WASHINGTON, September 30, 2013 — When a journalist as well known as Seymour Hersh blasts his colleagues and recommends, in essence, that journalism must become what Andrew Breitbart fought for in the field, the mainstream media have no choice but to at least hear him.
Seymour Hersh has “been the nemesis of U.S. presidents since the 1960s,” according to a story on him in The Guardian last Friday. Hersh won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for exposing the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. More recently, he reported on Abu Ghraib prison and the abuse of the prisoners there.
It is rare that a journalist attacks his own profession or those working in it, as elitism seems to be a disease that attacks most who operate within the confines of a legacy media organization. Yet, in his interview Friday, The Guardian reports that Hersh would “close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.”
This challenge proves to be improbable and nearly impossible when events such as The White House Correspondents Dinner have become such an ingrained aspect of the often incestuous relationship between government and journalism.
Although he once worked at The New York Times, Hersh castigated the newspaper in the Friday story, saying they spend “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would.” He continued, “It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama].”
On the death of Osama bin Laden and the SEALS raid in 2011, Hersh declares, “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true. … It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.”
Of course, it becomes difficult to criticize the party or even people in power when, like NBC’s David Gregory, you’re married to someone with a history of connections to the White House and other influential departments and divisions within government and the beltway. The lines of ethics become blurred, if not eliminated, as a journalist contemplates whether his or her spouse will be negatively impacted by the story being written.
Yet Hersh maintains some hope for journalism, saying in Friday’s story, “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.” In order to provide integrity, however, journalists have to be investigative, not just regurgitative.
For example, Hersh knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it because he had received a tip. He spent the following five months looking for a document to prove what was happening, where other journalists may have reported on “alleged” abuses or on “anonymous tips,” rather than proving the validity of the story prior to writing. The Guardian says that Hersh “says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.”
Too many are writing about rumors, accusations and alleged wrongdoings because they garner headlines, without doing the research first. Being first has become the benchmark against which a journalist is judged, rather than being correct. In this digital world, being first could mean that millions of people learn of a story within hours, assuming it to be true because of a declarative headline and its appearance on a bonified website, when in reality the “journalist” is only sharing someone else’s accusations.
Hersh says in The Guardian’s story, “Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ [sic] 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.”
Daring to be an outsider is something that Andrew Breitbart did well. As a 2009 Slate column stated in its tease, “Sometimes it takes an outsider to show the press corps the way.”
Hersh’s war, whether he realizes it or not, is the same as Breitbart’s war: fighting against the institutional left.
In his now famous February 2012 speech at CPAC that occurred about a month before his death, Breitbart laid out everything for us that Hersh must just be realizing. “And [the people in the White House] pal around with our friends in the mainstream media. I always thought the media leaned to the left… but when they act like a Provost at a politically correct university and tell people to shut up, no longer can they be called objective journalists. They’re playing for the other side.”
Breitbart also reminded us in that speech that the supposed journalists within the legacy media organizations were conspiring with the left, in plain sight. “And the mainstream media created a narrative … Time Magazine’s person of the year … this is the anti-war movement! How do I know this? Because if I told this to ABC, CBS and NBC, they’d tell me it’s a conspiracy theory — that it’s just a bunch of organic people. There’s no organization going on, even though we have the emails to prove it. Or the undercover videos of Natasha Leonard of The New York Times organizing with the radicals. No, that didn’t mean anything!”
Nothing to see here?
Except, there is. And Hersh finally sees it, too.
The members of the mainstream media, who are supposed to be outsiders like Andrew Breitbart was and as so many in the “new” journalism movement are today, have become the left. And, the left have become the mainstream media. Without inquiry, they regurgitate one another’s stories, or “carry the water,” as Hersh says it.
Especially with Congress now trying to codify this carnal relationship between the leftist media and the beltway elites, it is more vital than ever for those involved in the new wave of journalism to understand the burden. Whether Hersh realizes it or not, he is encouraging these new journalists to exemplify Andrew Breitbart: be an outsider, investigate, question everything and fight the status quo.
As Hersh says in his interview, “…just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
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