I will probably have occasion in the future to ponder the Kesha 2.0 rollout, which just appears to have begun in earnest. She has been through some rough times, going to lawyers with her erstwhile svengali Dr Luke, and battling an eating disorder. See, the thing about it is I think her music is really good, and I wish her the best.
I have to take a moment to talk about Pat Connaughton, who helped lead the men’s basketball team for Notre Dame (my alma mater) to dizzying heights, by that program’s modest standards. Having already signed to pitch for the Orioles, he insists on pursuing his dream of making an NBA team.
Yesterday, at the poke and prod session otherwise known as the NBA Draft Combine, he recorded a 44-inch vertical jump, the best of the year, and the best since Kenny Gregory in 2001. That was surprising (but not too surprising if you’ve watched him play for four years). What was a real shocker is that he has 10 percent body fat, one of the highest figures in the Combine. (I told you it was a poke and prod deal….). CBS Sports’ Sam Vecinie said Connaughton “might be the best pure athlete at the Combine” and the Vine of his leap sparked numerous twitter references a certain hoops movie starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes.
And then there is Seymour Hersh, whose London Review of Books piece about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden caused a shitstorm of reaction, both pro and (mostly) con.
My small contribution to the kerfuffle: It seems to me to offer a textbook illustration of the snark/smarm dialectic described in Tom Scocca’s brilliant essay from 2013. It’s a meandering piece, in the best way, and hard to summarize.
[Drums fingers] OK you’re back and have read “On Smarm.” Excellent.
There is a lot of good stuff in that piece about David Denby and Dave Eggers and Joe Lieberman, but as it relate to Hersh I have in mind the passage where Scocca writes, regarding Edward Snowden:
Talk about something else, smarm says. Talk about anything else. This young man is in possession of secret official computer files that document the routine lawlessness and boundless intrusiveness of the American surveillance state. An unaccountable power is monitoring the entire global flow of information—which amounts, in contemporary practice, to monitoring thought itself. Illegally.
– Edward Snowden broke the law.
– Edward Snowden is a naif, who has already foolishly betrayed his nation’s most vital secrets.
– Edward Snowden is an unstable, sensation-seeking narcissist.
– Edward Snowden isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know.
– Edward Snowden is a traitor.
So what if Snowden is telling the truth? Just look at the way he’s telling it.
I see a similar dynamic being played out by mainstream journalists with regard to Seymour Hersh.
Um, that interview in Slate with Isaac Chotiner…. Yowsa. He really doesn’t want to be there, and yet Hersh deflects and mocks his young inquisitor’s earnest (and dishonest, nay, smarmy) efforts to corner him into the same old traps (anonymous sources, the New Yorker rejected your story…) so many other “respectable” journalists have been trying to paint him into. It’s impossible to summarize the interview, so I will paste in a couple of representative chunks….
Hersh: I sent it approvingly because it crossed my desk and it does say there were walk-ins. [Laughs] You can read it any way you want. The White House has been very clever about this. They have gone after me personally. They don’t like me boo hoo hoo. But they have been very careful to hedge everything, they quote Peter Bergen. Bergen or Berger, is that his name?
Hersh: They quote him. He views himself as the trustee of all things Bin Laden.
Chotiner: I just want to talk to you about your piece and journalism.
Hersh: What difference does it make what the fuck I think about journalism? I don’t think much of the journalism that I see. If you think I write stories where it is all right to just be good enough, are you kidding? You think I have a cavalier attitude on throwing stuff out? Are you kidding? I am not cavalier about what I do for a living.
Chotiner: I don’t think you are cavalier. That was not my question.
Hersh: Whatever it is, it’s an impossible question. It’s almost like you are asking me to say that there are flaws in everybody. Yes. Do I acknowledge that not everybody can be perfect? But I am not backing off anything I said.
Hersh: So, all that happens is I tell [New Yorker editor David Remnick] about the story, and his initial approach was to say do a blog item. Go fuck yourself! A blog? I have done a couple blogs when it is 1,000 words but this is worth more. At that point it was very early. So I was on contract for a book and said fuck it … You want to make a lot out of it? David always says he welcomes another view. I am the guy who said fuck it, I will do what I want to do. [Editor’s note: Other news sources have reported that the New Yorker declined to publish a version of the story.] [Hersh picks up other phone]: Yeah. Yeah. Oh no, fuck no … I don’t want to do it there! Go fuck—
Hersh: You there?
Hersh: Fucking TV interview sets up in the hall of my office building. It’s a lawyer’s building.
Chotiner: I was just asking—
Hersh: You want to write about this totally tedious shit? Yes, I am a huge pain in the ass. I am the one that decided to publish it wherever the hell I please. That’s the story. You want to listen to hall gossip about me? Go ahead. [Sarcastic voice] It is so immensely important to so many people to know where I published. I can’t believe it.
Anger is upsetting to smarm—real anger, not umbrage. But so is humor and confidence. Smarm, with its fixation on respect and respectability, has trouble handling it when the snarkers start clowning around.
Smarm in l’affaire Hersh is the “respectable” media saying “old Sy has finally gone off the rails….” It’s being intensely skeptical about the challenging narrative, isolating/attacking the messenger, and circling the wagons around the Obama/Schmindle/Zero Dark Thirty accounts, which are far more absurd and unlikely.
We know what we know about My Lai and Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s domestic spying because of Sy Hersh.
Until we can find out exactly what really happened in the bin Laden raid, which is probably never, because SECRETS, giving Hersh the benefit of the doubt seems the least we can do.
UPDATE: Trevor Timm’s The media’s reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful which I saw just now, is simply fantastic on the highly selective skepticism of the press.
Besides one piece by Huffington Post’s Ali Watkins, the press has barely made a peep about the fact that the CIA’s argument about bin Laden and torture—one that Hollywood made a movie about!—is a lie. Meanwhile, Slate ran five hit jobs on Hersh within 36 hours. Perhaps that’s why Hersh treated their reporter with contempt during this already-legendary interview.
We know that the administration made many assertions about the bin Laden raid in its aftermath that turned out to be false. The purported details, many given to reporters “anonymously,” were downright fantastical—yet reporters dutifully printed them just the same. We also know that the government ordered the photos of bin Laden’s body destroyed—possibly in violation of federal law—and, in an unprecedented move, had all information about the raid transferred to the CIA, where it can’t be accessed through Freedom of Information Act requests. John Kerry told reporters directly to “shut up and move on.” How Hersh himself deserves more scrutiny than these disturbing moves by the government is beyond comprehension.