Patrick Cockburn — not quite in a league of his own

In those quarters where the mainstream media is viewed with suspicion if not outright contempt, it’s commonplace to witness a strange anomaly: a handful of mainstream journalists have acquired a hallowed status which results in their reporting being treated as though it possesses unquestionable authority.

This is strange because if one assumes the position of refusing to belong to a flock of “sheep” who blindly believe the mainstream media, it makes no sense to join a different flock of equally uncritical admirers of a few celebrated investigative journalists.

What this anomaly most likely reveals is a lack of critical discernment being directed in any direction. Skepticism and blind faith turn out to be two sides of the same coin. Authority is assigned on the basis of perceived allegiances rather than the integrity of the journalism.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: Patrick Cockburn, the Irish foreign correspondent for The Independent, has an eclectic following. He is admired by Noam Chomsky and Rand Paul; and last December, when he won the British equivalent of a Pulitzer for his coverage of Syria and Iraq, the judges declared his journalism in a “league of its own” and wondered “whether the Government should [consider] pensioning off the whole of MI6 and [hire] Patrick Cockburn instead.”

Cockburn is conscious of his exalted position. He frequently admonishes his colleagues against the distortions born of “political bias and simple error.” In his recent book, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, he declares, “there is no alternative to first-hand reporting”. He adds: “Journalists rarely fully admit to themselves or others the degree to which they rely on secondary and self-interested sources”.

Journalists rarely admit such things—even those as self-aware as Cockburn is. Consider this gripping, first-hand account of the slaughter of religious minorities by the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra that appears on page 89 of his book. “In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed [Nusra] forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.” Cockburn was witnessing a war crime.

But there is a problem. The atrocity might or might not have happened but Cockburn certainly didn’t witness it. [Continue reading…]

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