There are two kinds of information journalists learn if they hang around long enough: They learn “facts” — that is, things they can actually print without being sued, and “truth” — which they can never print, but they have the satisfaction of knowing. Seymour Hersh is one of those reporters who tries to bridge those two categories, and he mostly pulls it off — although you’d never know it from all the pearl-clutching we’ve seen in the corporate media this week. Greg Grandin at The Nation:
There’s a standard boiler plate now when it comes to going after Hersh, and all Fisher, in “The Many Problems with Seymour Hersh’s Osama bin Laden Conspiracy Theory,” did was fill out the form: establish Hersh’s “legendary” status (which Fisher does in the first sentence); invoke his reporting in My Lai and Abu Ghraib; then say that a number of Hersh’s recent stories—such as his 2012 New Yorker piece that the United States was training Iranian terrorists in Nevada—have been “unsubstantiated” (of course, other reporters never “substantiated” Hersh’s claim that Henry Kissinger was directly involved in organizing the cover-up of the fire-bombing of Cambodia for years—but that claim was true); question Hersh’s sources; and then, finally, suggest that Hersh has gone “off the rails” to embrace “conspiracy theories.”
For Fisher, the “many problems” with Hersh’s report are its “contradictions”—the fact that the Pakistani ISI or the US CIA acted, if we believe what Hersh writes, incoherently. “When fact seem to squarely contradict his claims,” Fisher writes—though he should have written, when facts seem to contradict how I, Fisher, believe intelligence agencies should act—Hersh’s “answer is that this only goes to show how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Fisher was too quick by half. For the rabbit hole indeed goes deep. Just after he posted his piece, NBC news—not just “mainstream” but solidly in the Obama White House camp—confirmed one key claim in Hersh’s report: “Two intelligence sources tell NBC News that the year before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a ‘walk in’ asset from Pakistani intelligence told the CIA where the most wanted man in the world was hiding—and these two sources plus a third say that the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along.” Other sources likewise confirmed at least the broad outlines of Hersh’s counter-narrative, and as they did, the pushback against Hersh went, as Adam Johnson at FAIR put, from “this is a lie” to “what’s the big deal, we knew this all along” (everybody should follow Johnson’s twitter feed).
Fisher’s not alone in accusing Hersh of frivolity (I had hopes for Fisher, who after the New Republic implosion wrote a thoughtful reflection on that magazine’s racism. But he’s since done one of the stupider pieces I’ve read on Ecuador’s Rafael Correa; Vox seems to be trying to fill the vacuum left by The New Republic when it comes to writing silly things about Latin America). To accuse Hersh of falling under the thrall of “conspiracy theory” is to repudiate the whole enterprise of investigative journalism that Hersh helped pioneer. What has he written that wasn’t a conspiracy? But Fisher, and others, believe Hersh went too far when in a 2011 speech he made mention of the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei, tagging him as a Dan Brown fantasist. Here’s Fisher, in his debunking of Hersh’s recent essay: “The moment when a lot of journalists started to question whether Hersh had veered from investigative reporting into something else came in January 2011. That month, he spoke at Georgetown University’s branch campus in Qatar, where he gave a bizarre and rambling address alleging that top military and special forces leaders ‘are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.… many of them are members of Opus Dei.’”
But here’s Steve Coll, a reporter who remains within the acceptable margins, writing in Ghost Wars about Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey: “He was a Catholic Knight of Malta educated by Jesuits. Statues of the Virgin Mary filled his mansion.… He attended Mass daily and urged Christian faith upon anyone who asked his advice…. He believed fervently that by spreading the Catholic church’s reach and power he could contain communism’s advance, or reverse it.” Oliver North, Casey’s Iran/Contra co-conspirator, worshiped at a “’charismatic’ Episcopalian church in Virginia called Church of the Apostles, which is organized into cell groups.”
Not too long ago, no less an establishment figure than Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Washington Post, could draw the connections between the shadowy national security state and right-wing Christianity: Iran/Contra was about many things, among them a right-wing Christian reaction against the growing influence of left-wing Liberation Theology in Latin America. Likewise, the US’s post-9/11 militarism was about many things, among them the reorganization of those right-wing Christians against what they identified as a greater existential threat than Liberation Theology: political Islam. Fisher should know this, as it was reported here, here, and here, among many other places.
Also: Corey Pein fisks Max Fisher.