Syria out of Lebanon and urged Syrian government to make concessions to Israel and cut its relations with Iran, where Syria was forced out of Lebanon, but other demands were not met.

    Now, the Western intelligence services using the same charge to implicate Hezbollah, to destabilize Lebanon when majority of the people in the region hold the Western intelligence, including Mossad, responsible for Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. Thus, his opinion has been modified to match the new reality regarding this issue. A journalist should be independent of power and should not be influenced by them. He is close to friends of the West, Saad Hariri (March 14) and his extension.
    He has been criticized by Arabs and Iranians. For example As’ad AbuKhalil writes:
    {Not only I have now become quite unhappy with his [Fisk] reporting, not only on Lebanon where he recycles Hariri propaganda slogans, but also for his inserting his heroic self in every story. I have now difficulty even buying his stories, to be honest.}
    Or :
    {Fisk is now trying to sneakily distance himself from accusations that Syria was behind the assassination of Hariri when he himself also believed in it until recently. Fisk–I dare say–flatly lies about Lebanon but not with malice. He mechanically reports all sorts of lies that he receives from his friends in March 14. It is no true that Ahmadinajad said that Lebanon is Iran’s “front line.” He really invented that. It is not true that Syria complained about absence of pictures of Bashshar. }
    {I have offered to buy a golden watch to officiate over a retirement ceremony for Robert Fisk. Look at this lousy piece of his. 1) he claims that the border is murky between Lebanon and Palestine when the picture in the article shows the fence. 2) look how many times he uses “Iranian funded” in reference to Hizbullah but he does not say US-funded about the usurping entity;}

    Kim: Thank you for your timely report on Fisk.

  9. commoner3 said on March 21st, 2011 at 3:28pm #

    This is an excellent article.
    For a long time I didn’t read anything for Robert Fisk. I knew he is a pretender and full of shit through and through.

  10. Hue Longer said on March 21st, 2011 at 4:00pm #


    have you sent this to Fisk and asked for a response?

  11. Kim Petersen said on March 21st, 2011 at 4:12pm #

    Thanks to all for taking the time to comment.

    Some of the misreading as evidenced by comments is wearing though. Mr Andrews, I never suggested that Mr Fisk is “some sort of apologist for western tyrants…” My thesis was specific: does Fisk mete out the same criticism of the psychological stability of western rulers as he does to Muslim rulers? Are you suggesting that Fisk does? Then please supply evidence for this.

    Respectfully, bringing up the Armenian Holocaust is a non sequitur.

    Sadly, I find that Mr Fisk – a paid journalist – has had more than a few off-days (e.g., his writings on Syria and Hariri) but many more fine days, and I have praised and defended his writings in previous articles.

    Mr Kenny, agism is another –ism that progressives best eschew. It is not age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious orientation, etc. that counts but the quality of the thought and compassion of a person.

    You have also misread and misconstrued the thesis of my article Mr Kenny. Nowhere in the article do I even insinuate that Mr Fisk is not a “good journalist”: my article had nothing to do at all with this topic (so comment is another non sequitur. How should one deal with non sequiturs but point them out?).

  12. Keith said on March 21st, 2011 at 4:17pm #

    This article touched upon something which I have come to believe, but which is not widely discussed. It has to do with the psychology of those who seek and acquire significant power. These are people I refer to as men of ambition (it is predominantly a male trait). Ruthless ambition. An extremely narrow focus on power acquisition and retention to the exclusion of almost all else. The psychology which enables a person to put a city to the sword, carpet bomb defenseless civilians, or bid up the price of food on the futures market resulting in massive starvation.

    I have come to believe that past and present systems of socio-economic organization have resulted in leaders who are predominantly men of ambition, that is to say utterly ruthless sociopaths. How else to explain all of the wars and killing and exploitation down through the ages? The world is in bad shape and getting worse because the people running things are sociopaths. Furthermore, all positions of significant power will come to be occupied by sociopaths, men of ambition. This isn’t a case of a good system being subverted by an evil person. The nature of the system itself creates the conditions which give rise to the phenomenon.

    Should humanity survive the unfolding crisis, there is no more important task than to deal realistically with the issue of power. A general principal is that concentrated power must be ameliorated at the systemic level. Otherwise, history will continue to repeat itself until all is destroyed.

  13. Kim Petersen said on March 21st, 2011 at 4:24pm #


    According to what I have read, Fisk is not an internet kind of guy, and he does not do email.

  14. mary said on March 22nd, 2011 at 1:51am #

    Call Me Dave astride his Pushme Pullyou coalition of the willing got his vote in the Commons yesterday 577 to 13. The 13 humans were and include some who speak for the Palestinians against the Friends of Israel slimeballs.

    Allen, Mr Graham
    Baron, Mr John
    Campbell, Mr Ronnie
    Corbyn, Jeremy
    Durkan, Mark
    Gardiner, Barry
    Godsiff, Mr Roger
    Lucas, Caroline
    McDonnell, John
    Riordan, Mrs Linda
    Ritchie, Ms Margaret
    Skinner, Mr Dennis
    Wood, Mike

    All is not well within the alliance and even the British sheeple are not very sure about it aas the poll below shows.

    Apart from the illegality, the immorality and the human cost, the financial cost is staggering.


    Poll shows opposition to Libya plan
    (UKPA) – 1 hour ago

    More than half of people believe British servicemen should not risk their lives protecting Libyan opposition forces, a new study has shown.

    The ComRes poll, for ITV News, found some 53% of those consulted felt it would be unacceptable for British personnel to die fighting for the Libyan opposition to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

    Just one in three people (35%) agreed with the decision to take military action.

    But according to the survey, nearly half (49%) of adults felt such intervention constituted an unnecessary risk for Britain.

    ComRes interviewed 2028 people online over the weekend. The findings were weighted to be demographically representative.

    Copyright © 2011 The Press Association. All rights reserved

    Note that they only care about Brits dying.

  15. mukarji said on March 22nd, 2011 at 2:21am #

    Fisk has spent a long time in the Middle East and generally his news stories are right on. However, Fisk has always had the Eurocentric arrogant tendency to write about leaders and people in the non European countries with contempt. He has often labeled leaders in the middle east as dictators and the culture unable to have democracy. He has NEVER put the present leaders in the context of imperialist interference. He has NEVER discussed WHY the middle east has these leaders. The west is full of myths about the countries outside America or Europe. People have no knowledge of the past struggles, the elections of socialist leaders that were toppled over by the CIA, or the encouragement of religious fundamentalism as a means of fighting socialist nationalist movements in these countries. Fisk has a firm belief in the superiority of the European culture, and institutions. The imperial history of blood bath and genocide in non white countries does not qualify for demonization.

  16. mary said on March 22nd, 2011 at 3:00am #

    Another lie from the war propaganda machine is exposed.


  17. livingbridge said on March 22nd, 2011 at 4:27am #

    What I find particularly objectionable in Fisk’s “journalism”, which is most egregious in this particular article, is that he spews second-hand information as though it were fact. None of Fisk’s sweeping allegations are sourced. We’re expected to take Fisk on his word, and this simply won’t do in as widely read newspaper as The Independent, for, furthermore, such a dire topic.

    Take this for example: “And what if the “rebels” enter Tripoli and decide Gaddafi and his crazed son Saif al-Islam should meet their just rewards, along with their henchmen? Are we going to close our eyes to revenge killings, public hangings, the kind of treatment Gaddafi’s criminals have meted out for many a long year?”.

    What does Fisk know about Gaddafi and the history of Libya? “Henchmen?”

    Fisk should know that any resource-rich country [particularly in oil] is swarming with foreign agents, who are often in place specifically to stir up trouble [Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, etc]. For years, France, the UK and US have been arming and training Chadian militias to nip away at Libya’s heels and jim-up internal dissent. What is a responsible state leader to do in such circumstances? Imprisonment and questioning of foreign and domestic shit-stirrers is unfortunately a necessary response.

    There can be little doubt that Gaddafi is no saint. On the other hand, the structure of the post-revolution Libyan government Gaddafi promoted can by no means be labelled autocratic. Though extremely condescending in tone, the wikipedia entry on the Politics of Libya is edifying: Ah, 32 regional ‘Local People’s Congresses’ which are represented in the ‘General People’s Congress’ which nominates individuals to a Supreme Court? Ah, so …

    Note, also, that Gaddafi stepped down from his position as head of the GPC in the early 1980s. His role in Libyan politics, today, amounts to ‘figurehead’, while the western media continue to hammer the idea that Gaddafi has been, and remains, a dictator. Nonsense.

    Shame on us all – me, in particular, for our collective ignorance; and Fisk, foremost, for mouthing the propaganda du jour.

    Meanwhile, I hope Libyan “rebels” know what getting into.

  18. Creative-i said on March 22nd, 2011 at 5:12am #

    Fisk is an arrogant racist and the piece Peterson describes is by no means the first time Fisk has let his racist slip show. How he ever came across as ‘progressive’ is beyond me except insofar as it seems to be typical of Western ‘progressives’, so imbued are they with the imperial mindset.

  19. balkamos said on March 22nd, 2011 at 6:10am #

    I almost didn’t read Fisk’s article and I got a bit disapointed for his view as presented here.It’s not his best piece but I think even if you read his first paragraph someone can easily understand that Kim Petersen’s article is much more biased and manipulating.Moreover,K.P fails to avoid his own trap:Since when have you,Kim Petersen, become Fisk’s therapist?
    So we are going to take “all necessary measures” to protect the civilians of Libya, are we? Pity we didn’t think of that 42 years ago. Or 41 years ago. Or… well, you know the rest. And let’s not be fooled by what the UN resolution really means. Yet again, it’s going to be regime-change. And just as in Iraq – to use one of Tom Friedman’s only memorable phrases of the time – when the latest dictator goes, who knows what kind of bats will come flying out of the box?

  20. mukarji said on March 22nd, 2011 at 6:23am #

    I totally agree with creative -I
    I live in the US, and the mindset of most progressives is racism covered naturally by acceptable “civilized” language. Fisk is a liberal and unlike many of the journalists who report from the middle east has spent time there and is respected for this. But his internalized imperial attitude comes accross a lot. The west naturally has to ignore their genocides when they talk of their civilized democracy. I have been exhausted trying to have discussions with the superior white civilized folks about their own history of violence, genocide and exploitation. It seems people who are not part of this club are not quite human and it is naturally the fault of their religion, culture and backward traditions. Perhaps we should focus on the backward European culture hell bent on ruling the world regardless of the loss of lives in these countries, or thier greed that sees all oil as THEIR oil, or their natural RIGHT to live with comforts produced off the backs of those that are seen as not quite human.

  21. Kim Petersen said on March 22nd, 2011 at 6:49am #


    More non sequiturs. (1) Where is my bias in first paragraph? (2) Wow. You got me balkamos: When did I become Fisk’s therapist? And where did you get that notion from?

  22. John Andrews said on March 22nd, 2011 at 7:24am #

    Mr Peterson,

    I’m puzzled that you find my comments ‘wearing’. Wearing what? Did you perhaps mean wearying?

    But no matter, it will shortly no longer be a problem for you.

    I don’t think your thesis is quite as specific as you say in your comment. In fact it’s entirely different. Your piece is titled ‘Is Robert Fisk a Psychologist?’, not ‘Does Robert Fisk criticise the psychological condition of western leaders the same as Muslim leaders?’

    The simple answer to your article is no he’s not; he’s a journalist.

    I still think your piece suggests Mr Fisk is some sort of apologist for western power. I don’t believe he is for one moment. He wrote one poor article; we’re agreed on that. You want evidence that he is critical of western power… well I can’t be bothered to do the research. I don’t agree with you and that’s that. However, I just happen to have read the following little section in his book (on page 468/9 in my copy):

    “Western leaders [have been] coldly advancing their imperial designs on the collapse of the Ottoman empire, cruelly calculating when they planned to invade Suez [and] insanely emotional when they invaded Iraq.”

    Does that suggest psychological criticism to you?

  23. balkamos said on March 22nd, 2011 at 7:30am #

    You keep playing and isolating words.Exactly my point for the first paragraph,it shows that Fisk’s article is not about comparing tyrants’ psychologies,he tries to make an argument,to criticise the whole political situation and motives of both sides involved.Your article on the other hand is trying to supposedly analyse Fisk’s discourse in order for you to prove that he is biased against middle eastern leaders.Isn’t what in some degree therapists do when they listen to their clients isolating these words that fit their theory so that they can offer their service ?In this article it seems as you try to reduce Fisk’s argument as simplistic and indirectly apolotical or at least less genuinely leftish that you.Oh,yes,I got you

  24. jayn0t said on March 22nd, 2011 at 9:18am #

    Fisky has atoned for his sins:

  25. Creative-i said on March 22nd, 2011 at 1:35pm #

    Why are critics rounding on Peterson’s title for the piece? Clearly he was trying expose the nature of Fisk’s thinking, so perhaps the title is a little confusing but so what? The piece unpacks the racist nature of Fisk’s view of the Arab (read Black) world with all that that means.

    Just because Fisk has a pad in Beirut doesn’t make him the oracle of the Middle East. As Peterson points out, he was wrong on the assassination of Hariri, and wrong on Libya too, where he joined the yapping chorus of servants of the Empire in denouncing Gaddafi as total nutcase, dehumanizing him and turning him into yet another ‘mad dictator’ stereotype.


  26. brianct said on March 23rd, 2011 at 10:36pm #

    Fisk probably hant read Gadaffis very lucid Green book:
    or his speech at the UN 2009:
    and may not have much knowledge of the real nature of the ‘rebels’ in East Libya:

    and maybe thats why he thinks Gadaffi brays?! he knows nothing of the man.

    ‘Gaddafi may well be mentally unbalanced, but he is not launching insane massive invasions of far-flung countries. Criticizing his long tenure as a “leader” in Libya is also fine; however, this criticism should be applied equally to other countries. ‘

    see above. Gadaffi is more sane than Fisk. and he has improved Libyans lives greatly, to te point that the libyans are not willing to take low paying jobs, hence the need to foreign labor.