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Ear to the Ground

Seymour Hersh on Fixing Journalism With a Hatchet

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Posted on Sep 27, 2013
Eckehard Schulz/dapd

Seymour Hersh.

Seymour Hersh, the reporter who exposed the My Lai massacre in 1969 and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004, wants to shutter the major news bureaus, fire 90 percent of editors and generally make journalists outsiders again.

Hersh thinks NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden made surveillance into a real debate because Snowden put verifiable documents in the hands of editors who otherwise wouldn’t touch the theme. But Hersh is doubtful the revelations alone will change the course of history.

“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 told The Guardian newspaper in an interview Friday.

He paused to offer a timid endorsement of his profession:

“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.”

But he returned to his criticism when the subject of Obama came up:

“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]?

“[H]ow does [Obama] get away with the drone programme,” he continued. “[W]hy 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.”

When The Guardian asked for a solution, Hersh came out with his conclusion that most editors are cowardly and should be fired.

“I’ll tell you the solution,” he said. “Get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can’t control. 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.’ ”

That scenario is almost unimaginable.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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