THE WRITING LIFE
I’m currently reading Seymour Hersh’s memoir, Reporter, for the second time. The first time was last month, and I am extracting so much from the book that I may read it again as soon as I am done.
The book details his early Chicago and South Dakota years in which he developed the work habits that later made him a serious force to be reckoned with as a journalist. He learned to develop sources, build trust, gain access to information, and all the necessary preparation required to really break open a story. He had good mentoring and learned how to work hard.
As a result of his Chicago days, it startled him when we went to Washington D.C. and found much of the Washington Press Corps to be essentially notetakers absorbing whatever pablum the Pentagon and White House fed them. Since this was the Viet Nam War era, he found this appalling.
Reporter goes into detail describing what it took to really unearth the first major story he broke, the My Lai incident. The book is worth reading just for the details on how he found Lt. William Calley. (EdNote: For the record, every journalism student should read this book.)
The following decades included many important stories. Hersh’s career included stints with the New York Times and The New Yorker as well as the Washington Post. In general, however, he hated the boxed in feeling that came with being somewhat shackled by editors. As an author he wrote books on My Lai, Henry Kissinger, The Dark Side of Camelot, the shooting down of flight KAL 007, Israel’s nuclear arsenal and U.S. foreign policy, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Abu Ghraib, among others.
In 1983 he published his book The Price of Power after four years of research. The book rips off all the candy coatings that conceal in order to unveil the ugly truths beneath the surface during Kissinger’s years inside the Nixon White House. Overthrowing democratically elected leaders who the U.S. didn’t like, the illegal bombing activity inside Cambodian borders, bugging the phones of his staff, contributing to the horrors of Bangladesh, and other deeds that reveal Kissinger to be anything but a hero.
Of the book, Noam Chomsky wrote Hersh a note saying, “It is really fabulous, apart from the feeling that one is crawling through a sewer.
Kissinger at the time was still on a pedestal in many peoples’ minds. The degree to which this was so hit Hersh full force when he was guest on Ted Koppel’s Nightline for a full hour the day after the book had been published. It was brutal.
The previous night Koppel had had Kissinger himself on the show, and the former Secretary of State was furious about the book, calling it “a slimy lie” even though he claimed he’d never read it.
Once Hersh was on the show Koppel let his stance be known early on by the questions he asked. “Sy Hersh, what’s the point? What purpose is served by this book?” Koppel hadn’t read the book either though.
Koppel then brought two guests on with more mud to sling at Hersh, Larry Eagleberger and Winston Lord. Each dismissed everything Hersh had written, each praised Kissinger and each said they had not read the book.
Writes Hersh, “I had been exposed to tough love from CIA operatives…and a variety of thugs in my career, but nothing would match the face-to-face hostility generated by Koppel and the others, with millions watching on television.”
As the saying goes, it is what it is.
Moral: Be careful when attempting to knock over sacred cows.
Originally published at https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com.