“A foreign correspondent is someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he has arrived to cover it.” —Tom Stoppard (“Night and Day”)
The Crimean War, in mid-19th century, introduced the world to the cardigan, the raglan jersey, and the balaclava headdress. It also introduced a new profession: the foreign correspondent. And almost immediately after the war the axiom “truth is the first casualty of war” was born because of the falsehoods spread by foreign correspondents on both sides, not to mention Tennyson’s overheated and wrong-headed poem.
Since then, as in any other profession, there have been capable and honest foreign correspondents and reporters who have been incompetent, ignorant or propaganda tools of their nation or their employers. Ernest Hemingway, a giant of American literature, didn’t hesitate to color his coverage of the Spanish Civil War with propaganda for the side he favoured. A British daily reported that the Americans had been victorious at Pearl Harbor. Countless American foreign correspondents beat the Pentagon drum during the Vietnam War. More recently, “embedded” American journalists reported how the US forces had “liberated” Iraq.
Foreign correspondents can be notoriously uninformed and cavalier about the country’s they report on: for example, the Middle East foreign correspondents of Western media who speak Arabic are as rare as atheists in Mecca. Most Western correspondents thus depend on local “minders” and a dubious local media to report what’s happening. The situation has worsened in recent years as Western media have closed news bureaus around the globe and lone correspondents cover whole continents. This has given rise to the “airport reporter”… the journalist who flies in to a hot spot for a few days and covers complicated conflicts with a few hundred words then flies away to chase another conflict.
Considering the deteriorating condition of the profession, it’s no surprise that many of its practitioners did a shabby job in reporting on the early April fighting between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). As usual, East vs. West friction, national and corporate interests (Azeri oil more precious than Armenian blood), carelessness and sheer ignorance played a part in their coverage. And as on other occasions, the conflict was often covered in Manichean terms.
Here’s how the anti-Armenian or indifferent foreign correspondents and commentators reported the war between Azerbaijan and Artsakh.
Rather than point out that the fighting erupted because Azeri forces had attacked Armenian positions, hostile-to-the-Armenians journalists wrote of “violence and shooting on both sides”.