Sunday, April 16, 2006

# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEYMOUR HERSH, INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY: Yes, I am still catching up on my scandals. But the Iranian nuclear crisis will be with us for a while yet, so I think that Hersh's latest missive is worth commenting on.

Last week, Sy Hersh was the featured guest on BBC Radio's "Today" progam(me), which describes itself as:
Radio 4's flagship news and current affairs programme. It is widely considered the most significant news broadcast in the UK, and numbers among its listeners most of the country's politicians, opinion-formers and journalists. Number 10 Downing Street - the Prime Minister's residence - records the entire three-hour programme each day.
FYI, Radio 4 is the BBC's serious channel, with teeny boppers and whatnot on some of the others. (Worst of all is Radio FiveLive, which is so desperate for substance that it repeatedly interviews OxBloggers.)

Being the featured guest is quite an distinction, and in my six months listening to the program on an almost-daily basis, I can't recall another American journalist being so honored. Officials, yes. Both Condi, Treasury Secretary John Snow and a number of lesser lights have appeared on the show. When it comes to Britons, the list includes Tony Blair, Labor #2 Gordon Brown, Tory #1 David Cameron and others of similar rank.

Hersh's interview also stood out in my mind because it is so rare to see the notoriously tough BBC interviewers throw out so many softballs (or their cricket equivalents). Although Tory leaders -- and especially David Cameron -- seem to get the worst of it, even Labor ministers have it fairly rough. But Hersh was treated as if his membership in the journalistic fraternity had exempted his work from scrutiny.

Unfortunately, Radio 4 doesn't provide transcripts, so you'll have to listen to the interview yourself to see what I mean. For the moment, you can still download the interview as a podcast from Today's website. Hersh's interview was on April 10th, so you'll have to make sure to download last week's episodes, not just the current ones.

Getting back to the point, I think that BBC's treatment of Hersh as a figure of international importance accurately sums up European expectations about the Bush administration's behavior vis-a-vis Iran. Although apparently deferential to the multilateral negotiating process led by Germany, France and Britain, the Bush administration must secretly want to bomb Iran. Right?

In this country, we've gotten used to Hersh and know not to pay too much attention to what he says. On occasion, evidence turns up to show he was right, but until then, even Hersh's fans treat his work as gossip. In other words, you won't see him on NBC Nightly News nor even, most likely on Meet the Press. But on the BBC, he's a star.

To a certain extent, this also speaks to the cultural divide across the Atlantic, with Europeans no better at recognizing our charlatans as we are theirs. But ultimately, I think it comes down to expectations. Hersh describes an America that Europeans instinctively recognize.
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Cricket equivalent would be the "full toss"
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