Iraq’s Allawi Is a ‘Straw Man’ and a ‘Criminal,’ Says Sy Hersh at NYU

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By: E&P Staff

Speaking at New York University this week, famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh called Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi a “straw man” and a “criminal” and said the key story the press is missing in Iraq is the recent upsurge in U.S. bombing — even before the Fallujah operation.

“One story the press doesn’t touch is this criminal — this straw man that’s been put in — Allawi, this ridiculous figure that we’ve installed as the prime minister,” Hersh said. “To keep him in power, we’ve exponentially increased the bombing. …

“The bombing of Iraq has gone up extraordinarily, by huge numbers. It’s now a daily occurrence, around-the-clock on some occasions. Some of the carriers but much of it done by the Air Force from Doha. We don’t know where. We don’t know how many. We don’t know, and nobody’s asking and nobody wants to know, how many sorties a day? How much tonnage? We used to get all of these numbers. But we have no idea if they’re dropping X-thousand. We don’t know how much ordinance is being dropped on a country we’re trying to save.”

According to Jesse Tarbert, online editor for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which co-sponsored the talk by Hersh and Nation columnist Jonathan Schell, both writers blamed the news media’s failures in covering the war in Iraq mainly on top editors at national news outlets. He quoted Hersh telling the audience, made up partly of student journalists, “I would get rid of the top editors of the networks, The New York Times, I would just cut ’em all off,” drawing laughs.

Both reporters, Tarbert wrote, compared the coverage of the current war in Iraq to that of the Vietnam War. “Incredibly, all these years later, we’re making the same fundamental mistakes,” Schell said. When he arrived in Vietnam in 1966, Schell found that many of the reporters “were imbued with a sort of narrative or an idea of what that war was that derived from their editors back in the United States.” Mental “constructs,” he said, could “block out the evidence of one’s own eyes.”

But Hersh acknowledged that it can be difficult for reporters to go against the status quo. “Nobody wants to be too much of a pain in the ass in a newspaper,” he said. “And if you keep on pushing the envelope you’ll get in trouble.”

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