Sy Hersh vs. Seymour Hersh
This New York Metro article by Slate's Chris Suellentrop
criticizes the looseness with which Sy Hersh speaks in public, and the strong contrast between his speeches and his carefully factchecked and precise New Yorker articles (which Suellentrop labels as the work of Seymour Hersh.) (Link courtesy of Cyrus Farivar
This is particularly interesting to me. I've bandied a story about for almost a year now. About a year ago I had the honor of having my head bitten off by Mr. Hersh when I was in Journalism school and we were on field trip to Washington. I've told this story mostly because it was kind of funny and about the coolest name-dropping thing that happened to me while I was at Columbia. I was famous in my class for asking questions, and I didn't get to ask one of the famous Seymour Hersh. I didn't think it was particularly significant of anything, except that he seemed like a cranky man. I was seated about one chair away from him, and I enthusiastically had my laptop out, ready to make my own personal record of what he said. This portion of the trip had been arranged by the other professor, and somehow I had missed the information that our session with Mr. Hersh was so "off the record" as to preclude laptops. For some reason my taking notes on a laptop bothered him a lot more than all my classmates taking notes in their reporters' notebooks, and when I asked a question he instead witheringly told me to put the laptop away. I was so mortified that I don't think I took very good regular notes after that, so I can't really say what he talked about even if it wasn't "off the record."
Of course I could have blogged him. There was no mechanism in place to stop me from blogging him. Telling me to put my laptop away didn't do anything but fluster me. If it had been my sister, and not me, in Journalism school, he'd have been as endangered by her accurately speedy calligraphy fountain pen as by my electronic typing. I'm not sure if Columbia would have done anything to punish me if I had blogged him, despite the "deal" they had brokered with him, or if they even could punish me. I do know that when they brokered a similar deal with Henry Kissinger I took notes on my laptop while sitting in my usual front row seat, and even though Dick Ward and David Westin (who brokered the deal) saw me doing it, they didn't stop me. I didn't blog anything then either, because as much as I despise Kissinger a deal is a deal--and he didn't seem to say anything that new and interesting. But not everyone thinks the way I do about these things. I don't really think Hersh said anything that deserved such secrecy, and like I said back then, a lot of the "off the record" stuff struck me as pure green-gilled-student-intimidation tactics. That he is, apparently, so loose-lipped in far more formal and clearly taped gatherings only strengthens that impression.
So if Hersh thought he was taking a precaution against the kind of blog-attack that Suellentrop is warning he (Hersh) is now subject to, well, he wasn't taking a very good one. But I don't think that was it. Suellentrop says Hersh's first account with streaming video was last July, a few months after he growled at me. Maybe he wasn't thinking much about blogs yet in April. He was probably just being cranky. The fact is, I have a lot of respect for Seymour Hersh. But I have a lot more respect for the New Yorker and its fact checking apparatus. I always take the written word a little more seriously than the spoken. This doesn't change my opinion on the substantial items he's writing about. It is still a bit disappointing to read that Hersh relies on the distinction as a crutch.