Seymour Hersh, a once-celebrated reporter, has a new “investigative” article in the London Review of Books about the death of Osama bin Laden. He claims that it was all a put-up job between the U.S. and the Pakistani governments, that Saudi Arabia was secretly paying off Bin Laden, that Islamabad knew about the operation all along, that the Navy SEALs sliced and diced Osama and tossed his body parts out of a helicopter, etc., etc. Frankly it’s almost impossible to follow the skein of Hersh’s conspiracy theory which is based on nothing but innuendo supplied by a couple of people who might have heard something from someone at some time.
Peter Bergen, a real reporter who has written a well-documented book about the search for Bin Laden, aptly summarizes Hersh’s article as “a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.” Bergen went to the trouble of contacting Hersh’s only named source, a former director of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, to ask about Hersh’s allegations. Here is what he heard back: “When I emailed Durrani after the Hersh piece appeared, Durrani said he had ‘no evidence of any kind’ that the ISI knew that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad but he still could ‘make an assessment that this could be plausible.’ This is hardly a strong endorsement of one of the principal claims of Hersh’s piece.”
In fact it’s probable, as numerous previous reporters have speculated, that the ISIS did know where bin Laden was living; what’s implausible is that Pakistan then cooperated with the US to stage a raid which embarrassed the Pakistani army and which set back US-Pakistan relations.
This article at Vox also exposes how far-fetched Hersh’s insinuations are.
My only question is: Why is anyone even bothering to fact check Hersh anymore? True, he is celebrated for two big scoops—My Lai in 1969 and Abu Ghraib in 2004. Not coincidentally both were tales of atrocities committed by American soldiers (Hersh has a 1960s counterculture world view), and in both cases Hersh was essentially spilling the results of documented, internal army investigations, whose accuracy was soon confirmed by the government itself. These genuine “scoops” are a world away from the kind of fantasy and hearsay in which Hersh traffics most of the rest of the time.
Ten years ago, I published a column pointing out how ridiculous Hersh had become. And he hasn’t gotten any more reputable in the past ten years. As the Vox article points out, in recent years Hersh has been claiming, inter alia, that Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta secretly control the U.S. Special Operations Forces—the kind of claim that will be plausible to those who think that Dan Brown is a non-fiction writer but to no one else. Hersh also “reported” on how the Bush administration was supposedly about to begin World War III with Iran based on a “false flag” operation — a war that, inconveniently for Hersh, never quite arrived.
At least when Hersh publishes in the New Yorker there is some slight check on his fantasizing but even his New Yorker articles have been riddled with unsupportable (and most likely false) claims. His articles elsewhere are essentially worthless except for their inadvertent humor value.
Frankly I feel unhappy even writing about Hersh. Instead of exposing Hersh, we really should be ignoring him.