JJ: You’re not a fan of President George W. Bush. Do you look at things in terms of Jan. 20, 2009?
SH: Absolutely. Absolutely. No matter who will be there.
JJ: Do you have one of those countdown clocks on your desk?
SH: No. Somebody gave me one, but I thought it would be too cute. You know, he’s got power. He’s still president.
JJ: You mentioned that there are plenty of things you know that you can’t write about.
SH: The bottom line is nobody in this government talks to me. I’ve been around for 40 years—in Bush I, in the Reagan years, certainly in Democratic regimes, but even in Republican regimes where I am more of a pain—I’ve always had tremendous relationships with people. This is the first government in which in order to get my stories checked out to make sure I’m not going to kill some American, I have to go to peoples’ mailboxes at night, people I talk to and know, and put it in their mailbox before turning it into The New Yorker, to get them to read it and say, “Oh, Page 4, you better not say that, Hersh.”
I can’t do that with the government. I used to always go and sit down and talk with the heads of the CIA and heads of other agencies. These guys are just really quantitatively different. You are either with us or against us across the board. And this is why I count days.
JJ: New York magazine has a profile this week of Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, and they call him “America’s Most Influential Journalist.” What have bloggers like Drudge done to journalism, and how do you think it compares to the muckrakers that you came of age with?
SH: There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually—and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post—we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism.
I’ve been working for The New Yorker recently since ‘93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about. Couldn’t care less now. It doesn’t matter, because I’ll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it’s online, we just get flooded.
So, we have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven’t come to terms with it. I don’t think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.
JJ: Bush recently compared Iraq to Vietnam in a positive way. What do you think he learned from the Vietnam War?
SH: He seems to have learned from lessons that were not very valid. Nobody wants to be a loser. Bush is going to disengage to some degree, and he’s going to claim the country is more stable. He’s just going to say whatever he wants, and he’s going to get away with it because who knows what is going on in Basra. Nobody I know in their right mind would go down there. You’d get whacked.
And the Democrats have fallen into the trap of saying, “We shouldn’t get out.” As far as I am concerned, there are only two issues: Option A is to get out by midnight tonight, and Option B is to get out by midnight tomorrow.