Digging Into Seymour Hersh - You don´t have to scratch too deeply to find an enormous reservoir of left-wing bias (LA TIMES COMMENTARY) Max Boot 01/27/05)
LOS ANGELES TIMES
LOS ANGELES TIMES Articles-Index-Top
It has become a cliche to call Bob Woodward and Seymour Hersh the
greatest investigative reporters of their generation — Woodward the
consummate insider, Hersh the ultimate outsider. In truth the
differences outweigh the similarities.
Though he achieved fame by bringing down a Republican administration,
Woodward is no ideologue. His only bias, as far as I can tell, is in
favor of his sources. Within those parameters he produces invaluable,
if incomplete, accounts of government deliberations.
Hersh, on the other hand, is the journalistic equivalent of Oliver
Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture
conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government.
In the 1960s the boogeyman was the "military- industrial complex."
Now it´s the "neoconservatives." "They overran the bureaucracy, they
overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the
military!" Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.
Hersh doesn´t make any bones about his bias. "Bush scares the hell
out of me," he said. He told a group in Washington, "I´m a better
American than 99% of the guys in the White House," who are "nuts"
and "ideologues." In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John
Ashcroft "demented." Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu
Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has
claimed that since 2001 a "secret unit" of the U.S. government "has
been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians
did." And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army
platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a
Hersh hasn´t printed the execution story, which suggests it may not
meet even his relaxed reportorial standards, but what he does run is
a confusing farrago of fact and fiction. His latest New Yorker
article, "The Coming Wars," is a perfect example.
Based almost entirely on anonymous sources ("a Pentagon advisor" is
not to be confused with "a Pentagon consultant"), it starts off with
the allegation that the United States is planning strikes against
Iranian nuclear facilities. I hope so. But planning isn´t the same
thing as doing. Hersh´s article offers no reason to think a war
really is "coming."
In the rest of the piece, he writes about how Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld is expanding the Pentagon´s covert anti-terrorism
activities and intelligence-gathering. True enough. According to Bart
Gellman of the Washington Post (a real investigative ace), Rumsfeld
has created a new spy unit to make up for the CIA´s deficiencies.
Gellman´s Jan. 23 story has all sorts of specifics that the New
Yorker piece lacks, including the unit´s name (the Strategic Support
Branch). Hersh´s contribution is to spin this into something
nefarious by including anonymous speculation that military operatives
might sponsor foreign "execution squads" or even carry out "terrorist
activities." Umm, guess we´ll have to take your word for it, Sy.
But how good is Hersh´s word? His record doesn´t inspire confidence.
In 1986 he published a book suggesting that the Soviets shot down a
South Korean airliner because they mistook it for a U.S. spy plane —
a claim debunked by the opening of Soviet archives. In 1997 he
published a book full of nasty allegations about John F. Kennedy that
was widely panned. As part of that project he tried to peddle a
documentary based on forged documents.
Few facts in Hersh´s stories are checkable by an outsider, but, of
those that are, a number turn out to be false. In November 2001, he
claimed that 16 AC-130 gunships participated in a raid (a "near
disaster") on Mullah Mohammed Omar´s compound in Afghanistan. There
were only nine AC-130s in the entire region, and they are never used
more than one or two at a time. In a story in October 2001, he
claimed that Predator drones cost $40 million; the actual price tag
is $2.5 million. In the latest article, he says two Pentagon policy
officials would be in the "chain of command" for covert operations;
the actual chain of command runs from the secretary of Defense to
military commanders in the field.
OK, anyone can make a mistake, but all of Hersh´s errors run in one
direction: toward making the U.S. government look bad. His November
2001 article included a quote, hilarious in retrospect, from "one
officer" who claimed, "This is no war for Special Operations." That
ran a month before special operators toppled the Taliban. The April
7, 2001, issue of the New Yorker contained his article quoting
a "former intelligence official" who said of the invasion of
Iraq, "It´s a stalemate now." Two days later, Baghdad fell.
Even his celebrated Abu Ghraib stories were marred by unsubstantiated
claims that Rumsfeld had "encouraged" the "sexual humiliation of
Iraqi prisoners." How does this square with the fact that the Abu
Ghraib scandal — like the My Lai massacre — was uncovered first not
by Hersh but by Army investigators?
It´s hard to know why anyone would take seriously a "reporter" whose
writings are so full of, in Ted Kennedy´s words, "maliciousness and
innuendo." That Hersh remains a revered figure in American journalism
suggests that the media have yet to recover from the paranoid style
of the 1960s. (Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times 01/27/05)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY