Seymour Hersh: "After 9/11 We Became a Different Country"
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Asharq Al-Awsat, London -- In this interview, Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to veteran American reporter Seymour Hersh, who, four years ago, exposed the now infamous prison abuse scandal of Abu Ghraib in Iraq at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
In 1969, Hersh brought to light the My Lai massacre carried out by U.S. forces in Vietnam, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1970.
However, as most journalists know, it is impossible to please everybody. Hersh has been praised and is often regarded as "the last American reporter," while on the other hand he is also criticized and described as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist," particularly for his outspokenness against the American administration and U.S. forces.
The interview proceeded as follows:
Asharq Al-Awsat: Many Arab journalists say that it is shameful that the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal was uncovered by a Western journalist rather than an Arab journalist. What is your view of the Arab media and its failure to expose this incident?
Seymour Hersh: I can't answer on behalf of somebody as to why he did not do something but what I can say is thank God it was reported by a Westerner, whether it was me or anybody else. Just imagine how mush worse it would have been for America if [the] Abu Ghraib [prison abuse scandal] had been reported by the Arab press. I can also say that as an American, it shows that there is at least a little bit of integrity left in the system.
I would not defend the American press with regards to reporting on [U.S. President George W.] Bush; I think we did a terrible job, particularly on the Weapons of Mass Destruction issue. However, in this [Abu Ghraib] case, you should not be too tough on the Arab press simply because the photographs and the report that I obtained came from within America, not from the Middle East.
One of the things about Abu Ghraib is that the story was there to be had; if you had read the reports by the various groups that monitor abuses and torture, you would have known that they had already been talking about Abu Ghraib, so it was not really newly discovered that it was a hell-hole. What was new was that there were photographs, and those were not available to anyone outside the American system.
I can also say that in general, one of the things that drives me crazy about my country and our reporters is that they do not pay enough attention the Arab press, which has more reporters to move around locally and has better language skills.
Asharq Al-Awsat: But it seems that a story only gains momentum when it is reported by a major "Western" media institution such as the New York Times, or The Washington Post, or in your case, The New Yorker.
SH: I agree. That is only because of the incredible bias of the American press. Al Jazeera, for example, could break a story for a week and the American press would simply ignore it. In general, the American press is much less interested in reporting other news.
The New York Times, for example, cheerleads its own stories, and does not care about other people's exclusive reports.
Furthermore, the American media does not just ignore the Arab press; for example during the Vietnam War, there were many amazing stories in the North Vietnamese, North Korean and Japanese press services. Though they were communists, there were terrific stories about prisoners of war and other accurate issues that were simply ignored by us. The point is you can be an honest reporter in spite of who you work for.