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Fisking the fiskers

September 27th, 2002

My brief aside about Fisking has raised plenty of attention. It began with a post in which I pointed out the failure of “right-brain” Australian fans of Mark Steyn (such as Professor Bunyip, James Morrow and Tim Blair to respond to repeated demonstrations by “left-brain” bloggers that Steyn’s columns are routinely based on plagiarism (usually with misquotation), urban myths and historical errors.
In the ensuing comment thread, I wrote
The blogs I think of as left-brain are analytical, rational and linguistically complex. Right-brain blogs are mostly emotive, irrational or anti-rational, and based on sharp putdowns (Fisking) rather than logical critiques.
Both Bargarz and Scott Wickstein think I’ve been unfair to Fisking. As a relative newcomer to blogging, I wasn’t around when the term was coined and I’ve never looked seriously into it. All I’ve done is follow links advertised as “Fiskings” and form my own judgements about what I’ve found. As far as I can tell, the sharp putdown is the critical component in a good (that is, widely linked) Fisking, and logical critique is at best an optional extra.
Before going on, I’ll concede one point raised by Scott, namely that Fiskings typically include a link to the piece being attacked, and therefore let the reader make up their own mind. Otherwise, Scott seems to accept my view that Fiskings are short, sharp and not very logical, but points out that “it’s a very time friendly way to write”
Bargarz disagrees, saying “Fiskings can involve putdowns but they should always use logic and facts to debunk the words or scribblings of the fiskee”, though he notes “a good Fisking is like a good wine, it’s often advertised as such but is somewhat harder to find.” Checking on the definition by Volokh, linked by Bargarz, I found this:

“FISKING: Three people asked what “group-Fisking” means in this post, which borrows the term from an InstaPundit post.
     The term refers to Robert Fisk, a journalist who wrote some rather foolish anti-war stuff, and who in particular wrote a story in which he (1) recounted how he was beaten by some anti-American Afghan refugees, and (2) thought they were morally right for doing so. Hence many pro-war blogs — most famously, InstaPundit — often use the term “Fisking” figuratively to mean a thorough and forceful verbal beating of an anti-war, possibly anti-American, commentator who has richly earned this figurative beating through his words. Good Fisking tends to be (or at least aim to be) quite logical, and often quotes the other article in detail, interspersing criticisms with the original article’s text.”

This definition has something for everyone, including as it does both “forceful verbal beating” and “logical criticism”, so I thought I’d try and track back to the original attacks on Fisk’s Afghan story.

And this brings us back to the beginning of the circle. The most cited attack on Fisk I could find was by the egregious Mark Steyn. As you might expect, logical criticism was not a central point of Steyn’s piece.
Words are used in different ways by different people. But I’d say that, both etymologically and in most current usage, a “Fisking” is “a sharp putdown in which vigorous abuse is essential and logical reasoning is optional”

By the way, Bargarz joins the dreaded ABC in misspelling my name as “Quiggan”. This plays merry hell with the search engines. Also, I realise that, as usual, I haven’t got around to welcoming Bargarz before copping a critique from him (I won’t call it a Fisking). Anyway, he’s welcome!

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