Seymour Hersh on US media

The legendary investigative journalist apparently has a new book coming out and recently he gave a talk in London where he lambasted the ‘pathetic’ state of the US media today.

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

“It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],” he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “changed the whole nature of the debate” about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government’s policy.

“Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we’ve all written the notion there’s constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it’s real now,” Hersh says.

Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.

“Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren’t we doing more? How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence? Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is?

I have written before about the filters in Chomsky and Hermann’s propaganda model of the media that results in propagandistic coverage while while individual reporters and editors are confident that they are free to report freely. Hersh says that he saw this happening during his time at the New York Times.

“I’ll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can’t control,” he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don’t get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say ‘I don’t care what you say’.

Of course, those people will be fired. That is how the media filters work to create bland conformity.

Oddly enough, after such a critique, the article says that “Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.” Surely he must realize that the US media is intimidated by the national security state and will rarely say anything against it without prior government approval.


  1. trucreep says

    Just regarding your last paragraph, I’m not sure if the wording or how you lead into his quote made it confusing, but it looks like you made it look like he’s saying that he DOES understand why they held back the files. I think your comment on that reflects that you’re aware he does not understand why, but the way its quoted makes it look like he thinks that he does understand.

    “Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.”

  2. trucreep says

    Otherwise a GREAT read. I’m particularly interested in what he’s saying about the raid on Osama Bin Laden…

  3. dean says

    I’m particularly interested in what he’s saying about the raid on Osama Bin Laden

    Seconded. I wonder why, if he believes this and has what he considers proof, he has not published before. Perhaps it is in the new book?

  4. dean says

    Just looked around. The loon sites – orlytait’s, dailypaul, infowars, are all jumping on the “big lie” comment. It is sad to see those folks, who would have gutted Hersh had they been around during the Viet Nam war, now using his name as a tool.

  5. Jeffrey Johnson says

    I wonder what the big lies are about the bin Laden raid.

    I don’t doubt that lots of details are left out, or that some bad stuff was sanitized.

    I also doubt that the core substance of the story is a lie: bin Laden was living there, a couple of helicopters full of Navy Seals flew in there and killed him, and anyone else that got in their way.

    What I’m amazed by is the claim that Obama is worse than Bush. But then I suppose one needs to gin up controversy to sell books. Hersh has done really great reporting over the years, notably exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the Abu Ghraib torture regime, and the existence of special programs in the
    Pentagon authorizing torture from the very top level. As a regular reader of the New Yorker for a few decades, I’ve really enjoyed reading his contributions. But I don’t think he is above a little exaggeration in the interest of self-promotion.

    Obama is worse than Bush because of the drone attacks? I don’t think so. If Bush had limited the war to drone attacks, rather than full on invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, at least a hundred thousand dead would be alive today, not to mention a lot of chaos and destruction would have been avoided. No matter how critical one is of the drone attacks, I just can’t see how one could make a serious argument that it is worse than the twin full scale invasions of Bush.

  6. Jeffrey Johnson says

    I suppose if you turn the cynicism dial and the exaggeration dial both up to 11, you could come up with the idea that President Obama is a “war monger”. It really depends on your definition of war monger, but if you consult a dictionary, it seems that arguing the proposition that “President Obama is a war monger” would very likely be the losing side in a real debate.

    I think we’ve seen pretty clearly that war is not his solution to every problem, and that he exercises restraint in his application of military solutions compared to the twin full scale invasions of Bush. Bush represented himself as a “compassionate conservative” and as wanting to have a “humble foreign policy”.

    Obama, on the other hand, clearly stated during the campaign that he would go into Pakistan to get bin Laden if the Pakistani government could not or would not do what needed to be done. John McCain on the other hand would not go that far (at least in what he was willing to say on the campaign trail). I think we all know that McCain would have gone much further than he was willing to admit to in pre-election debates.

    During the campaign Obama called the Iraq war a dumb war, but said Afghanistan was justified since it was the source of 9/11 attacks on the US.

    So the difference between campaign Bush and White House Bush seems to me quite a bit larger than the difference between campaign Obama and White House Obama. In fact Obama has stayed fairly close to what my expectations were of his foreign policy, and I’m not sure how anyone could argue otherwise unless their foreign policy expectations were formed entirely on wishful thinking rather than on anything Obama said. Of course it all depends on how idealistic one’s expectations were prior to the inauguration. Mine were apparently much less idealistic than those of many Obama voters, and so there were fewer disappointments, and for those disappointments that really bothered me, it was tempered by the fact that based on experience I expected there to be many disappointments, and I recognize the limitations on the President’s ability to control events.

    Given the President’s approach to Libya and Syria, it’s not hard to imagine that if he had been in office at the outset of the Afghan invasion, our mission might not have expanded to a full invasion, a committment to permanently eliminate the Taliban, and a nation building operation. It’s quite plausible that we would have just bombed the Al Qaeda camps and engaged in direct attacks on Al Qaeda personel and resources. And the idea, triumphantly touted by the Bush Administration, that fighting terrorism was a “war” rather than what the GOP openly and derisively mocked as a “police action”, may not have prevailed. It is quite sensible that fighting terror mostly involves tracing finances, monitoring movement of people and communications, gathering intelligence, cooperating and sharing information with other governments, building evidence regarding who is a threat and who is not a threat to the US. I think this description is closer to how international law enforcement fights drug traffickers, human traffickers, and illegal arms dealers. It is much more law enforcement than war, even though there is in my view greater justification for killing the suspects if arrest and prosecution is infeasible.

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