Seymour Hersh Is Living a bin Laden Fantasy

Max Fisher pokes holes in the journalist's Osama bombshell
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2015 1:58 PM CDT
In this May 1, 2011, image, the scene in the Situation Room during the mission against Osama bin Laden.   (AP Photo/The White House, Pete Souza, File)
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(Newser) – No sooner had Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden bombshell dropped than critics were rushing in to pick apart his 10,000-word report, the stuff of instant controversy. But whereas Hersh may have once been a journalistic heavyweight, writes Max Fisher at Vox, his latest "story simply does not hold up to scrutiny—and, sadly, is in line with Hersh's recent turn ... into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories." Among the complaints, from Fisher and others:

  • Sourcing: One source is "a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad." "Read that line again," writes Fisher. "Not exactly a key player, and anonymous at that," yet his "word is treated as gospel."

  • Inconsistencies: Hersh's claim that bin Laden was a Pakistani prisoner for years invalidates the trove of intel the US brought back from Abbottabad—which none other than Ayman al-Zawahri has admitted was real. So Hersh is wrong, writes one expert, or "Zawahiri is helping Obama forge evidence to boost US-Pakistan relations, which seems like an unusual hobby for an [al-Qaeda] leader."
  • The sheer scope: Hersh "produces no supporting documents or proof" yet "accuses hundreds of people across three governments of staging a massive international hoax that has gone on for years" and "when facts seem to squarely contradict his claims, his answer is that this only goes to show how deep the rabbit hole goes."
  • The blowback: The earlier pieces that made Hersh's name "were all quickly confirmed by dozens of independent reports and mountains of physical proof. That's how such exposés typically work: the first glint of sunshine brings a rush of attention." His later pieces "have tended to remain all alone in their claims, and at times have been debunked."
  • Sample intel reaction: "Every sentence I was reading was wrong," former acting CIA director Mike Morell told CBS This Morning, per Mediaite. "The source that Hersh talked to has no idea what he’s talking about. The Pakistanis did not know … The Pakistanis were furious with us. The president sent me to Pakistan to start smoothing things over."
Maybe Hersh is right, concludes Fisher, and "there really is a vast shadow world of complex and diabolical conspiracies." Or perhaps, he says, "there's a simpler explanation." Click for Fisher's full column, or Hersh's report.

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