I will admit to a knee-jerk skepticism when it comes to widely revered white dudes, a class of people I almost never like outside of pop culture, so it follows that where a shocking number of others see a bold, life-long iconoclast giving a corrupt, subservient media what it deserves, I see an arrogant, self-infatuated creep — one of the public sphere’s official liberal “outsiders” — hurling lame insults at a reporter politely asking perfectly reasonable questions. I don’t fault Hersh for having a short fuse in the wake of a minor smear campaign, but I don’t see why the interviewer, Isaac Chotiner, who I’m fairly sure hasn’t written any of the hit pieces on Hersh, is obliged to do penance for them.
I also couldn’t help noticing how the fearless giver of no shit and prolific sayer of “fuck” was all diplomacy here when asked to comment on The New Yorker‘s stellar contribution to the original OBL raid disinformation campaign. He must have been in a better mood. It can’t be that The New Yorker, in addition to being an accomplished conduit for imperial propaganda, has also for years been freelancer Hersh’s biggest client.
But all of the above is less bothersome to me than ostensible reds in social media uncritically whooping it up over Hersh claiming revered white dude immunity via childish insults, and their enthusiasm for the story that’s put him back in the news in the first place. Feel free to believe that I’m just being a contrarian again, because, as a pathological narcissist living in his mom’s basement, there is truly nothing I crave more than being badmouthed with straw men and smears for months at a time.
But an alternative theory, one for which there is decidedly more evidence, is that I grow increasingly weary of credulous adults uncritically choosing sides in dust-ups between varying factions of the ruling class and its security apparatus. Put another way, if it ain’t anticapitalist, it ain’t worth a fuck, no matter how many times it gives the poodles on Team Frick the finger. I was a liberal once, but I am apparently bereft of all residue to which these little Bad Dad/Good Dad spectacles call. I also have none of the cultish faith in the subversive power of information these dramas presuppose, particularly information imparted by journalists reliant on anonymous sources within the military, intelligence and diplomatic communities.
Perhaps I don’t know my own motivations, but for whatever reason, Hersh’s story smells funny to me for the following reasons:
It really is old news. Hersh, himself, in the midst of calling for reform of the media establishment, said the OBL raid story was a lie in 2013. Why didn’t he write the full report then? Security expert R. J. Hillhouse told most of the newsworthy details in 2011. This is important, because it provokes an obvious question, why the fuss now? And why hasn’t Hersh even mentioned Hillhouse anywhere? The timing suggests some agenda other than service to the truth is in play, and I’m going to assume it’s an agenda in which I have no stake.
Secondly, for all of Hersh’s anti-establishment bluster, his story corroborates the official story in broad strokes: Bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad; he was killed in a raid by Navy Seals; and his body was unavailable for inspection by the public. So the news here, really, is that the intelligence apparatus and its proxies remade the story as a Psy Op, the way they do everything. Except for the true Obama believers and the kill-happy nitwits on the right, the official story smelled like bullshit from day one, as all official stories do. So why should I give a fuck about the details now, especially given that they come almost entirely from a single, seemingly omniscient “retired senior intelligence official” cited over 60 times.
Third, of the three governments discussed in Hersh’s story — the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — the US comes out smelling the best, by far. Hersh’s “blockbuster” threatens to create far bigger difficulties for officials in Pakistan — over conspiring with the US to kill Bin Laden — and for Saudi Arabia, whose payoff to Pakistan Hersh claims was rooted in fear that OBL would talk about Saudi involvement in 9/11. Hersh also does quite a lot of fear-mongering around Pakistan’s nuclear capability, both in his piece and in interviews.
Finally, there is Hersh himself, who, while I grant has done an exceptional amount of extremely valuable journalism — relatively speaking — has had a lifelong dependence on inside sources inhabiting the shadiest regions of empire and its clients. The problems with this should be obvious and harken back to my misgivings about agendas, but let’s let Noam — commenting on a different story — spell it out:
[Hersh] is a terrific reporter and I am sure that he is reporting exactly what was told him, but his sources are intelligence officials and diplomats, unnamed, and their task is not to tell people the truth. Their task is to tell people what they want them to hear, maybe true, may not be true, but you got to understand that any report by any reporter from an unidentified intelligence or diplomatic source is reporting what they want you to believe. OK, maybe what they want you to believe is correct, maybe they have some other reason and so on, but you always have to understand that.
Anyway, enjoy the show, but go easy on me for once again declining to suspend disbelief the way one does for cartoons and comic books. And keep those Gary Webb comparisons coming. Savvy knowing knowers pretending to know things never ceases to entertain.
h/t to @imlikenew for usefully feeding my doubts.
UPDATE (link to this update)
Just like Gary Webb, LOL. I think old Sy is gonna land on his feet as he always has, Gary Webbing and all! From a recent interview Hersh did with The Real News:
On Seal Team 6:
these are good people, this is the, sort of the cream of the crop of this, the special forces.
On US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Torture, killings, mur–I mean, a lot of very bad stuff that, you know, I–one could argue that America had to get that bloody in the war on terror. That makes sense to me. But there was an awful lot of not so much smart stuff.
On why Obama went public with a mission that was intended to be a secret:
He went public because I’m sure that he got tremendous pressure after they realized they’d killed him to go–to not wait ten days or seven days. You–you know, you’ve got a Republican guy, Bob Gates, in the, running the Defense Department. He’s involved. You’ve got a lot of guys that like to brag, and the military are always full of guys that yap. You can’t be sure you, in a week or ten days, you can hold the secret. So go.
On whether or not Obama deliberately lied:
I don’t know whether he knew that what he was writing was inaccurate or not. I just don’t know. Because often a president is confronted, you know, he’s dealt with what he gets. I have no information about that…this was a speech that was just written by the political guys, as I’ve been told, emphatically.
On the impact of his story on President Obama:
I’m a, I–you know, I support, you know. Just as a human being, I voted for him twice, and I think he’s the smartest president we’ve had probably since Lincoln. You know, he’s a pretty amazing guy. And I do end up, by the piece, by saying look, the Obama of 2011 a year before reelection, you know, some black dude wants to be elected twice in America, you’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, you know, I could understand reaching out and doing what you can. And the President we have now, who is hanging tough in Iran is a different person, and telling the Republicans to go stick it where the sun don’t shine. This is a different person. So you have to say that. But there’s no question then, I hope we can get a–we won’t get a statement from him. We won’t get a real statement from the White House because it’s an embarrassment. It wasn’t the best day in the sun.