Academic journal article Journalism History

Reporter: A Memoir

Academic journal article Journalism History

Reporter: A Memoir

Article excerpt

Hersh, Seymour M. Reporter: A Memoir. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 355 pp. $27.95.

From the Vietnam War to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Seymour M. Hersh has produced powerful investigations of murder and malfeasance by the U.S. government, military, and intelligence services. In Reporter: A Memoir, Hersh describes how his dedication to exposing unpleasant truths made him one of the most consequential and controversial journalists of the past half century. He also makes clear why many of his editors found him both brilliant and exasperating.

Reporter: A Life follows Hersh from his start as a copyboy for the City News Bureau of Chicago, where his first assignment was to cover a fire in a manhole. In 1965 he joined the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. where he began breaking big stories: Pentagon lies about the bombing of civilian locations in North Vietnam, the CIA's role in running drugs in Southeast Asia, the secret war conducted by the U.S. in Laos, and the military's production of chemical and biological warfare agents such as yellow fever and the plague.

The book's best section provides a detailed account of his Pulitzer-winning investigation as a freelancer of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Hersh's blowby-blow narrative of his reporting offers a master class in shoe-leather reporting. He continually questions authority, develops new story ideas by reading voraciously, and doggedly finds sources that no one else can. For example, to identify people who could inform him about the U.S. Army's chemical and biological warfare program, he searched through old newspapers from military bases to unearth articles about retirement parties for colonels and generals. He then tracked down the former officers, who were more willing than current officers to talk.

After being hired by the New York Times, Hersh provided one of the crucial Watergate scoops, revealing that the burglars who had broken into Democratic National Committee headquarters were paid hush money by President Richard Nixon's men to commit perjury at their trials. He followed with more bombshell investigations: National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger's approval of the wiretapping of journalists and his own aides, the Pentagon's use of a fake bookkeeping system to hide its secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia, the CIA's role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Chile, and the agency's illegal spying on antiwar activists and other Americans. Hersh delights in quoting a government official who said of him, "The SOB has sources that are absolutely beyond compare" (p. 213).

When Hersh turned his investigative zeal to big business, however, he grew dismayed that his editors were warier of revealing corporate corruption than they were of exposing government misdeeds. He left the Times and continued his investigative work as a freelancer while writing scathing biographies of Henry Kissinger and John F. Kennedy to mixed reviews. Reporter: A Memoir describes Hersh's frustration at the dwindling response from the public to many of his stories and the lack of follow-through by other reporters. …

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