Wrong Way Sy (Hersh).

Media criticism.
May 6 2003 6:53 PM

The Leading Indicator That WMD Will Be Found

Seymour M. Hersh says they won't.

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Hersh also surmises that the Straussians Paul Wolfowitz hired at the Pentagon might have told noble, Platonic lies about WMD to justify the war. A former high-level intelligence official calls the WMD charges "bait and switch" by the Bush administration. "Bait them into Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. And, when they aren't found, there's this whole bullshit about the weapons being in Syria," the source tells Hersh.

If Hersh's interpretive/predictive streak holds, we should expect to find proof of WMD and a direct link between Iraq and al-Qaida within the next two weeks.

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Why are Sy Hersh's recent New Yorker defense pieces so consistently off the mark? Perhaps Hersh, who made his name tilting against the establishment, has become too willing to channel establishment sources' complaints. Indeed, most of his unnamed sources hail from the defense/intelligence establishment, which feels encroached upon by Rumsfeld and the rest of the new guard. If the question is, What's wrong with today's CIA?, Hersh reports back, it isn't enough like the old CIA. If the question is, What's wrong with today's Pentagon?, Hersh answers at the behest of his Army sources, Rumsfeld is mucking with tip-fiddle! If the Delta commandos and the Army generals talking to Hersh don't like Rumsfeld's policies—or the CIA, the DIA, and others resent similar turf encroachment by Wolfowitz's "cabal"—they know there is a place where their gripes can get a complete airing: A Hersh piece in The New Yorker.

Every bureaucratic struggle has at least two sides, and a reporter who recklessly throws in with one side against the other may publish blockbusters. But of what use are blockbusters that are consistently wrong?

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Addendum: On Nov. 12, 2003, I ate crow in this column, conceding that Hersh had been right about WMD and I had been wrong. Mea culpa.

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.