In his latest New Yorker entry “Preparing the Battlefield” [in Iran] Seymour Hersh seems to be competing for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest numbers of anonymous sources in one article. The first sentence alone presents a trifecta of the unnamed: “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources.”
They are never identified.
It goes on in a similar mode for the next seven pages almost to the level of self-parody. So I have some questions for The New Yorker editors. How do you fact-check Hersh and do those methods coincide with your overall policies (if any)? Do you know the names of his anonymous sources? Have you queried those sources to see if the writer fairly represents their opinions or to discover whether they are disaffected civil servants with an ax to grind? When dealing with an issue as incendiary as war with Iran, it should be standard journalistic procedure to do so. I would hope the editors of The New Yorker agree readers deserve a high level of transparency on such life or death issues.
In general mainstream media outlets are rather opaque about their fact-checking, particularly regarding their “anonymous source” standards, even though it is those sources who are most useful to a writer who wishes to manipulate the facts. Until those standards are made clear in a public manner and in a way that readers can feel confident they are being followed, articles like Hersh’s must be read as fiction. And not very good fiction at that.
UPDATE: Ron Rosenbaum analyzes Hersh’s (spotty) track record.