Pinned to the noticeboard above Robert Fisk’s computer
1. Know Thy Audience
You do NOT write for the average well-informed Lebanese, Syrian or Iraqi, wherever they are, so don’t worry about the porkies you may tell or the consequences of them. Assume your readers are well-educated, left-leaning people (decent Aussies and Brits) who are cynical about their government and media. They look to you to be better informed about the ME. Respect them and they will defer to you.
2. Present Titbits
Present to your reader scraps of verifiable information they’re not likely to have picked up from the ABC or the BBC. They will appear better informed on the ME when they are at a dinner party.
3. Avoid Revealing The Puzzle
Too much reality, too many pieces of the puzzle juxtaposed in the one article, may lead the reader to glean the bigger picture themselves. Don’t let this happen. You must stay in control of the puzzle. You are the master of the narrative.
4. Present Convoluted As Sophisticated
Maintaining your circuitous Fiskian style when writing on Syria enables you to appear sophisticated while avoiding the need to present logical and substantiated arguments. This is a ruse that will work as long as the reader knows much less than you do and remains satisfied with titbits. Cynicism coupled with inscrutability will always tantalize.
5. Stick To The Rhetoric
It is not difficult to convince the reader who the enemy is; the mainstream media has already implanted the cliches. Damn the Syrian “Alawi Assad regime”. The rhetoric’s use-by date won’t be reached until Assad goes and the war is intractable. But remember to stick to it in your own inimitable fashion, so you stay above the mob; you’ll have no competitors. Don’t be predictable. Present a bit of the other side from time to time. You don’t want to be accused of lack of balance; that won’t help your credibility.
6. Present Claims As Fact
You can pull this off because you are Fisk. Like a magician, you have gained the trust of your readership, so whenever you slip in accusations dressed up as fact, your ruse will go unnoticed.
7. Stimulate But Maintain The Comfort Zone
Like friends, your readers are likely to return if you retain a convivial and welcoming demeanor. They are people who would love to have you over for a whisky and a conversation. In fact in their imaginations, they believe you are sitting in a leather armchair next to you, for that chat, with that whiskey. The ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ approach to information works wonders. Your titbits act like racy gossip. You and your reader can go on sipping your whiskey or gin and tonic while the rest of the world makes the best of it. A familiar and convivial ‘boys own’ cynicism keeps them in their comfort zone, and on your readership list.
8. Don’t Mention The Christians
This can be tricky, but it is possible most of the time. You don’t want the reader to worry about them. Otherwise they might empathize. Maintain a firm grip on the picture you want them to retain. It’s the Alawite minority vs the Sunni majority. It’s Simple Stupid. Truth shouldn’t get in the way when there is simplicity. No need to worry about the implications of making millions of people the enemy. After all, your readers wouldn’t recognize an Alawi if they met one, so they won’t miss them. That word ‘genocide’ can be avoided for now. By the time people start using it, the war will be so foggy no one will retain a memory of the lead-up.
9. In Fact Don’t Mention Anything Worrisome
Neglect as much as you can the nastiness of the fatwas issued by extremist clerics in Qatar and Saudi Arabia against ‘heretical’ Syria. Neglect as much as you can the kidnappings and assassinations of imams, priests, reporters, doctors, professors, teachers and other civil servants. Neglect the connivance of the UN and NGOs in the war. Neglect as much as you can the fact that Syrians are pretty much regular people who value peace in their country. Neglect to mention that Syrians love life, love music; they laugh, they love. Neglect to mention the secular nature of Syria, so don’t write about women (not that you would). And there is no need to refer to religious freedom (who in the west cares these days, anyway?). Neglect to mention if you can that the enemy secular Syrians face is merciless. Don’t define the term ‘takfiri’; or if you do, once is enough, then forget it and let your readers forget it. Neglect to mention that relatively few Sunnis in Syria are Wahhabi or Salafi extremists, so the ‘Sunni majority’ in Syria probably don’t care too much about the sect of their president as long as he’s not a Wahhabi sponsored by Saudi Arabia or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood sponsored by Qatar. Neglect to mention that Saudi-style religious police are beginning to appear in some areas controlled by militias. Neglect to mention that the March 14 Alliance in Lebanon has been helping with the funding and arming of the militias in Syria. Neglect to mention that your favorite dinner host and Nihilist Walid Jumblatt is allied with this alliance (for the moment, anyway – you might need to check this with Walid again). Neglect to mention that the credentials of the leaders of this alliance, Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea, do not look good if scrutinized. But as long as readers know they are western backed, that should be irrelevant.
(Remember to update this “neglect to mention list”. Ring Walid.)
10. Keep In Mind The Final Destination
Make sure the snakes and ladders game you play with your readers takes them all to the one conclusion: the Syrian president is a brutal dictator, the Alawis are his henchmen, the Sunnis are OK, and you don’t need to worry about the Christians. In fact, in the end it will be Arabs fighting Arabs again, so it is none of the white man’s business. (Refugees may cause a bit of a problem, and there might be a bit of exported terror, but people shouldn’t see the connections if you don’t make them. And who will if Fisk doesn’t?)
And don’t let the editor publish any images of regular Syrians. They’re not helpful.