The Sad Downfall of Seymour Hersh

Jeremy Fassler
6 min readMay 17, 2023
Photograph courtesy of Tablet

Note: I originally wrote this piece in June 2018 for The Daily Banter upon the publication of Seymour Hersh’s memoir, Reporter. In the wake of his unacceptable reporting about Ukraine, I am republishing it here with some slight revisions.

Throughout his career, Seymour Hersh has been a crusading investigative reporter, exposing such stories as the My Lai Massacre in the Vietnam War and the abuses at Abu Ghraib. With his memoir Reporter being released today, he finds himself once again in the news as journalists sing his praises. However, as they appraise his life’s work, they must take into account how, over the past decade, Hersh has grown increasingly conspiratorial and untrustworthy in his reporting, adopting bizarre theories that threaten to seriously compromise his legacy.

The first major sign of trouble came in 2013, when Hersh wrote “Whose Sarin?,” an article absolving the government of Bashar al-Assad for that summer’s chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, near Damascus, killing hundreds of Syrians and nearly bringing the United States to military action. Although a UN report on the attack laid the blame at Assad, Hersh argued that the real perpetrators were an Al-Qaeda spinoff group called Jhabat-al Nusra, citing anonymous military officials as his sources. In a follow-up article in 2014, he cosigned blame for the attack to the government of Turkey, which experts quickly debunked.

Sadly, Hersh has not let go of his Syria trutherism. Last April, after the U.S. launched missiles in retaliation to Assad’s chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, he wrote in the German paper Die Welt that, according to anonymous military officials, the initial attack was a collaboration between the Syrian Air Force, the Russians, and Washington, and the targets were not innocent Syrians but Jihadist leaders. When Guardian reported George Monbiot asked him for the coordinates of the bombing site, Hersh dodged the question.

Hersh’s conspiratorial beliefs went mainstream in 2015 when he published “The Killing of Osama bin Laden” (later released as a book) in the London Review of Books. The 10,000-word article, which had been rejected by The New Yorker, argued that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) kidnapped bin Laden in 2006, locked him up with funding from the Saudis as leverage against…

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Jeremy Fassler

Correspondent, The Capitol Forum. Bylines: The New York Times, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, etc. Co-author of The Deadwood Bible with Matt Zoller Seitz.