A guest post by Jett Goldsmith.
In blogging, expectations are lowered; not only in terms of quality, but in terms of accuracy and professionalism. Plenty of bloggers maintain a standard of quality and accuracy in light of their profession, like Mr. Higgins and the dozens of other remote reporters on the Syrian conflict -- who blur the lines between amateur and professional, and who still manage to break stories sometimes hours before mainstream sources, despite unfavorable odds. But for every journalist who has embraced the massive soapbox of the internet with open arms and an eye for quality reporting, there remain those who choose otherwise; riding on the coattails of legitimacy touted by reliable bloggers, misusing the unquestioning arms of the internet to inject falsehoods, poor research and shoddy journalism into what tries its best to be a proper field.
Enter Seymour Hersh. A once-famed investigative journalist noted for exposing the Mỹ Lai Massacre by U.S. troops in Vietnam. Perhaps one of the first true “bloggers” of his time, who chose to work as a contributor rather than a professional staff writer. But unlike today’s bloggers, Higgins and the like included, Hersh never truly adapted to the standard of accuracy which most would expect from a seasoned contributor. His career was frequently tainted by allegations of poor research and dubious sources. Claims he made, while typically taken on faith, had the remarkable tendency to be proven false. And nowhere more egregious were these lapses in credibility than his commentary on the Syrian Civil War.
In early April, Hersh released a report entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” which called into question the role of the Syrian government in the devastating August 21st Ghouta chemical attack which killed and injured over 4,000 people, many of them civilians. The popular sentiment was obvious: Intelligence agencies and officials from France, Israel, the United States, Germany, Turkey, the UK, the Arab League and even the independent Human Rights Watch placed blame for the attacks on Assad’s Syrian Arab Army. An independent United Nations report, while failing to directly pin blame (as per its design), heavily supported the conclusion that Assad was responsible. But Hersh refused to sit on the side of credibility. Instead of following the authority and ethos of nearly every accredited world government and human rights organization in existence, he chose the path of conspiracy -- sitting in the company of such bastions of truth and knowledge as Mint Press News, Russia Today and Infowars.
Hersh’s main argument is one of denial, interlaced with effrontery and a small touch of paranoia. His claim is straightforward: Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda-affiliated rebel group, were the true culprits of the August 21st Ghouta attack -- and they were supplied by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan. Hersh’s argument is debunked and rebutted in CBRN specialist Dan Kaszeta’s “Hersh and the Red Herring,” and in Higgins’ “The Knowledge Gap - Seymour’s Hersh of Cards,” and even in a statement by United States National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden -- all of which are unsurprising. In reality, Hersh’s argument is no different than those made by the questionable creatures trolling the depths of the AboveTopSecret forums, or the murky waters of PressTV’s government-fueled newsrooms. They differ in allegations, sure: AboveTopSecret claims the CIA did it; PressTV points at a “US-approved false-flag operation conducted by Saudi Arabia in collusion with Israel;” and the like-minded Seymour Hersh blames Jabhat al-Nusra and Turkey. But their variances in blame are all connected by one factor: the attempted vindication of the Assad regime, and the unabashed embrace of conspiracism, faulty logic and dangerous assumptions to accomplish it.
Bashar al-Assad needs no vindication. The Syrian conflict is complex: both sides have committed atrocities, and the lines of morality are becoming increasingly blurred. For many, a rebel victory may not be the best possible scenario for Syria. But to vindicate a brutal, murderous dictator -- one who gasses his own people, executes the systematic torture and murder of detainees, and drops thousands of pounds of explosives on the homes of families, men, women and children -- that is the true crime against humanity.
As for Hersh? His credibility erodes at a stunning pace. He is long gone from the days of the Mỹ Lai Massacre, and even further from his brief period of respectability as an investigative journalist. Once heralded amongst the likes of Pulitzer winners and Polk recipients, he lives on amongst those of paranoid pundits and crazed conspiracists. And although serving as a sort of glorified blogger for the tenure of his career, Hersh will never meet the standards of any credible journalist, neither in accuracy nor in quality. His unabashed defense of a regime which has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed the lives of millions more has no place in any legitimate discussion, and it certainly has no place as an accolade under the belt of a once-famed investigative journalist.