According to a report published in the London Review of Books and more widely disseminated online by AlterNet, General Martin Dempsey and a handful of U.S. intelligence chiefs went behind their commander-in-chief’s back to undermine his Mideast policy and prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
If the story by veteran prize-winning and widely respected American journalist Sy Hersh were even mostly true, I’d be aghast, incredulous, mind-boggled and otherwise astonished that:
- The story hadn’t been picked up by any mainstream media #MSM outlet either in the United States or abroad as far as Google can find.
- Nobody had yet pointed out that General Dempsey’s actions, again if true, almost certainly constitute treason.
It turns out that the “if it were even mostly true” qualifier requires a large lick of salt and still resists swallowing whole.
Hersh’s early career was stunningly successful. He unveiled the horror of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and later the national embarrassment of Abu Graib Prison. But in recent years his reporting has caused a lot of raised eyebrows and skepticism. Seth Maxon at Slate.com offered a fairly tempered but highly critical examination of Hersh’s 2013-2014 work in the Middle East and most recently, Max Fisher at Vox.com fairly well discredited Hersh’s latest story with surgical precision.
I encourage you to read the AlterNet reporting of Hersh’s account. If you’re really drawn to the subject, Hersh’s original 8,000-word essay takes on a certain amount of gravitas just by its length and the hammering of the “evidence” Hersh offers.
But when all is read and done, I suspect that, like me, you’ll come away with a greater sense of dismay over the state of journalism today and over the decline and fall of yet another respected journalist in the opening years of this Millennium. It feels, at the end of it, like Hersh has fallen into the footsteps of Dan Rather and Brian Williams and other lesser journalistic lights who have been trapped by their inability to adapt to a 24-hour news cycle.
I spent most of my career in journalism. The pressure to get there first with a story in a competitive market was palpable but seldom produced significant errors in reporting. That was because for the most part the news “cycle” had a calming rhythm to it that encouraged and rewarded careful research, second and third sources for critical story points, and a sense of responsibility to readers and viewers to get it right first.
Today, those luxuries are largely eschewed by news readers who are not, in any sense of the word, journalists. The urgency to be first is so driving, so incessant, that there is no time for reflection, insight, or even questioning the logic of a story’s flow or an observer or participant’s take on it. On top of the 24-hour cycle first imposed by cable news must now be layered the instant and unqualified access to the airwaves afforded by the Internet. And that situation is further exacerbated by the siloing of information to which my old friend and colleague Dave Winer recently referred. It is entirely possible today to feed yourself a steady diet of “news” that aligns with your world view, with no intrusion of inconvenient facts from sources with alternative viewpoints. In fact, that’s the rule rather than the exception. It is difficult for me to come up with a news source that it is sufficiently objective and credible — one whose “viewpoint” if it has one is clearly labeled as “opinion” or “analysis” while news is given to me straight. In fact, I’ve given up. My news reading every day consists of six to 12 different sources from which I attempt to synthesize my understanding and viewpoints.
In that context, the pressure on the older generation of newspeople who are vying for attention amid the noise, is all but unbearable.
It is unfortunate — almost tragic — to see a great investigative reporter like Hersh stumble and fall into pit after pit. But it is also perhaps unavoidable these days. While I certainly wouldn’t put myself in the same class as any of these journalists, I almost stumbled into the same pit myself when I began researching this piece. I was flabbergasted that I couldn’t find anyone in mainstream media talking about what seemed to me to be a major news story of some moment. But my old journalist’s habits of seeking another source, researching the opposition, evaluating the credibility of the information being offered in evidence won out and I saved myself a lot of potential humiliation.