The Corner

How I Learned to Laugh at Seymour Hersh

In the new issue of Commentary, Jamie Kirchik has a devastating exposé on “The Deceits of Seymor Hersh.” He documents a career that went meteoric from the start, when Hersh helped expose the My Lai massacre. “The Times promptly hired Hersh to work in its Washington bureau, where the sloppiness that would come to define his journalism career soon became evident.” 

Back when I worked at the Pentagon I read something in the New Yorker by Seymor Hersh that described a particular fairly high-level defense policy meeting which had included several of my colleagues. Virtually every detail of Hersh’s story, from the quotes to the atmospherics, was so implausible that it was quite beyond fact-checking. I laughed aloud as I read the story. I realized then that Hersh is not really a liar. All of what he says is actually true–in the utter fantasy world that he inhabits.

Mind you, Hersh doesn’t live there by himself. Other writers at the New Yorker live there, too–for example Jane Mayer, whose August 2010 conspiracy-theory classic about the Koch brothers later disintegrated on contact with reality, in the form of The Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti, but not before it unleashed a shameful national campaign of persecution against the brothers. The reason why writers like Hersh and Mayer do well at the New Yorker is that many of the magazine’s readers also live in that very same fantasy world!  In fact, that fantasy world is populated by quite a large number of mainstream liberals, including many personal friends of mine. On the right, “birthers” get mauled by mainstream conservatives; but the left’s equivalent of “birthers” are fully mainstream. 

In that fantasy world, I and many of the most respectable people I know are part of The Forces of Evil. From reading left-wing press, I have learned that the fantasy version of me loves torture, is a member of several different cabals and conspiracies, and is controlled by the Koch brothers or AIPAC depending on the issue. I attend meetings that are darkly lit, and there’s always a smoking man.

It’s all kind of funny, when you get down to it. Well, actually, it’s not all funny. It’s bad for everyone when slanderous myths are propagated about decent people, and when a chance to educate the public is wasted on purveyors of fantasy. It can be dangerous, too. But still, reading Hersh’s stuff is like watching an episode of the X Files. As long you as know that it’s all make-believe, the only thing that should really bother you is how dumb it is. 

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola is a fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University School of Law and a former defense-policy adviser at the Pentagon and in the U.S. Senate.

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