THE WRITING LIFE
“I didn’t know I was going to be a writer when I started out.” — Sy Hersh
The first time I noticed the name Sy Hersh was an in-depth story about the shooting down of Flight KAL 007 in 1981. It was a compelling read, and so detailed in the research one wonders how this had all been assembled since everyone on board was killed.
The only reason I had not seen the name sooner was that in the Sixties growing up I did what most people do when they read the papers: first the headline, and then the story. Had we paid attention we would have noticed Seymour Hersh as the reporter who broke the My Lai massacre.
The book Reporter, by Hersh, is phenomenal read for anyone who aspires to get into journalism. I’m only one-third through but I’m all in.
His honest, “call it as I see it” approach hits you with all the power of an uppercut. It’s clear that his early life experiences were instrumental in the honing of skills that would carry him for life. For this reason I believe all journalism students would benefit from reading this memoir.
It was at small town newspapers he learned how to ferret out the real stories, and the importance of building relationships with reliable sources. He also learned that he wanted to be where the action was, which led him to the swamp in Washington D.C. By the time he got to D.C. in the early 60s, these habits had become a way of life.
Hersh’s inside look at the Senator Eugene McCarthy campaign was both shocking and candid. The dysfunction there was unbelievable.
His coverage of the Viet Nam War was in line with how I saw things. The unfortunate thing in those days was that if you told the truth as a journalist, you were considered a “bad guy” who is “aiding and abetting the enemy.”
Driven by an insatiable curiosity and desire to get to the bottom of things, Hersh kept digging in places where very little light of day could shine, and told stories that needed to be told. For example, the work our government was doing in the realm of CBMs was frightening. (Chemical and Biological Weapons) And no one else was writing about it.
I’m currently reading the chapter about Lt. Calley and the My Lai massacre. It’s unbelievable the lengths to which the U.S. military went to keep that story from reaching the public. It was only a half century later that we learned how pervasive these incidents were, that they were nearly modus operandi.
It is portrayed as un-American to tell the truth in these matters, here and at Abu Graib. Why can’t we see that it might be because someone loves their country that they point out the inconsistencies between our ideals and our behavior as a nation?
Here are some excerpts from Amazon.com review of this insightful book.
I’m a retired US Army Human Intelligence collector. The name Seymour Hersh had always brought the ire of my supervisors because of his exposing military corruption. I knew some of the interrogators at Abu Ghraib during that scandal and I did read his book “Chain of Command” that came out in 2004. This memoir helps me better understand Hersh’s thirst for honest and ethical standards in our government and military and his persistence in getting the story right. He had good mentors. — Connie (she who hikes with dogs)
Hersh was — and hopefully will continue to be — an unstoppable force exposing government lies in their many dimensions. One of the most interesting parts of the book is what it took to get controversial stories in print without getting sources in the cross-hairs of government retaliation and at the same time clearing the stories with editors-fact checkers, a challenging job. The one great disappointment was Hersh never got to publish his proposed book on Cheney as his sources would have been too transparent. Hersh deserves a very large statue placed near the White House that would constantly stare at the denizens therein, tamping down the lying emanations that continually pour fourth, and one in front of the Pentagon would also be an excellent idea. — Eric C. Petersen
Above all else, Mr. Hersh has always had a veritable fetish for facts, something in seemingly short supply these days in a profession we still call “journalism.” He insists on getting the facts straight even when it means he will not be the first to break a story. As he was once told by an early editor, “it is more important to get it right than to get it first.” He believes that his job is to bulletproof his factual information, then lay it out in the most compelling way possible and let the facts speak for themselves. — JustPlainBill
If it sounds like I’m pumping, I am. Hersh tells it straight. He’s completely transparent and emulates a character quality that is in short supply today: courage.
For writers serious about being journalists, this book comes with my strongest recommendation. For Baby Boomers who want to catch fresh insights about events that have occurred in our lifetimes, the same. And for everyone else: check it out. It’s a darn good read.