The Hersh hype

American reporter Seymour Hersh visited Syria and Lebanon last month and is in the process of publishing a story in The New Yorker “on Syria,” according to the British daily The Guardian.

Pulitzer Prize winner Hersh, 71, is undoubtedly one of the finest investigative journalists America has ever produced. But Hersh has grown overconfident, and his accuracy rate has declined substantially.

For instance, Hersh has prophesized an American attack on Iran many times, often giving a date. All his dates have passed, however, and with no ado. The Guardian wrote, “His supporters, though, believe that his mistakes - and even the wilder allegations he sometimes makes in speeches - should always be put in the context of his hit rate.”

But hit rates are no substitute for accuracy. Seymour Hersh’s writing has been sensationalist at best, fictional at worst.

The list of Hersh’s inaccurate reports is long. In some cases, he filed corrections. In other cases, harm was done and he simply looked the other way.

There was the time, for example, back in 1974, The Guardian reported, when Hersh “accused the US ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, of being in on a CIA plot to overthrow President Allende. Some years later, Hersh had to write a long correction; it ran on page one of the New York Times.”

And then, not too long ago, there was the last time Hersh visited Lebanon. His story – which also ran in The New Yorker on March 05, 2007 under the title “The Redirection” – was so inaccurate that one could not tell the difference between fact and faction.

The next Hersh story, which will soon run in The New Yorker, may be an update of his earlier rumor-based article on Future Movement leader Saad Hariri’s funding of terrorism.

But before the Hersh piece is out, his readers in the United States and the Middle East should keep in mind how he works, in his own words and as was reported in The Guardian.

In Beirut, Hersh himself is known for his strong links with former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who is in turn known for his staunch loyalty to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime through Assad’s political and media advisor, former Minister Buthayna Shaaban. Samaha is also known for his hostility toward the March 14 alliance, including Hariri himself.

Aside from blatant misreporting and the effect of his friendships on his journalism, Hersh’s use of sources is highly dubious. The Guardian asked Hersh whether his sources are people he has known for a long time. “No,” said Hersh, “I do pick up new people.” According to The Guardian, this Hersh tactic is flawed, for “with new contacts… there is always the danger of a plant.”

The risk of distorting the report through false witnesses runs high, and was probably the case during Hersh’s last trips to Lebanon and Syria.

According to The Guardian, Hersh’s critics also point to “what they regard as his excessive use of unnamed sources. Others accuse him of getting things wrong and of being gullible.”

In an interview with Hala Gorani on CurrentCurrent.org in May 2007, Hersh said that the White House, with Saudi Prince Bandar, had the idea of “supporting various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah… as an asset.” To Hersh, such support was tantamount to American foreign policy errors during the 1980s, using “the Saudis to support jihadists,” particularly in North Lebanon. Today, Hersh said, the business of supporting Sunnis anywhere against Shia was big. “We're in a business of creating in some places, Lebanon in particular, a sectarian violence.”

Another aspect of US policy in Lebanon, Hersh says at the end of the interview, is to support the Fouad Siniora government, “despite its weakness” against the coalition joining the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah.

Yet here, Hersh does in fact “get things wrong.” Hersh’s interview gives away his superficial understanding of the region and its politics, and in concealing parts of the story.  Why, for instance, would America, Saudi Arabia and their Lebanese allies support the Lebanese army and the government, who fought a bloody war with Fatah al-Islam, while Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah delivered a speech in which he warned the army against fighting Fatah Al-Islam, inferring that the group was a “red line?”

To substantiate his point, Hersh quoted Alastair Crooke, whom Hersh introduced as a former agent who had spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for the Beirut-based think tank Conflicts Forum. Crooke told Hersh, "One Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon." Fair enough.

According to Hersh, Crooke also said, "I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah."

Now here is the catch. Crooke "was told" that the government supported Fatah Al-Islam, to "presumably" take on Hezbollah.

Despite its rumor style, Hersh's so-called investigative report instantly hit success with Syrian media and Syria's Lebanese protégés, and was repeatedly quoted with the anti-Hariri crowd behaving as if they now have it on good authority that Hariri was funding radical Sunni groups.

As for never learning from history, while Hersh wants the United States to avoid repeating past faux pas, such as supporting Jihadists in the region, he encourages America to repeat its miserable deal with Syria over Lebanon, in 1991. Hersh forgets, however, that despite the deal at the time, Syria never helped disarm Hezbollah or other militias in Lebanon, as it promised. At least two full-scale wars erupted between Hezbollah and Israel during the Syrian control of Lebanon.

When you read Hersh’s new story in The New Yorker, do so with a grain of salt.

  • SLH

    Now Lebanon has and remains one of the most nonobjective an under-sourced publications in Lebanon, not to mention being overtly subjective and biased towards one side of Lebanese politics. To chide a respected and professional journalist by pointing to corrections that are decades apart is a testament to the flimsiness of this opinion piece. I stopped reading this publication for the exact reasons mentioned above and when i do venture a look i find that the same unprofessional attitude persists. As a journalist I see right through the political connotations prevalent in this website and urge NOW to begin a reassessment of priorities if they wish to retain any sense of legitimacy.

    November 17, 2008

  • Marco Antonio

    Any knowledgeable person with good insight into Hersh’s background and his shady methods on information gathering cannot agree more. For example, In a LA Times review, Edward Jay Epstein cast doubt on many of Hersh’s assertions in his book The Dark Side of Camelot, writing, "this book turns out to be, alas, more about the deficiencies of investigative journalism than about the deficiencies of John F. Kennedy." Responding to the same book, historian and former Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called Hersh "the most gullible investigative reporter I've ever encountered." The general public is not gullible and Hersh’s Pulitzer Prize of 1970 is very old news. He’s a pathetic sensational journalist that hasn’t made the grade in a long time and ought to go to ethics school. Looking at his past discredited sources like Lawrence Cusack, one figures out immediately why the other sources of his lies prefer to lie in hiding! Seymour who?

    November 16, 2008

  • le phenicien

    What Seymour Herch wrote about Hariri and the Saoudis financing sunni terrorism in Lebanon against the Shiia and the Christians is true .. We didn't wait for Herch to know the truth about that very well known long and very long story ..! What will be disclosed soon with proves from the Syrian Alaoui régime will confirm that and will be very and extremely important and interseting . With the new US administration and with the new French one of Sarkozy , Hariri and the Saoudi Royal Family have lost a lot and will have no more cover like the one they use to have during the period of Chirac and Bush . Hariri era is over and the Saoudi too .

    November 15, 2008

  • OmarS

    Hussein what in the world were you thinking writing this biased, B grade piece of "creative writing". Fancy "Now lebanon" criticizing a Pulitzer prize winner as "hype" and advising to take his artcles with a "grain of salt". Really bad joke

    November 14, 2008

  • rabih

    well, how funny it is to know that seymour hersh happened to be a good colleague of amy goodman, founder of democracynow!...

    November 14, 2008

  • mario correnti

    I'm sure you didn't write this report if Hersh was attacking Hezbollah e Nasrallah in his stories. What about your "sources"?

    November 14, 2008

  • Sami

    "As a Shia group, Hezbollah views Sunni fighters like Fatah al-Islam as enemies. Nasrallah said the Fatah Islam fighters who attacked the military should be brought to justice. But he said Hezbollah opposed any military incursion into the camp to crush the fighters. He said: "The Nahr el-Bared camp and Palestinian civilians are a red line. We will not accept or provide cover or be partners in this." From Aljazeera.net May 26, 2007

    November 14, 2008

  • Sami

    "Nasrallah unequivocally stated that, for Hizbullah, the army was extremely important, as it is the last "impartial" institution in the country (the quotes are mine), and that the breakdown of the army would inevitably lead to the political meltdown of Lebanon. He declared the army a "red line". But Nasrallah also went on to indicate that the Palestinians in Lebanon were another "red line", in clear reference to the shelling by the army of the Nahr el Bared Palestinian camp and the ensuing exodus of tens of thousands of people to the neighboring Beddawi camp, where they live today in squalid conditions." By Prof. Rami Zurayk

    November 14, 2008

  • Jamal

    Let me just correct on one thing , Nasrallah didn't describe Fatah al-Islam as a red line , he described the " Palestinian refugee camps " a red line , scroll back to the archive and you would find it.Back to Hersh , he indeed does have " over-reacting hyped articles " , but the man's views are correct , even though the american attack on Iran timing was false.Show me one journalist who doesn't fall into such mistakes every now and then , let us not forget those who bring up false information just because of the political party that they support , even journalism is corrupted nowadays , especially in Lebanon , you and I know that , you can't deny it, it's everywhere , like Bill O'reilly and Sean Hannity , they are 99 % of the time wrong , also check Debbie Schlussel, this woman is just unbelievable , check her website , she spreads hatred and fake news. Salom

    November 14, 2008

  • Sami

    "the Lebanese Army is a red line and must not be touched… at the same time, the [Nahr el Bared refugee] camp is a red line.”This is a quote from Nasrallah's speech delivered May 25th 2007.Also read press round- up May 28 2007 as reported by Nowlebanon itself(Al Safir)"Army storming Al Bared is a red line".He never said that Fateh Al Islam is a red line.Will Nowlebanon have the courage to correct Hussain?.Now when I read Hussain, I will do so with a grain of salt.

    November 13, 2008

  • Nael

    A two bit news organization criticizes one the most respected journalists in the world. I wonder why? maybe it's because he presents evidence that contradicts their biased accounting of the facts. This website is run by amateurs.

    November 13, 2008


    Seymour Hersh recent investigative reports have the same rubbish tabloid sensational quality as those accusing Obama of being the smooth talking AntiChrist that will seduce a nation in time of distress. Hersh specializes in one-sided sensational half truths fed to him by Syria and Hezbollah about complex regional issues he knows little about. Sadly, as Hussain pointed out in this excellent article, Hersh cares little about the people he has falsely harmed as long as he captures headlines, bask in the limelight, sell books, and enjoy exclusive access to Assad and Hizbollah top handlers. Hersh’s is to politics what paparazzi are to celebrities.

    November 13, 2008

  • ELie

    This is the hundredth time I read an anti-Hersh or anti-Fisk article. It's getting really lame. I just wished the article would've been at least fun to read. Well once again, Hussain Abdul Hussain has promoted himself through his lack of imagination.

    November 13, 2008

  • johnny blaze

    Seymour Hersh accused Prince Bandar and Saad Hariri of supporting Al qaida linked groups BEFORE Fatah-al-Islam rose to prominence. (see Hersh's January 2007 appearance on CNN) thus it is likely that Fatah al Islam started to bite the hand that fed it (as Seymour Hersh warned might happen) and Hassan Nasrallah saw through the plot to stoke sectarian violence, and decided to decribe them as "a red line"

    November 13, 2008

  • dr. saad

    mr. hussain abdul hussain! u really make me laugh!! do all other journalists who don't share ur opinion like robert fisk or frederic lamb suffer the same "unprofessionell" problem? or did ur boss tell u to discredit this wise man, due to the danger, that he could have been telling the truth??? is this u 14thmarch-people fear? the truth??? honestly sepaking: if i look around, who u as 14th march are gathering, then it doesn't surprise me that you MUST try to hide the truth!!!

    November 13, 2008