Storm erupts when Tarek Fatah accuses media panel of racism
March 6, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
Media personality Tarek Fatah (right) confronts Jonathan Kay, managing editor of the National Post, during a panel discussion last week. Fatah accused Kay, along with Michael Coren, Sun TV; Carole MacNeil, CBC; and panel moderator Avi Benlolo of racism.
TORONTO – Media personality Tarek Fatah stormed out of a panel discussion about media perceptions of the Middle East last week after accusing three prominent journalists of being white racists.
Fatah was on a panel with Michael Coren (Sun TV), Carole MacNeil (CBC) and Jonathan Kay (National Post) last Thursday at the University of Toronto.
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), moderated the FSWC event.
Fatah became enraged after panelists used the term “fixer” to describe people who are hired to help journalists working in foreign countries.
Fixers can arrange security, facilitate border crossings, set up meetings, or act as interpreters.
Fatah dubbed the term racist and said Western journalists in foreign countries sit in expensive hotels while local journalists do their work for little money and no credit. He said he had been a fixer in Pakistan.
“The term used to be the ‘stringer,’” he said. “The stringer today is...disgustingly called a fixer, almost as if he is the pimp over there, getting the cab and the drinks and arranging everything.”
When the other panelists disagreed, Fatah became infuriated.
As Kay spoke positively about using a fixer in Ramallah and added that he had spent $500 on gifts at the woman’s store, Fatah interjected, “I’m shocked by your racist view!”
The three journalists and Benlolo laughed in seeming confusion, as did the audience. Fatah stood up and shouted that he was leaving because of racism.
“She’s a fixer?” Fatah demanded. “She’s a hooker? What do you mean? You four white people telling me that a racist term of a fixer, you’re laughing at it?...I thought that white people had gone beyond that. You have not moved an inch.”
Kay responded, “This woman in Ramallah was white.... Why is this a bad thing? And fixer is not like the n-word, it’s not like the f-word.”
“White?” hollered Fatah. “She was white? How was she white in Ramallah?”
Just as the situation was calming down and Fatah was leaving, his daughter Natasha Fatah stood in the audience and shouted, “Jonathan, you shouldn’t have made that remark about buying gifts. She’s not a prostitute.”
Kay responded, “She’s an entrepreneur at a shop; it’s one of the finest shops in Ramallah.”
Tarek Fatah screamed, “You do this sh*t here in this university?...No racist ever meant harm. Who meant harm to me ever? No, I’m a f***ing fixer,” and stormed out.
Kay said, “I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation. I talk about a commercial transaction at a store, I brought it up to refute the idea that somehow any dealing with someone who helps a journalist is inherently racist, which itself is crazy.”
After Natasha Fatah left, she wrote on her Facebook page that it was a terrible night “...when people you thought were good and decent, reveal their racism, and you find out your offence isn’t worth their time because you’re just another Paki.”