www.al-bab.com

An open door to the Arab world

  

Country briefing

 
 

News

 
 

Reference

 
 

Special topics

 
  

Arts and culture

  
  

Diversity

 
     

The blog

al-bab.com

  

Investigating chemical weapons in Syria

Seymour Hersh and Brown Moses go head to head
  

 
In the blue corner, Seymour Hersh, one of America's most famous and highly paid investigative reporters. In the red corner, 
Eliot Higgins, who sits at home in an English provincial town trawling the internet and tweets and blogs about his findings under the screen name Brown Moses.

On Sunday, in a 5,000-word article for the London Review of Books, Hersh suggested Syrian rebels, rather than the regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attacks near Damascus on August 21.

On Monday, Higgins responded on the Foreign Policy website, demolishing the core of Hersh's argument in a mere 1,700 words.

While seeking to re-ignite the "whodunnit" debate about chemical weapons, Hersh's article unwittingly revealed a lot about the changing nature of investigative journalism. Hersh is old-school. He operates in a world of hush-hush contacts – often-anonymous well-placed sources passing snippets of information around which he constructs an article that challenges received wisdom.

The Hersh style of journalism certainly has a place, but in the age of the internet it's a diminishing one – as the web-based work of Higgins and others continually shows.

The main problem with Hersh's article is that he seems to have spent so much time listening to his secretive sources, and perhaps became so enthralled with them, that he never got round to looking at a wealth of information about the chemical attacks which is freely available on the internet. The result was that his article posed a number of once-important questions which others had already answered.

This was a serious flaw and it may explain reports that the article was turned down by the New Yorker and the Washington Post before finally appearing in the London Review of Books.

But the interesting question is why Hersh failed to take account of the open-source evidence. Did he dismiss it, or was he unaware of its existence?

A lot of old-style journalists are still very sniffy about social media, if not the internet itself. They view it as somehow inferior to the "real" (formerly printed) media, and perhaps that's only to be expected because their livelihoods are at stake. 

Then there's the argument that the internet contains a lot of rubbish and misinformation. It's true, but only up to a point. There are plenty of valuable nuggets too, and the skill comes in sifting them out. For that, we have to look to the likes of Higgins rather than the likes of Hersh.

There's also the not-so-small matter of journalistic egos and showmanship. Readers, unfortunately, are more likely to be impressed by a reporter who apparently has access to shadowy figures in high places than someone who makes an important discovery from several hours of Googling.

For those interested in the details of Hersh's argument, in addition to Higgins' response, there's a dissection of it at EAWorldView
    
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Post your comment: LINK

 

  
  
comments powered by Disqus
     

Feeds

  
  

Blog archive

All blog posts

General topics

Algeria 
Bahrain 
Comoros 
Djibouti 
Egypt 
Iraq 
Jordan 
Kuwait 
Lebanon 
Libya 
Mauritania 
Morocco 
Oman 
Palestine/Israel 
Qatar 
Saudi Arabia 
Somalia 
Sudan  
Syria 
Tunisia 
UAE 
Yemen 

 

  

What's Really Wrong with the Middle East  
Brian Whitaker, 2009


  

 
 
 
 
 


View statistics

 

Last revised on 10 December, 2013