BBG Watch Commentary
In an apparent violation of the VOA Charter and Journalistic Code, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) published two reports in which Michael Morell, a former deputy and acting director of the CIA under President Barack Obama, said that American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s account of the raid in which U.S. special forces assassinated Osama bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan, in May 2011, was “rubbish” and “all wrong,” but VOA did not give Seymour Hersh a chance to respond to these accusations against his journalistic work and reputation.
In a VOA report, “Former CIA Official Reflects on Tangle of Wars in Syria,” May 16, 2015 6:21 PM ET, which was based on an exclusive interview conducted by VOA’s Cal Perry with Michael Morell, Voice of America devoted several paragraphs to undermining Seymour Hersh’s investigative reporting.
VOICE OF AMERICA: In the interview with VOA’s Perry, Morell also disputed a recent article by American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on the circumstances that helped U.S. intelligence officials locate Osama bin Laden and the raid in which U.S. special forces assassinated him at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.
“It’s rubbish, it’s all wrong,” Morell said of Hersh’s article.
Contrary to Hersh’s assessment, Morell said the U.S. did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts from a Pakistani man who was given $25 million for the information. He said U.S. officials found one of bin Laden’s couriers, determined where the al-Qaida leader migh be located, monitored him at his Abbottabad compound for months, and concluded that he was “probably there.”
Morell also countered Hersh’s claim that Pakistan’s government knew of the bin Laden operation.
Bin Laden secret
“I was in every meeting at the CIA and every meeting at the White House,” Morell said. “I was there when President Obama said we are not going to tell the Pakistanis. This was the most closely held secret that I’d ever been involved in in my career.”
Obama has said the U.S. worked alone to kill bin Laden.
Morell, who has served under six presidents, also defended the the decision by U.S. officials to target suspected terrorists using unmanned drone aircraft, saying “they are the single most effective tool in protecting the United States and our allies from attacks.”
“I am absolutely convinced that without the aggressive drone program that was started by President [George W.] Bush and continued by President Obama, that there would have been another 9/11-style attack in the United States sometime between 2008 and 2012,” Morell said.
“The other thing I’ll say is that this is the most precise weapon in the U.S. arsenal. Collateral damage is not zero — and gosh, I wish it were zero, but it’s not — but it’s very close to zero.
“Number three, the numbers that you see about huge numbers of collateral damage just aren’t true. They are put out there as propaganda by people who want this program to go away, and al-Qaida is one of those groups.”
The VOA report was accompanied by a video of a portion of the interview with Michael Morell dealing only with Syria: Michael Morell: Who Should the US Support in Syria?, published on YouTube on May 15, 2015.
Voice of America also published another report, “Reporter’s Notebook: Ex-CIA Official Talks Bin Laden, Drones, Intel, ” which also included the video as well as another version of Michael Morell’s attack on American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
VOICE OF AMERICA: The killing of Osama Bin Laden remains one of the greatest successes in the mind of the former Deputy Director.
“It was one of the most remarkable things the CIA ever accomplished” he said.
When President Obama asked Morell to give an assessment of the probability of Osama Bin Laden being at the compound before the raid – Morell put it at 60 percent. In fact, he told the president that the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had been better than the case for Bin Laden being at the compound.
Morell also discounted the recent Seymour Hersh article that offers a very different version of the events surrounding the raid than the account presented by the U.S. government.
“It was all rubbish,” Morell said. “I’m speculating that the Pakistanis are peddling this to save face.”
VOA reporter did not obtain a response from the Pakistani government, but VOA noted that Michael Morell has a new book and provided a link.
Whether Seymour Hersh’s account of the circumstances that helped U.S. intelligence officials locate Osama bin Laden are correct or not, he is a well known American journalist with a long and generally accurate record of investigative reporting. He was entitled to a rebuttal on the VOA program, or at least his claims should have been more fully presented if VOA truly tried to but was not able to interview him.
The Voice of America Charter says that “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” The VOA Charter (Public Law 94-350) also says that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”
The VOA Journalistic Code makes a specific point about interviews in which one person makes an accusation against another.
VOA JOURNALISTIC CODE: Whenever VOA reports a charge or accusation made by an individual or a group against another, or presents one side of a controversial issue, a response and/or balancing information will be included in the first use of a news item or feature containing that material. If the balancing information cannot be obtained by the program deadline, or the subject of the charge declines to comment, that will be made clear in VOA’s account, and the balancing material will be broadcast as soon as it is available.
Voice of America did not say whether it tried to arrange for an interview with Seymour Hersh, as it should have, and did not present his side of the story in any substantive way.
Ironically, Russia’s RT was able to interview Seymour Hersh. RT’s video interview with Hersh included a video segment of the White House spokesman undermining Hersh’s account in a fashion similar to how it was done in the Voice of America interview.
To some degree, RT’s video had more balance than the two VOA reports. RT also posted online a report, “Down the rabbit hole: Bin Laden raid was staged after extensive Pakistan-US negotiations – report.” The RT report from May 11 also had more balancing information than VOA provided in its two reports. RT even quoted ex-CIA official Michael Morell.
RT: Hersh’s long, distinguished career in journalism has included major revelations of US wrongdoing, including stories that exposed, in 1968, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and, in 2004, the detainee abuses at the US Army-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Yet his latest account is fielding pushback for “internal contradictions in the narrative he constructs,” as Vox.com’s Max Fisher wrote.
“Why, for example, would the Pakistanis insist on a fake raid that would humiliate their country and the very military and intelligence leaders who supposedly instigated it?
“A simpler question: why would Pakistan bother with the ostentatious fake raid at all, when anyone can imagine a dozen simpler, lower-risk, lower-cost ways to do this?” Fisher wrote.
CIA apparatchiks predictably countered Hersh’s story, as well.
“Every sentence I was reading was wrong,” Michael Morell, recently the deputy director of the CIA, said Monday on ‘CBS This Morning.’
“The source that Hersh talked to has no idea what he’s talking about,” Morell said. “The person obviously was not close to what happened. The Pakistanis did not know.”
Hersh told CNN he was “not out on a limb” with the story.
“The story says clearly that I was able to vet and verify information with others in the community. It’s very tough for guys still inside to get quoted extensively.”
He stood by his own reporting.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Hersh said. “I understand the consequences of saying what I’m saying.”
Hersh said he’s waiting for the White House to deny his account.
“There are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece to fact check each one,” White House National Security spokesman Ned Price said in a statement to reporters.
While RT’s report and interview with Seymour Hersh were far from being completely neutral and perfectly balanced and did show a strong anti-U.S. bias, they were in some ways journalistically more evenhanded, at least for appearances sake. VOA reports were nothing but an unchallenged and rather brutal attack on an independent American investigative journalist. There was no rebuttal from Seymour Hersh in VOA reports, while RT did have rebuttals from the White House and from an ex-CIA official to Seymour Hersh’s claims. Presumably, if an American media outlet called Voice of America reporting “rubbish,” VOA director David Ensor would want to rebut any such accusations and would no doubt be given an opportunity to do so. Mr. Hersh deserved and still deserves a similar courtesy from VOA.
RT Puts VOA To Shame On Audience Engagement
RT had posted its news report and its interview a few days earlier than VOA, but in terms of audience engagement through social media, VOA’s lateness in reporting on the story appears to be only a minor factor when other VOA and RT reports on similar topics are also compared. VOA gets beaten by RT every time by an enormous margin.
VOA coverage in this case was both late and clearly not as engaging for the online English speaking audience as RT’s coverage. There were over 11,000 YouTube views for the RT interview video compared to VOA’s 136 views.
The difference in Facebook Likes/Shares was equally devastating: more than 20,000 for RT to VOA’s 133.
Granted, VOA did not interview Seymour Hersh and was three to four days behind RT on this story, but that is actually no excuse. Even though there was more balance in RT’s reporting, it was still strongly biased against the United States. RT’s treatment of the story called for a smart and objective reporting from VOA, not an all out attack on Seymour Hersh. But VOA’s interview and its news reports were even more biased against a respected American investigative reporter than RT was biased against the Obama Administration and the United States in general.
Ironically, the agency which oversees Voice of America, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), says that its mission is “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” VOA’s and BBG’s mission is to provide accurate, balanced and comprehensive news as an example to independent journalists like Seymour Hersh in other countries and as a sign of American support for freedom of the press. Attacking an American journalist in Voice of America programs without giving him a chance to defend himself sets a very bad and dangerous example.
RT Down the rabbit hole: Bin Laden raid was staged after extensive Pakistan-US negotiations – report, May 11, 2015.
RT: 20,600 Facebook Likes/Shares (as of 1:50 AM, May 18)
RT: 988 Tweets
RT: 166 Comments
VOA: Former CIA Official Reflects on Tangle of Wars in Syria, May 15, 2015.
VOA: 133 Facebook Likes/Shares (as of 1:50 AM, May 18)
VOA: 355 Tweets
VOA: 1 Comment
RT YouTube Video: ‘Old, sick man, who was going to be murdered’ – Seymour Hersh on Bin Laden ‘raid’, May 12, 2015
RT: 11,956 Views (as of 1:50 AM, May 18)
RT: 245 Likes
VOA: 136 Views (as of 1:50 AM, May 18)
VOA: 1 Like