A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form.
Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist and author who writes on the Middle East, the term was employed in 2001 by various American conservative and libertarian bloggers who reposted Fisk's dispatches on their own blogs, along with paragraph-by-paragraph commentary that challenged, countered, and/or mocked Fisk's viewpoints.
A fisking is characteristically an incisive and fierce point-by-point rebuttal, and the aim is generally to weaken the target's credibility rather than seek common ground. The British newspaper The Observer defined fisking as "the practice of savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet (named after Robert Fisk of the Independent, whose columns are considered soft targets.)"
Software engineering writer Joel Spolsky finds a precedent for fisking in the "line-by-line nitpick" reply style common on Usenet, saying "political bloggers, newcomers to the Internet, have reinvented this technique, thinking they were discovering something fun and new". In a similar vein, Andrew Orlowski in The Register commented that "[m]any of today's debaters prefer 'Fisking'—line-by-line rebuttals where facts are dropped like radar chaff—to rational debate or building a coherent argument."
As for Fisk himself, in a 2005 interview he stated that he was unaware of the term. "I have to be honest: I don't use the Internet. I've never seen a blog in my life. I don't even use email, I don't waste my time with this. I am not interested. I couldn't care less. I think the Internet has become a hate machine for a lot of people and I want nothing to do with it."
"Fisking" was coined by bloggers in December 2001, following a three-paragraph response by Andrew Sullivan to an article Fisk wrote for The Independent on Sunday earlier that month. In the piece, Fisk recounted a beating which he received at the hands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and said that, given their experiences, which included having recently lost relatives in a B-52 bombing and having seen television footage of the massacre of prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif, he could understand why they would have treated him or any other westerner that way and that, in their position, he would have behaved similarly. Sullivan quoted and responded to passages from the Fisk piece, but not in a complete, line-by-line format. He described Fisk's excusal of his attackers as a form of left-wing racism. The term fisking was first applied soon after on Instapundit and Sullivan's blog. Sullivan subsequently used the term on at least one other occasion, critiquing The Washington Post's critique of Chuck Hagel as a potential replacement for Leon Panetta as United States Secretary of Defense in December 2012.
Fisking refers to a very precise rebuttal of specific elements or analyses inside of a person's professional or academic work. Care must be taken to aggressively point out flaws within the criticized piece without treading into overly personal or inflammatory territory. Ideally, fisking should exhibit systematic and detailed analysis. It can be characterized by five traits:
- Granularity - talking about specifics. Facts. Evidence. Reasoning. Conclusions.
- Accuracy - Not countering BS with more BS
- Logical reasoning - Many people use arguments that persuade instead of prove. This is true lowering of the quality of debate, and good fisking pushes back on that.
- Citing sources - The point of fisking an article is to show that the writer's position is on weak ground. That is best done by citing credible evidence of such (not just somebody else's opinion that they are wrong).
- Civility - Fisking is adult criticism of the issues. People will not read something if it's written by a petulant child. Life is too short.
Following these traits should help the person doing the fisking to stay focused and avoid trailing off into merely denouncing the article in question. Fisking is meant to be a meaningful contribution to a debate, regardless of the veracity of either side's claims. However, while the techniques behind fisking are rigid and seriously minded, there is still room for humor (See James Joyner's fisking of the Declaration of Independence). Pointing out humorous fallacies is well within the confines of fisking and should not be disregarded.
The news blogosphere has numerous examples of fisking which have propagated widely throughout the internet. One such example is the Washington Post's Max Fisher's fisking of Vladimir Putin over his op-ed in the New York Times concerning possible American intervention in Syria. Fisher blasted Putin for pro-Russian propaganda in the piece and critiqued his view's on American motives for acting in Syria and the role of Russia in the development of the Syrian Civil War. However, the Washington Post has come under fire for its own share of articles in the past. Concerning the pending Senate confirmation hearing of Sen. Chuck Hagel the Washington Post released an article that examined the potential changes to policy in the Defense Department should the confirmation of Hagel proceed. Andrew Sullivan took aim at the article as an example of the flawed mindset of beltway pundits concerning political developments in Washington. Sullivan's chief complaint was the forceful injection of partisanship into a non-partisan political issue.
Comparisons and distinctions
Fisking can be compared to the Usenet style of responding to an argument's specific points by quoting lines prefixed with the ">" character (which contrasts with the style often found in e-mail of top-posting a reply, all in one piece).
Fisking is different from flaming, with which it is sometimes confused. Fisking is not verbal abuse, although it may contain a degree of derision and scorn. Fisking should always be primarily factual, though it need not necessarily be polite.
|Look up fisking in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- William Safire (February 19, 2006). "Blargon". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-16. "He also notes "Another good blog term is to fisk, from Robert Fisk, a U.K. journalist. That's when you take an article and reprint it on your blog adding your line-by-line critique. It comes from bloggers doing that to Fisk's work, and now you'll hear 'That was some fisking of Bush's State of the Union.' ""
- Jargon File entry fisking
- Archbishop on end of a good Fisking, The Observer, June 19, 2005
- Spolsky, Joel (2004-09-06). "It's Not Just Usability". Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- How computers make kids dumb, The Register, Monday March 21, 2005
- Antonia Zerbisias, Author Doesn't Give a Flying Fisk About Fisking, Toronto Star, November 29, 2005
- The Daily Dish, Sunday, December 9, 2001, Internet Archive
- Fisk, Robert (December 9, 2001). "My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war". The Independent. Independent News & Media. Archived from the original on 2001-12-10. Retrieved 2008-03-09. (Internet Archive, posted and archived the day after it was written and responded to, perhaps due to time zone differences)
- Fisking The Washington Post
- Declaration of Independence: A Fisking, Outside the Beltway July 4, 2006
- Vladimir Putin's New York Times op-ed, annotated and fact checked, The Washington Post, September 12, 2013
- Fisking the Washington Post, The Dish, December 19, 2012
- Top-post definition, from "the Jargon File": http://catb.org/jargon/html/T/top-post.html