Since the 60s, Seymour Hersh has been the bain of presidents from both parties. Seymour broke the My Lai story, was hired by the New York Times to cover Watergate and ended up breaking the invasion of Nixon invasion of Cambodia, and more recently, broke the story Abu Ghraib story. The Republican party once said he was, “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist”. So what does Mr Hersh think of number 44? He thinks he is a serial liar and the press are a quivering mass of sycophants.
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.”
Seymour is not a flamethrower and the fires he has started have been based on facts and many consider him the last of the great investigative journalists. He posseses at least one of every prestigious awards given to journalists. He recently gave the British paper, The Guardian an interview, in which he complained about the lies of the Obama administration and the modern day press that enables him.
Hersh is currently writing a book and he is devoting an entire chapter to the bin Laden raid. He claims that the recent independent report on the Abottabad compound contains “facts’ provided by the Obama administration, and will not hold up under scrutiny. He hints that he will be revealing unknown details.
“The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report.”
Hersh claims that the Obama administration lies systematically and that the giants in television and newsprint and the American media refuses to challenge him. “It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama].”
“It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.”
Because of their timidity, Hersh isn’t even sure that Snowden’s revelations into NSA spying will have a lasting effect. Hersh believes that Eric Snowden has changed the face of the domestic spying of the NSA, since he is able to provide so many documents, which is the gold standard in investigative journalism. But since the press is giving him a free ride on the subject, Hersh believes it will all be forgotten soon.
“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.”
“Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn’t touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game.”
“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic.”
He still believes the press could redeem itself if it wanted to.
“I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it’s not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity.”
Seymour’s investigation into My Lai is a classic tale of shoe leather over press releases. His first story on My Lai netted him $100 dollars. By the fifth story, he received $5,000 dollars, a job from the New York Times and the Pulitzer Prize. All because he refused to buy into Nixon’s narrative and went out to learn the truth for himself. It’s that work ethic that even at 76, he has lived by.
Hersh says that journalists surrendered their objectivity after 9/11 but insists that Obama is worse than Bush ever dreamed to be.
“Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What’s going on [with journalists]?”
Hersh believes that modern journalists are too award driven, which keeps them from doing their jobs properly.
“Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don’t mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that’s a serious issue but there are other issues too.”
“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? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don’t we do our own work?”
“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.”
Hersh claims it was easier to write about the Bush administration because that’s the way the wind blew, but much more difficult to write the truth about the Obama administration. “The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era.”
What are his solutions? Radical and far reaching to say the least.
“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’.”
“I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let’s start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won’t like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
And his final thoughts are:
“The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.”