LA Times columnist Boot's response to Media Matters contained more inaccuracies

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Los Angeles Times op-ed columnist and Weekly Standard contributing editor Max Boot responded with yet more inaccuracies to a Media Matters for America item documenting inaccuracies in his January 27 op-ed attacking investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

In his January 27 column, Boot claimed that the opening of the Soviet Union's archives "debunked" Hersh's assertion that the Soviets had thought they were targeting a U.S. spy plane when they shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 (KAL 007) over Soviet airspace in 1983. As Media Matters noted in the February 1 item, the Soviet documents disprove only the Soviets' claim that the airliner was indeed an American spy plane; no documents debunk Hersh's argument in his book The Target Is Destroyed (Random House, 1986) that the Soviets initially mistook KAL 007 for an American spy plane and shot it down under this misapprehension.

Boot has not provided any documents or reports concerning the Soviet archives as evidence of his claim that Hersh was "debunked." In his response to Media Matters, posted February 4 on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations (where Boot serves as the Olin Senior Fellow in National Security Studies), Boot cited only a December 9, 1996, New York Times interview with Lieutenant Colonel Gennadi Osipovich, the Soviet fighter pilot who had shot down KAL 007. Boot wrote:

To quote the Times: "Colonel [Gennadi] Osipovich says he knew he had no doubts that he was dealing with a civilian plane and not an RC-135," a type of American spy plane. Osipovich still maintains that he thought the civilian airliner was on a spy mission-a claim falsely advanced by Soviet authorities as well-but, contrary to the assertions in Hersh's book, he did not think he was shooting down a U.S. military aircraft.

But Osipovich's 1996 comments appear to contradict statements he made to Izvestiya, a Russian newspaper, in 1991, in which he affirmed his belief that KAL 007 was a spy plane, that he was completely unaware that KAL 007 was a passenger aircraft, and that the radio exchanges between him and the ground controllers prove that. His statements were reprinted in a May 19, 1991, New York Times article. The article did not quote Osipovich specifying that he thought the plane was an American spy plane, but he made it clear that contrary to his later comments, he had no idea it was a civilian aircraft. The 1996 Times article did not address the apparent change in Osipovich's position. The Times cited Izvestiya in writing in the 1991 article:

Back on the ground, Colonel Osipovich recalled, he was initially treated like a hero until an inquiry commission flew in and people began asking if he had known the plane he had downed was filled with passengers.

"I can honestly say," he told Izvestia, "that I had no idea that it was a passenger aircraft flying ahead of me."

"I repeat," he said at another point, "that all the talk about a civilian aircraft came later. But in the air it was an intruder. I remember my own radio exchanges by heart, and you have just shown me some of them. Look, there is not a single hint in them that there might be passengers on the aircraft."

[...]

"I am a supporter of the old version [the debunked Soviet argument]," he said. "It was a spy plane. In any event, it was not happenstance that it flew toward us."

Moreover, as Media Matters previously noted, reports from the U.S. State Department, a former director for the U.S. Information Agency, and the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization -- all made after the fall of the Soviet Union -- supported Hersh's analysis.

Boot also claimed in his January 27 op-ed that Hersh had "tried to peddle a documentary [on former President John F. Kennedy] based on forged documents." Media Matters wrote that Hersh was reportedly unaware that some of the documents he had originally intended to include in the documentary and his book were forgeries and that when analyses conducted by ABC and Hersh concluded that certain documents were indeed forged, Hersh removed all mention of them from his book, and the documentary was altered in a similar fashion before it aired in December 1997. Boot wrote in his response to Media Matters: "Actually, according to an Associated Press story that ran on September 25, 1997, it was not Hersh but document examiners hired by ABC who determined the documents were forged." While the AP article Boot cited did not mention Hersh's role in the vetting process, many other publications did -- including an October 6, 1997, article, which Media Matters cited, in TIME magazine:

Then, in late spring, a full analysis was done by Jerry Richards, a former document examiner for the FBI, who concluded they were fakes on the basis of the typewriting. Two more experts, one brought in by Hersh and [Hersh's partner Mark] Obenhaus and another by ABC, confirmed his analysis.

Other publications also reported that Hersh was involved in the vetting process:

  • The Boston Globe, December 4, 1997: "While he acknowledged he was 'terribly disappointed' that the papers were found fraudulent, [ABC News anchor Peter] Jennings contended that the flap over the papers should not undermine viewer credibility in tonight's documentary. He noted that ABC and Hersh uncovered the alleged scam together before it was aired or printed, and he insisted that ABC was 'very careful' in preparing the show viewers will see tonight."
  • The Baltimore Sun, November 17, 1997: "The papers, Hersh and others finally concluded this summer, were forgeries and were omitted from the book. NBC, which had planned a special on Hersh's book, canceled it. (ABC later picked up the project and is expected to air a program next month.)"
  • The Washington Post, October 27, 1997: "This summer, forensics experts hired by Obenhaus and ABC came to the conclusion that at least some of the papers were fakes."
  • USA Today, October 27, 1997: "ABC and the production company Hersh formed to work on the documentary subjected the documents to extensive handwriting analysis and other reviews. Finally six key documents were submitted to two forensic examiners. Their conclusion: All six were forged."
  • The New York Times, October 12, 1997: "In late August, Lex Cusack [who had provided the forged documents to Hersh] traveled to a New York City hotel to be interviewed on camera by ABC about his apparently historic find. What he did not know was that ABC, Mr. Hersh and the documentary film makers had arranged for forensic specialists to examine key documents. Their conclusion: the documents they saw were fake."
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.