Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The Sy Hersh effect: killing the messenger, ignoring the message – Responsible Statecraft

Posted by M. C. on February 20, 2023

Absolute crickets. That is the sound in the major mainstream media — both foreign and domestic — following the charges by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that the United States led a covert operation to blow up the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022.

“In some ways I think MSM’s more or less ignoring Naftali Bennett’s comments on aborted early-March Ukraine negotiations is even less excusable than ignoring the Hersh story,” Wright said in an email exchange with RS. “MSM can always say Hersh is now just a freelancer and was relying basically on a single anonymous source, etc — but Bennett is an eyewitness to what he’s describing, and he’s the former prime minister of Israel!”

Written by
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Absolute crickets. That is the sound in the major mainstream media — both foreign and domestic — following the charges by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that the United States led a covert operation to blow up the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022.

The story, released on Hersh’s new Substack last week, unleashed a Twitter war between Hersh’s defenders and detractors, but a simple Google search betrays a dearth of mainstream coverage, with only brief reports by Bloomberg, Agence France Presse, The Times (UK) and the New York Post (a conservative holding of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire). The Washington Times editorial board, also squarely on the right, wrote sympathetically about it on Monday, and Newsweek has covered it as well

All other newspapers of record — the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal — and European outlets — BBC, the Guardian, and most German newspapers (an interview on Berliner Zietung dropped late Wednesday ) —  have ignored it. Tucker Carlson and other hosts covered it on FOX News, another Murdoch staple, but the rest of the cable news circuit — CNN, MSNBC — are seemingly on board with what appears to be a total MSM blackout. 

Maybe not an entire blackout: Business Insider published an unflattering report topped with this unwieldy headline: “The claim by a discredited journalist that the US secretly blew up the Nord Stream pipeline is proving a gift to Putin.”

Moving outside of this relative void to social media and Substack, there appears to be two primary lines of open attack against Hersh’s reporting, which details the story of a covert unit of expert U.S. Navy divers, directed from the very top of the Biden administration, engaged in sabotage plans that were set into motion “in December of 2021, two months before the first Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.” 

First, critics are seeking to discredit Hersh, who has spent the last 50 years embarrassing the U.S. government with myriad exposes (many of them published in major outlets like the New York Times and New Yorker). His most prominent revelations include the My Lai massacre by U.S. troops in Vietnam, the massive CIA spy program against Americans called Operation Chaos (for which the New York Times called him the “Teller of Truth”) in 1974, and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in 2004. Nevertheless, detractors accuse him of engaging in conspiracy theories, sloppy reporting, and bad sourcing.

Second, they point to what appears to be “single sourcing” in Hersh’s Substack report (though he is much more ambiguous about this in his interview with Radio War Nerd this week). Additionally, Twitter and Substack sleuths, using OSINT (open source intelligence,) say they’ve found holes in the details (like the class of minesweeper ship involved and where it was located the day Hersh claims the explosives were planted) that cast doubt on his entire story.

But the questions raised about Hersh and his reporting (appropriate or not) do not explain the lack of mainstream coverage of his extremely detailed, 5300-word article, which under any other circumstances should have opened the floodgates of journalistic inquiry. Here remains an extraordinary mystery: Who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines, which run from Russia to Germany, are majority owned (51 percent) by Russian Gazprom, along with German, Dutch and French stakeholders, and had at one time accounted for 35 percent of the energy the EU was importing from Russia (via Nord Stream 1)? 

Additionally, is Hersh correct in highlighting statements from U.S. officials, from Biden on down, as possible tell-tale signs that they wanted to take down Nord Stream 2 long before the Russian invasion? Did Washington have an interest in cutting it off, and would it have gone so far as to sabotage it and then blame the attack on Russia? Why did top State Department official Victoria Nuland say she was “gratified” it was now “a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea”? 

Germany, Sweden, and Denmark are reportedly conducting separate investigations into the pipeline explosions. Last fall the Swedes confirmed it was “gross sabotage” and that the attack had the markings of a “state actor.” After a flurry of elite media and official Washington figures pointed fingers in Russia’s direction, the Washington Post published an unusually off-script report two months ago quoting “European officials” asserting that there was “no evidence” that Russia was behind the attack. 

But that was in December, and, until Hersh’s explosive allegations, the story had been languishing in news cycle purgatory. Now, following his claims, the absence of any real reporting on the subject seems even more striking. 

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