Syria and the case for editorial accountability

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: On June 29, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published a comprehensive report confirming that the nerve agent used in the Syrian regime’s April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 92 was sarin. The conclusion was no surprise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF) had already found the symptoms of the victims consistent with exposure to a nerve agent. In a separate analysis, the French government had matched sarin samples from the site to regime stock. A Human Rights Watch investigation also found the regime responsible for this and three other chemical attacks since December, and said the latest attack was “part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons”.

However, the response from the regime and its supporters followed a familiar pattern. There was denial, deflection and deception. There were conspiracy theories. There was whataboutery. But effluvia from this dung heap merely fouled the air until it was ignited into a noxious fire by an inveterate pyromaniac. Enter Seymour Hersh.

Seymour Hersh, a once celebrated journalist, has been reluctant to cede the limelight. But the pride of place that he earned through hard work he now wants to keep by trading on his legacy alone. Hersh, who once did the legwork for his stories – finding sources, corroborating claims, verifying evidence – is now relying on the uncorroborated claims of anonymous sources to tell tall tales that contradict available evidence. The man who broke world-changing stories from My Lai to Abu Ghraib now hops from publication to publication, writing sensational drivel, sullying his reputation and diminishing his publishers’.

His latest story, published in the German daily Die Welt, was a colourful rendition of an extant conspiracy theory: that the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun did not result from a chemical attack but were caused by toxic discharge from a conventional attack on a jihadi facility. Based on the baroque testimony of an anonymous source, Hersh concludes that there was no sarin involved. [Continue reading…]

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