Sy Hersh Knows More Than Vox About Osama Bin Laden

There are many other things I’m supposed to be working on, but I was so impressed by Seymour Hersh’s story on the Osama Bin Laden killing in the London Review of Books, and so pissed off by the predictably spineless reaction to that story by some Beltway media, that I spent the morning writing an old-fashioned fisking. My target: Vox dot com’s hot take on the Hersh piece.
Let us begin with the headline:

The many problems with Seymour Hersh’s Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory

Updated by Max Fisher on May 11, 2015, 8:45 a.m.

Straight away, the title frames Hersh’s 10,000-word, years-in-the-making report as a nutbar conspiracy theory—the product of an unserious, unstable mind. In reality Hersh remains, even in his golden years, the premier American investigative reporter, and this latest story affirms that status by revealing previously unknown information of tremendous public importance about America’s pursuit of Bin Laden, who was public enemy No. 1 for more than a decade.

Hersh has a decades-long track record of demonstrating subterfuge at the highest levels of American power as well as uncovering carefully guarded evidence of war crimes and atrocities including civilian massacres and systematic torture. Hersh is old-school. Although some of his stories must certainly begin with tips and leaks from various factions of officialdom, his method entails patient work identifying the disparate pieces of much larger puzzles. For an extended illustration, listen to this lecture in which he recounts the process that led him to uncover the My Lai massacre. In short, Hersh spends his days ferreting out information that powerful people don’t want you to know about because you might recognize it as shocking, immoral or illegal.

By contrast, the author of this pissant blog post, Max Fisher, is an “explainer” journalist who spends his time restating the conventional wisdom of the establishment in an aggressively casual and obnoxiously overconfident tone, because supposedly that is what appeals to the valuable Millennial demographic. (I too could be described as aggressively casual, obnoxiously overconfident and Millennial, but I despise conventional wisdom.) Fisher found success writing intelligence-insulting listicles and divining AP English-level essays from Microsoft Excel charts. Currently he occupies the plum spot of chief Wikipedia rewriter at Vox, founded by his former Washington Post colleague and fellow milquetoast, Ezra Klein.

Some might see these guys as fresh and edgy in their approach to the news, but in reality they are the Thomas Friedmans of my generation: Entitled, arrogant and, above all, clueless.

On Sunday, the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh finally released a story that he has been rumored to have been working on for years: the truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books, the official history of bin Laden’s death — in which the US tracked him to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; killed him in a secret raid that infuriated Pakistan; and then buried him at sea — is a lie.

Hersh’s story is amazing to read, alleging a vast American-Pakistani conspiracy to stage the raid and even to fake high-level diplomatic incidents as a sort of cover.

Fisher begins with an accurate, if underwhelming, summary of the Hersh blockbuster. Then we get to the “but.”

But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies.

Okay, so Fisher has some complaints about Hersh’s sourcing. That’s a fair line of argument but, as I’ll show, Fisher fails to demonstrate much beyond the fact that he doesn’t approve of Hersh’s use of anonymous sources. Believe them or not, anonymous is what they are. Given the current climate in the US, it’s hard to imagine worthwhile investigative reporting on intelligence and foreign policy that doesn’t make some use of such sources.

Anyway, it is irrelevant that Hersh’s key sources are retired. Fisher’s implication is that they are out of the loop. Not so, not necessarily. Hersh specifically addresses the intelligence community’s routine employment of “retired” agents in his piece.

Fisher proceeds to overstate his own case by calling Hersh’s story “riven with” problems. He is forced to juice up the phrasing here because he possesses no new facts to counter Hersh’s own reporting. Bear in mind, too, that for a story to contain “internal contradiction” and “inconsistencies” does not mean that it is wrong. Even if Fisher is right in his assessment, he hasn’t struck a mortal blow to the Hersh story—and Fisher is not right. He is lost deep in the weeds.

Like most other journalists, including myself, Fisher cannot say whether Hersh’s story is true or false, because we don’t know—we haven’t done the reporting. However, Fisher must come up with something to say about Hersh’s big scoop, and, given his previously discussed predilections, the best he can come up with is, “conspiracy theory”—nothing to see here, folks!

The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

It is unclear what Fisher means by “scrutiny.” It is clear, however, that Fisher doesn’t know the first thing about investigative reporting. His post is one of the first lengthy responses to the Hersh story. Why the rush to knock it down? Why not wait for other reporters to confirm or disconfirm Hersh’s report? Because that’s not what Vox is all about. It’s about “explaining” things. And quickly. So when Fisher writes that Hersh’s story does not hold up to scrutiny, he is merely saying that the story does not hold up to Fisher’s own reading of it. Behold the grotesque arrogance of explainer journalism.

A decade ago, Hersh was one of the most respected investigative journalists on the planet, having broken major stories from the 1969 My Lai massacre to the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal. But more recently, his reports have become less and less credible. He’s claimed that much of the US special forces is controlled by secret members of Opus Dei, that the US military flew Iranian terrorists to Nevada for training, and that the 2014 chemical weapons attack in Syria was a “false flag” staged by the government of Turkey. Those reports have had little proof and, rather than being borne out by subsequent investigations, have been either unsubstantiated or outright debunked. A close reading of Hersh’s bin Laden story suggests it is likely to suffer the same fate.

Here we have an insincere nod to past accomplishments, to soften the blows to come. Hersh’s stories, Fisher says, “have become less and less credible.” He proceeds to list a few recent stories that Fisher’s particular clique—a sad bunch of Beltway captives who imagine themselves to be dashing Lawrences of Arabia, but with iPhones—have taken objection to.

He’s claimed that much of the US special forces is controlled by secret members of Opus Dei.

In 2011, Hersh was mocked for a public statement that senior military special operations commanders belonged to a couple of secret religious orders and viewed themselves as modern-day Crusaders. At that time, other journalists had reported on the spread of Christian fanaticism in the military ranks—and if I recall correctly, there had been a cover story in Harper’s magazine about those linkages—so I didn’t think much of Hersh’s comments. However, Blake Hounshell, then an editor at Foreign Policy, started mocking Hersh as a loon and pretty soon there was a total merciless dogpile on Hersh by the Lawrences of Explainittoya. A spokesman for one of the generals Hersh named denied being a member of Opus Dei. Of course a denial is not the end of any story. I’ll grant that Hersh didn’t do himself any favors by speaking off the cuff, but I don’t recall anyone proving him wrong, either. The mockery did its job and the story went away. Then as now, the lazy substitution of dismissive “takes” for determined follow-up reporting, or at least curiosity and an open mind, overshadowed Hersh’s point. “My point,” Hersh said after that episode, “is that some leaders of the Special Forces have an affinity for that notion, the notion that they’re in a crusade.”

That much certainly is true, and should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention. But the idea that Hersh is an easily dismissable nutter got some traction, and when Fisher saw that Hersh came out with a big story about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, his early reaction was a cheap Twitter joke alluding to the Opus Dei affair.

Fisher brings up a few other recent Hersh stories, which he claims were “either unsubstantiated or outright debunked.”

Which is it? Surely Fisher does not mean that Hersh’s reports are “unsubstantiated.” He must mean “unconfirmed by other reporters.” Later, deep in his post, Fisher himself acknowledges that, “To be clear, [another recent Hersh] story was never specifically discredited, but neither has it ever been confirmed.”

That’s a long way from “outright debunked.” Fisher is just, as the kids say, “throwing shade.”

For evidence of past Hersh debunkings, Fisher leans on the blogger Eliot Higgins. I was inclined to favor Higgins blog, Brown Moses, until I heard Higgins speak at a journalism event, and he claimed that he could reconstruct the scene from a war zone with “100 percent” accuracy based chiefly on the content of YouTube videos uploaded by various partisans. Talk about overconfidence. If you want to go down the rabbit hole with this, go read the links Fisher supplies. Here’s one. They aren’t refutations of Hersh’s other recent work, they’re more like objecting op-eds, filled with guesswork and hypotheticals. I won’t spend too much time with them here, because they aren’t actually germane to the Bin Laden story.

Bottom line, Fisher is mistaking his own incredulity, and the incredulity of his clique, as a lack of competence or integrity on Hersh’s part. Every instinct I have, and every experience I’ve had as a journalist, tells me Hersh is the one with integrity and chops, and his nags are the craven incompetents.

Back to the Bin Laden story:

What is the proof?

The evidence for all this is Hersh’s conversations with two people: Asad Durrani, who ran Pakistan’s military intelligence service from 1990 to 1992, and “a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” Read that line again: knowledgeable about the initial intelligence. Not exactly a key player in this drama, and anonymous at that.

Hersh produces no supporting documents or proof, nor is the authority of either source established. We are given no reason to believe that either Durrani or the “knowledgeable official” would have even second- or thirdhand knowledge of what occurred, yet their word is treated as gospel. His other two sources are anonymous “consultants” who are vaguely described as insiders.

Fisher proceeds to demonstrate that his own “close reading” of the Hersh story was not that careful at all. I can’t say that it was a willful misreading of Hersh’s piece, but I imagine Fisher greedily skimming it looking for cheap shots to fill out his inevitable Vox post.

Fisher says Hersh offers “no reason to believe” his sources “have even second- or thirdhand knowledge of what occurred.” Hersh in fact says his key US source “was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports.” So Hersh is making a direct claim about his sources’ level of knowledge. Fisher doesn’t go so far as to accuse Hersh of lying about this, because Fisher could not support such an allegation. But Fisher misleads his own readers in regards to the contents of the Hersh article when he writes that Hersh supplied “no reason to believe” his sources.

Here we come to the question of reputation and credibility. Hersh hasn’t made a career out of fabulism or spinning malicious lies. He would have been sued to oblivion long ago, if that were the case. Indeed, if Hersh is lying about his source—and why would he? Out of hatred for Obama?—then surely such damaging falsehoods as contained in the LRB article would meet the high standard necessary for US government officials to secure a libel judgment against him. That is to say, if Hersh made up the story, any number of people implicated in the alleged cover-up could sue him for libel and win. They would have every reason to, as Hersh is accusing them of galling misconduct.

Don’t hold your breath.

Also on the subject of sourcing, it occurs to me that explainer journalists like Fisher simply can’t fathom that there’s another way of working that doesn’t involve hastily scouring official handouts, negotiating PR embargoes and trafficking in Twitter gossip. Hersh makes clear that he pieced the story together from many sources over a period of years. Such meticulous craft is completely alien to the Vox Media world of quick-hit viral whoring.

Fisher whines about the lack of documents can be highly useful, but having a document is not the same as having proof. Documents can be forged. Documents can be destroyed—and, as Hersh notes in his story, many were. Does Fisher think the White House is going to put out a press release saying, “upon reflection, we lied about everything”? Again, clueless.

Hersh clearly states he did not rely on a single source. He cites multiple sources in the US and Pakistan. Granted, they are anonymous. Could it be otherwise? For the Pakistani officials, speaking openly of such things would be akin to suicide. The American officials could face prosecution for revealing classified information. Consider Petraeus, who got railroaded with Espionage Act charges for far less. Consider the fate of many lowly whistleblowers.

Finally, I detect a reluctance to give credence to Hersh’s sources in Pakistan, simply perhaps because they are Pakistani. Which doesn’t mean racism is at play here, merely a navel-gazy imperial attitude that blithely discounts the voices and experiences of anyone outside the seat of power.

Moving on:

Beyond that, Hersh’s proof is that he finds the official story of the Osama bin Laden raid to be unconvincing. And he points out that in the first days after the raid, the administration released details that cast bin Laden in a negative light — saying he tried to use one of his wives as a shield, for example — that it later walked back. But raising questions about the official story is not the same as proving a spectacular international conspiracy.

Hersh did not present his own skepticism as proof. Rather, he detailed the discrepancies of the official Bin Laden raid story in his own story to demonstrate that there was a clear basis to doubt the official account. Then, he supplied an alternative narrative based on sources he obtained who had knowledge of the situation. That’s investigative journalism. It begins with doubt. Fisher seems to reserve all of his doubt for Hersh. Does he have any left for the White House? The Pentagon? The CIA? It’s strange how explainer journalists like Fisher never betray a penchant for skepticism until some heretic like Hersh challenges what they think they know about the world.

If that seems like worryingly little evidence for a story that accuses hundreds of people across three governments of staging a massive international hoax that has gone on for years, then you are not alone.

On Sunday night, national security journalists and analysts on Twitter picked through the story, expressing dismay at its tissue-thin sourcing, its leaps of logic, and its internal contradictions.

Now we’re getting to the meat of the post. Hersh must be wrong because Fisher’s Twitter friends think so. Could it be they were embarrassed about being scooped? Could they be covering for their own complicity in the spread of official misinformation? Could it be that they value their relationships with powerful people more than they value their commitment to pursue the truth, and that the price of preserving those relationships is to stick close to the official line?

I think it could. Now you know what I think.

Perhaps the most concerning problem with Hersh’s story is not the sourcing but rather the internal contradictions in the narrative he constructs.

Most blatant, Hersh’s entire narrative turns on a secret deal, in which the US promised Pakistan increased military aid and a “freer hand in Afghanistan.” In fact, the exact opposite of this occurred, with US military aid dropping and US-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan plummeting as both sides feuded bitterly for years after the raid.

Here Fisher seems to be confusing “US military aid,” which comes in many forms and flavors, with the specific sort of “aid” Hersh discussed in his story. According to Hersh’s source, the Pakistani intelligence officials who handed bin Laden to the US were most concerned with continued US funding for their own “personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,’ the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal ‘incentives’ that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds.”

Sounds fairly compelling, no? A great power backs the corrupt elite of a client state against their own people. It’s certainly happened before. But Fisher looked at some charts based on official published figures and went, “nah, can’t be.” He’s making an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Hersh explains this seemingly fatal contradiction by suggesting the deal fell apart due to miscommunication between the Americans and Pakistanis. But it’s strange to argue that the dozens of officials on both sides would be competent enough to secretly plan and execute a massive international ruse, and then to uphold their conspiracy for years after the fact, but would not be competent enough to get on the same page about aid delivery.

Again, this is a misrepresentation of what’s actually in Hersh’s story. Hersh never claimed that actors in his tale were especially competent. Indeed, he made the opposite claim in regards to the execution of the ruse, especially where the White House got directly involved.

Here’s Hersh on that:

The backroom argument inside the White House began as soon as it was clear that the mission had succeeded. Bin Laden’s body was presumed to be on its way to Afghanistan. Should Obama stand by the agreement with [Pakistani intelligence officials] and pretend a week or so later that bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack in the mountains, or should he go public immediately? The downed helicopter made it easy for Obama’s political advisers to urge the latter plan. The explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak. Obama had to ‘get out in front of the story’ before someone in the Pentagon did: waiting would diminish the political impact.

Fisher’s contention that Hersh’s narrative doesn’t add up because the US and Pakistan weren’t “on the same page about aid delivery” is such a weird non-sequitur, I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. It doesn’t prove anything, except maybe that Fisher could benefit from a solid, skeptical editor to mend his own gaps in logic. The horror of it all is that Fisher is a high-ranking editor, which explains why you won’t see a story as important as what ran in the LRB anywhere on Vox.

And there are more contradictions. Why, for example, would the Pakistanis insist on a fake raid that would humiliate their country and the very military and intelligence leaders who supposedly instigated it?

Once again, Fisher misstates what Hersh actually wrote. Hersh says clearly and repeatedly that Pakistan wanted the cover story to involve a drone strike, rather than an assassin squad, to obscure their own involvement.

Hersh:

The initial plan said that news of the raid shouldn’t be announced straightaway. All units in the Joint Special Operations Command operate under stringent secrecy and the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan’s side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests – bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis – and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced.

Hersh repeated this point later, writing that in “the initial plan it was to be announced a week or so after the fact that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing.”

The takeaway is that one of Fisher’s central knocks on the Hersh story—his clearest example of its problematic “contradictions”—is actually based on an apparent misreading of it.

Yet Fisher stumbles onward.

A simpler question: why would Pakistan bother with the ostentatious fake raid at all, when anyone can imagine a dozen simpler, lower-risk, lower-cost ways to do this?

Why not just kill bin Laden, drive his body across the border into Afghanistan, and drop him off with the Americans? Or why not put him in a hut somewhere in Waziristan, blow it up with an F-16, pretend it was a US drone strike, and tell the Americans to go collect the body?

Come on. Now he’s just spitballing.

(Indeed, when I first heard about Hersh’s bin Laden story a few years ago from a New Yorker editor — the magazine, the editor said, had rejected it repeatedly, to the point of creating bad blood between Hersh and editor-in-chief David Remnick — this was the version Hersh was said to favor.)

This parenthetical note is, as far as I’m concerned, the heart of Fisher’s entire post. It’s a little bit of trade gossip, and what it signals to any journalists reading along is that Hersh is on the outs with Remnick over this whole Bin Laden thing. Ergo, if you want to be on good terms with Remnick and the New Yorker—who doesn’t?—then it’s probably unwise to show too much sympathy to Hersh in this matter.

Fisher’s little aside on the New Yorker also insinuates that if Remnick refused to publish Hersh’s story, it did so because it believed the story to be untrue. There were many other reasons the New Yorker might have refused the story, some of which might give Hersh cause to be righteously angry.

Hersh himself hinted at this tension a couple of years ago when he went on a rant about all of the “chicken-shit editors” in America who insist on covering their asses with official documentation for every mildly contentious story. Man, I sympathized.

Back to Fisher’s burble of what-ifs:

If Pakistan’s goal is increased US aid, why do something that will virtually force the US to cut aid, as it indeed did? For that matter, why retaliate against the US for the raid that you asked them to conduct? Pakistan’s own actions against the US, after all, ensured that it had less influence in Afghanistan.

Here Fisher’s argument descends into a rather revealing display of confusion about the realities of face-saving public diplomacy versus the nitty-gritty of foreign policymaking that goes on behind closed doors. This confusion applies to his grasp of the mechanics of international politics, as well. I mean, it’s just bizarre that Fisher seems to think that by acting against the US, Pakistan somehow loses influence. I suppose it might seem that way to someone who’s idea of influence is based upon maintaining cozy relationships with the powers that be in Washington, DC.

Finally, once again, Fisher conflates “aid” to Pakistan with what Hersh described more accurately as personal security. There really is a difference.

By the same token, why would the US cut a secret deal with Pakistan to allow that country a “freer hand” in Afghanistan — essentially surrendering a yearslong effort to reduce Pakistani influence there — rather than just taking out bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission?

At this point, I’m starting to doubt Fisher’s reading comprehension. All of this is addressed in the original Hersh article. I also suspect he watches too many TV dramas. How does Fisher imagine the US would have “just tak[en] out bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission?” Just think, without Pakistani cooperation, the government there might have fired on the American attack squad on its way to the bin Laden safehouse. What if Americans were killed? What if Americans killed Pakistani soldiers on their way to “just take out Bin Laden”? Any number of the imaginable scenarios Fisher proposes—conveniently, without going into the details—would require the creation of a cover story by American officials. It’s almost like Fisher is advocating for the very sort of official deception that he claims doesn’t actually happen. Just odd. Lewis Carroll odd.

There are smaller but still troubling inconsistencies. Why, for example, would the US need to construct a massive double of the Abbottabad compound for special forces to train in, if the real compound were going to be totally unguarded and there would be no firefight?

No firefight requires no training? Fisher proves there is such a thing as a stupid question, after all. Again—again!—Fisher complains about missing information that is actually contained in the Hersh article. Here is Hersh quoting his source:

“The agreement was struck by the end of January 2011, and Joint Special Operations Command prepared a list of questions to be answered by the Pakistanis: ‘How can we be assured of no outside intervention? What are the defences inside the compound and its exact dimensions? Where are bin Laden’s rooms and exactly how big are they? How many steps in the stairway? Where are the doors to his rooms, and are they reinforced with steel? How thick?’ The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault. By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad at a secret former nuclear test site in Nevada, and an elite Seal team had begun rehearsing for the attack.

Now, some semantics. Note Hersh’s construction, after the bit about the Pakistanis agreeing to the American assault: “By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad.”

“By then” could suggest that that the mock-up was prepared before the agreement with Pakistan was finalized. Also note the first question JSOC posed to the Pakistanis: “How can we be assured of no outside intervention?” The military trains for many possibilities in case something goes wrong. It’s a stretch to call this an “inconsistency” and it in no way undermines Hersh’s narrative.

See also, for example, the intelligence material that the US brought back from bin Laden’s compound and then displayed to the world. Hersh says that, in fact, bin Laden had spent the previous five years a hostage of Pakistani intelligence rather than an active member of al-Qaeda. The intelligence “treasure trove” was thus a fabrication, cooked up by the CIA after the raid to back up the American-Pakistani conspiracy.

This is a strange thing to argue, as Carnegie Endowment Syria research Aron Lund points out, because al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri subsequently said the intelligence materials were real, and had quoted from them himself. So either Hersh is wrong or, Lund writes, “Zawahiri is helping Obama forge evidence to boost US-Pakistan relations, which seems like an unusual hobby for an [al-Qaeda] leader.”

In other words, for Hersh to be correct that the intelligence material was faked, and thus that bin Laden was a secret prisoner of Pakistani intelligence, and thus that the raid to kill him was a staged American-Pakistani ruse, then al-Qaeda would have had to be in on it — even though al-Qaeda was also the supposed victim of Pakistan’s plot.

Now who’s spinning conspiracy theories? Fisher and his Twitter pal assume far too much. Hersh does not claim that the intelligence “trove” supposedly found in Bin Laden’s compound was fabricated—as in, forged or concocted from whole cloth. Indeed, Hersh makes no claims on the supposed Al Qaeda document “trove” except to say that his source doubted their authenticity as having originated in the Bin Laden compound.

Here is one relevant passage:

The retired official disputed the authenticity of the West Point materials: ‘There is no linkage between these documents and the counterterrorism centre at the agency. No intelligence community analysis. When was the last time the CIA: 1) announced it had a significant intelligence find; 2) revealed the source; 3) described the method for processing the materials; 4) revealed the time-line for production; 5) described by whom and where the analysis was taking place, and 6) published the sensitive results before the information had been acted on? No agency professional would support this fairy tale.’

In other words, the documents might be part real and part fabrication, or totally genuine but placed at the scene later for the purposes of the cover story. Once more, Fisher’s litany of hypotheticals do not constitute a debunking, no matter how often he says that they do.

As for Hersh’s story of what really happened to bin Laden’s body — “torn to pieces with rifle fire” and thrown bit by bit out the door of the escaping helicopter, until there was not enough left to bury — it is difficult to know where to begin. It is outlandish to imagine small arms fire reducing a 6-foot-4 man “to pieces,” not to mention the sheer quantity of time and bullets this would take. Are we really to believe that special forces would spend who knows how long gleefully carving up bin Laden like horror movie villains, and then later reaching into the body bag to chuck pieces of him out of a helicopter, for no reason at all? On the most sensitive and important operation of their careers?

This passage is also unwittingly revealing. Fisher simply doesn’t want to believe bad things about Americans. Was he asleep for the Iraq war? Has he really reflected upon what happened not only in My Lai, but many other villages in Vietnam?

Hersh has confronted this manner of naivety bordering on blind jingoism for his entire career. In that lecture I linked to earlier, Hersh says he knew what he would be up against when he broke the My Lai story. He knew that “Americans did not want to hear that we fought our wars like the Nazis and the nips did.”

Yes, he used the slur “nips” to refer to the Japanese. I’m repeating it here to demonstrate that I know full well Hersh is not without flaws. As you might say of your casually bigoted grandparent, he belongs to another generation. He need not be forgiven such slurs, but when it comes to his investigative work, he has earned a higher caliber of adversary than the likes of Fisher.

Or this buffoon on CNN. Watch Hersh scold him in the clip. (I’m not impressed that CNN’s Peter Bergen got a quote from one of Hersh’s named sources in Pakistan walking back his claims in the LRB article. Hersh seemed unsurprised. “I’m not on a limb on this,” he responds. The source, Durrani, he says, “was under pressure.” Also under pressure is Bergen, whom Hersh has made to look a fool.)

Hersh also deserves better than the response from the White House, which declined comment to Hersh before publication, and now disingenuously claims that “there are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece to fact check each one.”

Fisher concludes his post with a recap of other recent stories his blogger clique didn’t like. He calls it “Seymour Hersh’s slide off the rails.” It’s more rehash.

As time goes on, Hersh’s stories seem to become more spectacular, more thinly sourced, and more difficult to square with reality as we know it. Perhaps one day they will all be vindicated: the Opus Dei special forces cabal, the terrorist training in Nevada, the American plan to nuke Iran, the Turkish false flag in Syria, even the American-Pakistani bin Laden ruse.

Maybe there really is a vast shadow world of complex and diabolical conspiracies, executed brilliantly by international networks of government masterminds. And maybe Hersh and his handful of anonymous former senior officials really are alone in glimpsing this world and its terrifying secrets. Or maybe there’s a simpler explanation.

And we are back to the ad hominem of the headline. It’s ad hominem because, while Hersh does detail a conspiracy in his report, he is not a conspiracy theorist. He does not claim the Bin Laden killing was “executed brilliantly.” In fact, what Hersh describes is a complete cock-up: A faux commando “raid” that, while totally unopposed, still resulted in the loss of a pricey high-tech stealth helicopter, followed by the slapdash concotion of a public cover story and shameful gloating by amoral politicians who rushed to claim credit against the wishes of their military and intelligence advisers as well as their foreign allies.

It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a bread-and-butter journalistic expose.

That is, until someone proves otherwise.