One evening a couple of years I was sent a video of bodies being loaded on to a truck. There must have been about 30 or 40 of them. I don’t know why or how they died.
I think the other Robert Fisk would have known. He would have found out the reasons.
The person who sent me the video had just assumed that I was the Middle Eastern correspondent for The Independent – and The Times before that and before that the Sunday Times (and before that Newcastle Chronicle – where I’m assuming the stories were less international in nature).
There was a time in my journalism career when I thought I’d outlast the other Robert Fisk. I thought he’d retire from his job of exposing injustice in the Middle East while I was still “skillfully crafting copy” in the UK.
But then, once I finished my reporter career, I began to think he would always be working, always reporting on the stories no-one else would cover.
So when I heard he had died from a stroke while at his home in Ireland on October 30th it came as a massive shock.
It was just a coincidence that I had the same name as him and became a journalist.
My link to him isn’t through blood, because we are not related in any way.
It also isn’t really through his writing, because I rarely read any of his articles – but when I did they were very impressive.
Instead it is mainly through the ways in which journalists and fans of the other Robert Fisk did not realise we were separate people.
The video I mentioned above is just one example. Recently there were LinkedIn posts from people sending me information about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
When the explosion happened in Beirut I got messages of concern from people on Twitter wondering if I was okay.
I didn’t always reply to messages from journalists but I did make a point of replying to these well-wishers by sending them a link to an article the other Robert Fisk wrote about the aftermath of the explosion – and made it clear “Here’s something the other Robert Fisk has written so he must be still alive”.
But when I did respond to journalists I would do my best to hint that they hadn’t got the email address for the Robert Fisk they were looking for.
One constant was Russia Today. They would always be looking to have Robert Fisk on a programme to talk about the situation in one country or another.
When I was working for a paper in Croydon Russia Today was excited because I said I was based in London so would not have to do the interview via video link.
They would have sent a car to pick me up and I was tempted to go to see whether I would have got on the air or whether they would have realised their mistake before then. But sadly I never made it to the car because I just couldn’t spare the time away from my proper reporting job.
Hints during that time included me apologising for not responding sooner but saying I’d spent quite a few days at a planning enquiry (this was true) and was working on a story about a flower show (this was not true). I’m not sure why but they didn’t seem to think it strange that Robert Fisk would be working on a story about a flower show.
And once I remember phoning a Government press office to ask for a quote and being asked “Are you the Robert Fisk?” The man on the phone seemed to believe me when I said I was back in the UK on holiday so was just helping out at a local paper.
I’d also wager that three fifths of my Twitter followers think I’m the other Robert Fisk – even though my profile picture on my main account is me eating fire, not doing any kind of Middle East journalism.
He probably had as many critics as he had fans (thanks to another case of mistaken identity I got emailed a fatwa which will be proudly displayed on my wall once I’ve bought a frame) but did a job no-one else did, won more awards than anyone else, interviewed terrorists including Osama Bin Laden several times and told stories no-one else was telling.
Sadly the closest we got to having both Robert Fisks in the same room was back in May during the first lockdown (remember that?) when he was doing a live Q&A on Zoom about This is Not a Movie, a film made about him. It’s definitely worth a watch.
He is irreplaceable and he will be very much missed.
Stay safe for another week!