Saturday, September 28, 2013


I consider Seymour Hersh to be both a personal friend and a hero of American journalism.  His recent rant, delivered to an audience in London, and turned into an article this week in The Guardian is must-read and must-think-about material.



It has also pissed a lot of people off, including other journalist friends I love and respect, several of whom have opined somewhat grumpily, “Well, Sy has been known to lie himself,” or slightly more circumspectly, “Sy’s published some inaccurate stories without discernible sources.”


Really?  No cases I can readily cite of either crime.


Honestly, as infuriating as Sy can be with his, well-earned perhaps, superiority complex, and tendency to be dismissive of anyone else's reporting, I can't think of any serious "lying" he might have done (at least to his readers), or any cases in which I suspected his often-unnamed (usually for good reasons) sources did not exist.

I think Hersh is right that there has been a sea change in reporting between the Bush2 and Obama eras, in part because it was the habit of Bush and Cheney and their junior partners like Rumsfeld, Wolkowitz, Tenet, C Rice, et al, to string together fake-facts that confirmed their often ignorant and ideological assumptions, and then make it as hard as possible to prove them wrong, while Obama and his gang of enablers (Gibbs, Axelrod, Kerry, Clinton, S Rice, Donilon, Pannetta, Petraeus) simply dissemble and walk away, confident they and their statements will not be directly challenged by journalists.


The Bush team, like Reagan's before them, were supremely confident in their own stupidities, while the less ideological, less committed, more pragmatic Obamians are more aware of how much they don't know and how dangerous for them it would be politically, if everyone else found that out.


Sy's unfortunately undocumented rant (he's a much lazier pundit than he is a reporter) does reflect a reality of shifts in news media budgeting -- more money for stars, less for workers; more for sets or graphic redesigns, less for reporting, and editorial (ir)responsibility -- more opinion, preferably loud, mindless argument, less actual information and analysis.  Then there is the time-for-thought (and research) foreshortening that has come with the 24 hours news cycle, and on TV in particular, the abandonment of public service for private profit (whose insane growth itself has been a major displacer of old budgeting priorities).


The lobotomizing of public information and the public discussions which depend on it is probably the most indelible marker of America's tragic national decline since World War 2.  The news media (especially television)-applied cannula to the nation's frontal lobes has enabled the shallow thinking and unscrupulous illogic of today's hyper-partisans by denying them even the expectation, much less the necessity of factual information on which to base their opinions.


Challenging authority, which Sy rightly calls one of our main reportorial assignments, demands hard, time-consuming work to acquire the facts and understand and order them to make the challenging counter-argument.  No one has exemplified that meticulous scholarship than Seymour Hersh. 


Today's news media (1) do not hire troublemakers (like Sy) who would pick up the challenge; (2) do not encourage the people they do hire to aspire to think outside conventionality; (3) will not publish anything which might "cause trouble" for themselves, their institutions or for the powerful people with whom they socialize or aspire to; (4) do not permit the off-the-ball research necessary to get to the bottom of counter-conventional reality; (5) consider that kind of real reporting "unaffordable," just as today's political and business leaders consider any real social safety net for poor or elderly citizens to be "unaffordable."  After all, most of them either looked the other way, or actively participated when public and corporate money that could have been spent on pension and health insurance obligations was diverted into executive’s or shareholder’s bank accounts.


I wish Sy had bothered to structure his argument more rigorously and to buttress it with checkable facts rather than unverifiable assertions, like his claim that the story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden is "a pack of lies," but do I think he is in any way wrong in his broad-scale conclusions about today’s news business?  Sadly, I do not.


To Sy, I only say, as we once used to imprint at the bottom of every page, “More, More More.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for bringing my attention to the Guardian article, Dave. Inspiring.