Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Gossip Journalism

Writing for the April 18, 2005 issue of New York Magazine, Chris Suellentrop ably points out journalist Seymour Hersh's issues with the truth:

Since the Abu Ghraib story broke eleven months ago, The New Yorker’s national-security correspondent, Seymour Hersh, has followed it up with a series of spectacular scoops. Videotape of young boys being raped at Abu Ghraib. Evidence that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may be a “composite figure” and a propaganda creation of either Iraq’s Baathist insurgency or the U.S. government. The active involvement of Karl Rove and the president in “prisoner-interrogation issues.” The mysterious disappearance of $1 billion, in cash, in Iraq. A threat by the administration to a TV network to cut off access to briefings in retaliation for asking Laura Bush “a very tough question about abortion.” The Iraqi insurgency’s access to short-range FROG missiles that “can do grievous damage to American troops.” The murder, by an American platoon, of 36 Iraqi guards.

Not one of these exclusives appeared in the pages of The New Yorker, however. Instead, Hersh delivered them in speeches on college campuses and in front of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and on public-radio shows like “Democracy Now!” In most cases, Hersh attaches a caveat—such as “I’m just talking now, I’m not writing”—before unloading one of his blockbusters, which can send bloggers and reporters scurrying for confirmation.

Every writer understands that there is a gap between the print persona and the actual self, but Hersh subscribes to a bright-line test, a wider chasm than is usually acknowledged, particularly in today’s multimedia age.

Sy Hersh Says It’s Okay to Lie (Just Not in Print)

Suellentrop draws a clear distinction between Hersh's verbal comments and his written work, giving the latter much more credibility. Unfortunately, Hersh's writings reflect the same record of outlandish inaccuracy as his spoken utterances. During the Afghanistan campaign in October 2001, Hersh published an absurdly overwrought account of a special operations raid against the Taliban that allegedly went horribly awry. In late March 2003, he wrote an article implying that US forces would be lucky to fight their way back to Kuwait, never mind taking Baghdad. In April 2004, Hersh returned to the topic of Afghanistan, stating that the "situation there is deteriorating rapidly". Hmm, not quite. While Hersh did help break the Abu Ghraib abuse story, even here much of his reporting has been less than accurate. Hersh's track record, in short, is not exactly the best.

The simple truth is that Seymour Hersh's journalism is politically motivated hackwork based in large part on anonymous "sources" passing along third-hand gossip. Many of these informants are merely cranks and malcontents who tell Hersh exactly what he wants to hear. Take for example, the Air Force officer who allegedly greeted Hersh by saying "welcome to Stalingrad" during last November's battle for Fallujah. The quote comes from this December 2004 Hersh speech that must be read to be believed. Other Hersh sources have included conspiracy peddler Karen Kwiatkowski. Hersh himself has become one of the main purveyors of the infantile "neocon cabal" thesis, and numerous other equally ridiculous and unsubtantiated notions such as those mentioned by Suellentrop.

In short, Seymour Hersh's vaunted investigative reporting is the national security version of a highly opinionated gossip column.


Post a Comment

<< Home