Monday, May 19, 2003

Did Fisk rip me off?
I was amused to read on Andrew Sullivan's website that the satirical weekly Private Eye cast doubts on a report Robert Fisk filed from Iraq, suggesting he made up part of his story. I can report my own little Fisk story where he did not make his story up, but may have used something I wrote to fill in a few blank spaces.

Under the pseudonym Walid Harb several years ago, I wrote a review of a book that came out on the former Lebanese warlord Elie Hobeika. The opening sentence read like this:

A few years ago, one of Lebanon's giddier periodicals, suitably titled Prestige, published as its cover story an interview with a Lebanese celebrity. The photograph adorning the front of the magazine was that of a blue-suited, cleanshaven man in his mid-40s, radiating the serene gravitas expected of a government minister, which is what he was. The magazine was distributed to the inner sanctums of Lebanon's vanity fair. The response was a collective nod of approval. One could almost overlook that the object of this attention was someone who had, in an earlier incarnation, ordered a militia under his command into the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila, where they boisterously dispatched an estimated 1,000 civilians, give or take a few score.

And later: Much of the local curiosity about the book was generated by two chapters describing Hobeika's sexual capers and naming most of his paramours. The list is jubilantly long and includes a large number of women who pass for being members of the postwar plutocracy. Several marriages have reportedly suffered as a result.

When Hobeika was assassinated, Fisk wrote about his funeral, and it was, of course, an irresistible story. I was, therefore, surprised to see that Fisk had (intentionally or not) lifted my imagery. Here is what he wrote in the January 27, 2002 issue of The Independent:

All this the congregation already knew. But they were intent on Hobeika's transformation from war criminal to statesman, from gunman to the cheerful womaniser who, not so long ago, graced the cover of Lebanon's version of Vanity Fair.

I have little respect for what Fisk writes today, but I do recognize that he surely didn't need my sentence to make a reputation well earned a few years earlier. Nor is that one sentence quite enough to charge plagiarism, though it comes close. Maybe Fisk just remembered it from reading The Nation. Anyway, I have identified the parallels in bold, and you can decide.

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