Friday, May 15, 2009

A conversation with Seymour Hersh

In a HDOE special report, eminent journalist Seymour Hersh talks about Obama’s mistakes, America’s moral responsibilities and the wonders of Al Jazeera.

As a lifelong media junkie I have always had some journalist pin up idols that I have avidly consumed, tracked and studied. Robert Kaplan and Mark Bowden (both, by coincidence contributors to the Atlantic magazine, my favourite by far) rank among the best investigative journalists of the times in my opinion. But Seymour (aka Sy) Hersh is the journalist that sits atop that exclusive group of reporters who can lay claim to original writing, meticulous research and fact-checking, illuminating analysis, dancing prose and, maybe most important of all, a scribe whose writing actually means something, stands the tests of time and becomes a catalyst for deep-seated change.

Hersh’s Pulitzer winning writing has always been a mirror to society (usually American society, but not only). It always challenges our comfort zones, presumptions and prejudices. For 45 years Sy has been banging out his master pieces. His style is quiet unique in modern-day journalism. He can spend the best part of a year methodically researching a story before publishing articles the likes of which expose the My Lai massacres during the Vietnam war, the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the real reasons behind Israel’s bombing of Syria in September 2007

He has always been a living hack hero of mine. And it’s not often you get to meet your heroes, which is what happened to me on the 12th of May in Dubai where I encountered Sy at the Arab Media Forum. Here are a few notes that I jotted down during and after, scrawled out here more or less verbatim.

Sy claimed that he came to the Arab media forum out of gratitude for the ‘empirical evidence’ they have presented during the Bush-Cheney adminstration. “Evidence that clearly showed us the brutal truth about the worst government in our history. We (the American media) failed in our mission. The press did not challenge Bush-Cheney but instead became cheerleaders after 9/11 for their WMD lies and blindly hooted for a war we were never going to win . The US press has lost so much credibility with the American people, and after the blind dance with Bush-Cheney, we are now doing the same with Obama just because he isn’t Bush!”

Obama’s deeds do not match his words

“Obama’s words are wonderful. I love them, who couldn’t? But his deeds are very unsatisfactory and he is making a hypocritical and terrible mistake in Afghanistan. He is perpetuating the Bush-Cheney mentality that force works. He is continuing with the arrogance of empire by telling the Afghans and Pakistani’s “we know what’s best for you”. Afghanistan is a war that cannot be won yet Obama has agreed to a surge of 17’000 troops. This will in essence be 17’000 more dead civilians, 17’000 more Taliban and God knows how many more body bags filled with young American men. Obama has jumped feet first into the trap that airpower and military strength are all that is needed to defeat the Taliban. It is very upsetting to watch our President going down a one-way road to Hell.”

Al Jazeera’s leading light

“Al Jazeera has had an enormous impact and has broken the west’s monopoly on how the world views conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. Their coverage of Gaza was nothing short of remarkable. While most American people are still denied the right to view Al Jazeera many networks were forced to carry their reports and images simply because they were so insightful. Gaza also proved, if needed, the objectivity and professionalism of Al Jazeera – a media organization that Bush-Cheney planned to bomb into oblivion at one time simply because its coverage exposed their lies about how the consequences of war on civilians in Iraq. 

Al Jazeera still knocks out great reporting from Gaza but the world doesn’t seem to care. Why don’t more media write about Gaza? Why don’t more media write about what is not happening in Gaza (movement of goods and people, employment, education, health) – where people are being daily denied their basic rights. And why do the media not write about the collaboration of Egypt in all this? Why is that story not confronted? When is Israel going to realize that all it takes is to provide people with what they need to live their lives in dignity? Obama should realize this fact in Afghanistan instead of stacking up the military might.” (Head down Eyes Opener in Chief, during a recent visit to Al Jazeera hq in Doha).

What is this New America?

“The truth about Afghanistan raises questions about what the new Obamamerica will be. In America there is no discussion on what is our moral obligation to the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan whose societies we have bombed and whose loved ones we have killed and tortured. All we talk about is “bringing the troops home” but nothing about what we are leaving behind or what responsibilities we have to right the wrongs of our violence on innocent civilians. I often try to picture an Iraqi child who was around three or four years of age when Rumsfeld arrived with his shock and awe. That boy is about ten today. What is his world view? What sort of a man will he grow into?”

Hersh concludes with unveiled counsel to Obama: “In America today there is still a collective fear based on ignorance about the Middle East – fear is dominant. George Bush helped my career enormously. I just hope Obama doesn’t!”



  1. Great article by a great mind

  2. He was Vice President for eight years. Have we learned to spell his name yet?

  3. Apologies for misspelling Chain Knees name - in the spirit of blogging, we post warts and all. Spontaneous 'verbatim' which speaks of the moment it was written. If you have time take a read of this. Its a view I share on blogging:

  4. Yes, well, be a diarist or be a journalist. If it's all about you, why should we care? If it's about something bigger you have responsibilities.

    This was funny: "This form of instant and global self-publishing ... allows for no retroactive editing" I note Cheney's got his name back.

  5. There's a difference between retroactive editing and revision (which responds to readers - even anonymous ones - comments). Editing would entail censorship or rewriting a particular angle etc. Also, Sullivan's piece is one of the few articles I have read about blogging that is written by a serious journalist. It is not however a treatise on blogging, merely a viewpoint which I happen to agree with (esp. in the absence of so little guidance on this topic given its relative newness - unless we apply such long-standing concepts as Universal grammar, espoused by Chomsky et al, which emphasizes the priority of successfully communicating over grammatical pedantry). I think Dick Cheney can rest easy about HDEO misspelling his name, he has far bigger concerns about how history will treat his name.

  6. Hey anonymous, we know who you are dude!

  7. Good to be jolted out of our comfort zone with Obama. After all there is only so much one man can do to escape American hubris. It is also nice to see Hersh acknowledging the excellence of Al Jazeera's reporting on the shameful Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip, all too quickly forgotten as the mainstream media turns its attention to ponder the significance of Netanyahu's demand for Palestinian recognition of the Jewishness of Israel, a subject which dominates the increasingly bland and boring editorial pages of the International Herald Tribune.