Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

SY'S SECRETS....Matt Taibbi reveals Seymour Hersh's reporting secrets:

He's old school. He's the kind of guy who sits and pores over the newsletters of all these minor government agencies to see who retired that week so he can approach that person to see if he's got any stories to tell on his way out of service. There are a few guys like that who are still out there, but they're all holdovers from a lost age.

Old school indeed.

Kevin Drum 10:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

New school is to sit around and BS with your fellow journalists and see if you can cook up an angle on something.

Posted by: jones on November 29, 2007 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think Hersh is a better investigator than a writer. His writing seems disjointed to me. Robert Parry is a stronger writer, although certainly not as adventurous as Hersh.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 29, 2007 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

"New school is to sit around and BS with your fellow journalists and see if you can cook up an angle on something."

And then owe them something. And want to stay in good woth your drinking buddies. And be beholden to stangnant group-thing. And wind up "embedded" with people you wouldn't want to be seen with in broad daylight. Journalism in the Bush era.

Posted by: Kenji on November 29, 2007 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks goodness for the "old school".

Posted by: Chris Brown on November 29, 2007 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks goodness for the "old school".

Hear, hear.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 29, 2007 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

New school is to get a press release from Karl Rove and just print it as if it were news.

Posted by: craigie on November 29, 2007 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

He can't hold a candle to Tim Russert, who waits for the phone to ring and assumes anything said is off the record, unless otherwise stated, even after the conversation is over. Gotta protect those sources!

Posted by: anonymous on November 30, 2007 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

wasnt that the advice i.f. stone usedto give that there's nuggets of information in the govt newsletters; all you had to do was actually read them. .

Posted by: linda on November 30, 2007 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

Matt Taibbi is the most consistently interesting and funny political writer in America.

Abusing the Mustache of Understanding:

Because it went beyond just that—I also did this thing where, a couple of years ago, I was calling Arthur Sulzberger and pretending to be Friedman and demanding a new parking space. I was like totally obsessed with Friedman for a while there. There was a period when I was doing all these drugs and I had this thing about Friedman, so I kept prank calling his office. I’m not real proud of all that stuff. But it did come through the grapevine that he’s not real happy about that. But fuck him. He makes like 12 million bucks a year and he’s married to a shopping mall heiress or something like that.

That.

Is beautiful.

Posted by: ethan salto on November 30, 2007 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

As well as keeping tabs on retirees from minor agencies, Hersh has astonishing contacts in major government agencies, the Executive, the judiciary, military, intelligence services, foreign governments etc., acquired over painstaking decades. His name & integrity also serve as a magnet for the many whistle-blowers who contact him.

He's also a total scoop-hound. Mary Mape's account of him (in Truth & Duty) as a fierce rival & acknowledged master of investigative journalism, is particularly telling.

Amid the pandemic dumbing-down & partisan stenography of the current infotainment jokingly referred to as 'journalism', Seymour Hersh (& many non-American media outlets) remind us that genuine, fearless investigative reportage is now more important than ever.

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on November 30, 2007 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

I.F. Stone lives!

Posted by: Kenji on November 30, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

"Matt Taibbi is the most consistently interesting and funny political writer in America."

And _The Jerky Boys_ was a great movie.


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug M. on November 30, 2007 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

This is also why most conspiracy theories are ridiculous, and eventually the truth comes out that it's incompetence, not malice.

Because people like Hersch serve the valuable purpose of a sympathetic confidant for people with an axe to grind, or as a father confessor for those with a guilty conscience.

And despite the (well-deserved) cynicism of 'new school' expressed above, there will always be at least some individuals willing and able to compentently fill Hersch's role.

Posted by: Kolohe on November 30, 2007 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

Perusing newsletters is a classic (though rarely used) technique. When James Bamford was researching his classic expose of the National Security Agency, "The Puzzle Palace," he found one unlocked door -- a newsletter published by, I think, the credit union for NSA employees. Which, of course, was filled with names of employees, promotions and retirements!

Posted by: ron714 on November 30, 2007 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

You want me to bring my toolbox, Doug M.? Huh? Tough guy? Huh?

Posted by: anonymous on November 30, 2007 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

The Jerky Boys aren't even worth Red's time to cut their bellies open.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_Bar_prank_calls

Posted by: beowulf on November 30, 2007 at 3:09 AM | PERMALINK

old school...that's the school where you get respect the hard way, by earning it.

Posted by: supersaurus on November 30, 2007 at 5:56 AM | PERMALINK

"oldschool". Its as if somehow we go to different schools.

A lot of youth is wasted eschewing what's 'oldschool' only to discover the more things change the more they are the same. What worked yesterday is likely to work today too, with few exceptions. In this case we can say with confidence that people really don't change that much. The same technique would have worked as well with the pharisees.

Posted by: wwz on November 30, 2007 at 6:19 AM | PERMALINK

I still love the famous story how Hersh got the Army to confirm that My Lai happened. He got an interview with some Army spokesman who was holding onto the 'nothing happened and it wasn't a big deal' line.

Hersh didn't really have enough (at least not for the New York Times) because in the end, it was a this guy said "did so" and that guy said "did not" story.

So he told the Army guy, look: I KNOW there was a massacre. I just don't want to make it look worse than it was, because I have reports of more than 500 Vietnamese civilians dead, which Hersh simply made up, a SWAG.

The Army guy fell for it: "oh, no, it was only about 300."

THAT's old school.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 30, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

The Conservative Deflator on November 29, 2007 at 11:11 PM

I'd prefer information to smooth writing. I interpret Hersh's writing style as similar to Joe Friday's "Just the facts."

Posted by: raj on November 30, 2007 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

New School is smelling smoke and using Google Maps to see if the building is on fire.

Posted by: Bob M on November 30, 2007 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Bill Safire ran a column about 25 years ago about watching Hersh in action. Sy would call a contact at an agency, pick a fight with the guy, end up in a swearing match and hang up. Then he'd walk away grinning, come back a few minutes later, call the guy and apologize, saying something like, look, I know you're bound by all these higher-up bureaucrats, I know it's frustrating, and, lo and behold, the guy would start venting and inadvertently spilling the information Hersh was seeking in the first place. Wonderful understanding of human nature. Plus, we all benefited from his obtaining the truth.

Posted by: Dan Adkins on November 30, 2007 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Not to provide excuses, but what drives a lot of modern journalism is the 24-hour, all-the-time size of the news hole. Endless cable "news", the web, the proliferation of outlets demand constant content. That, and the corporate ownership structure along with the treatment of news as entertainment make it hard for journalists to give any subject the time and attention it deserves. Compare today's media environment to when Hersch was reporting from Vietnam. Our current cultural factors all push shallow, stupid, fast news and journalists respond to the incentives they're given, like paychecks. It sucks.

Posted by: jrw on November 30, 2007 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

You know what's old school? When reporters actually understand how laws get passed.

Could somebody please explain how laws get enacted to Matt Taibbi? He says, "This notion that they needed all 60 votes to override a veto or something like that—look, force Bush to veto the thing."

It takes 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. The GOP filibusters everything. The Democrats' problem isn't just getting enough votes to override a veto. It's getting 60 votes to invoke cloture, thereby ending the Republicans' filibusters. After all, Senate Democrats can't force the President to veto a bill unless it gets to his desk.

Posted by: b on November 30, 2007 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Taibbi also needs to read the Constitution; last time I checked it took 2/3 of both the House and Senate (or 67 votes in the Senate) to override a veto.

Posted by: JD on November 30, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Not much different from what we saw in the Moyers show about the run up to war. The reporters from McClatchey consistantly talked to the middle grade officers and officials, and got the story right. But without a New York-Washington outlet, no one in the leadership saw the stories.
Apparently no one there reads out of town papers, or uses the internet. Maybe they need to install a coin box in front of CostCo.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 30, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

It's getting 60 votes to invoke cloture, thereby ending the Republicans' filibusters.

What Republican filibusters? There aren't any. There are only threats of filibusters, threats which apparently make Democrats quiver in fear. Make the miserable pukes actually filibuster something before you give up.

Posted by: jrw on November 30, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Americanist:
The Army guy fell for it: "oh, no, it was only about 300."
Sounds like something Sy would have learned at City News Bureau
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_News_Bureau_of_Chicago

Posted by: bob on November 30, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, don't get me started or I'll tell Mencken stories -- like how he made up the entire battle of the Straits of Tsushima and scooped the world.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 30, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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