The strange story of how a legendary investigative journalist came to echo Assad's propagandaby Steve Bloomfield / July 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Seymour Hersh’s first big scoop—before the revelations about an American massacre in the Vietnamese village of My Lai started his great award-winning streak—was about the US government’s secret programme to develop chemical and biological weapons. Deducing that the people most likely to talk to him were retired, he read back issues of army newspapers, searching for short stories about retirement parties that would often mention where the general in question was retiring to.
“I got a list of names and addresses, made some calls, and took off, full of my customary enthusiasm,” Hersh recounts in his new memoir, Reporter. He spent two months on the road, visiting retirees and piecing together an incredible story. What he uncovered was undeniable. There were documents, there was evidence and there were people on the record.
Hersh worked for the Associated Press and he duly filed 15,000 words split into five parts, hoping to make a splash. An editor put it in a drawer. Eventually, just over 1,000 words was run, complete with a re-written introduction that claimed the Soviet programme was just as bad. Undeterred, Hersh found another outlet and over time, despite the denials from the Pentagon, it became accepted that he’d been right.
This pattern—of getting a tip-off from a source, then digging deeply to find the proof before struggling to find an established outlet willing to print the story—is one that has followed Hersh throughout his career. It has established him as one of America’s finest investigative journalists, a reporter whose work has to be read, whether it is about the Watergate cover-up that led to the impeachment of Richard Nixon or the revelations of US torture in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
But for the man himself there was another, perhaps more important, lesson: namely that the US government lies. Robert McNamara, the US secretary of defence during the early stages of the Vietnam War was a “psychotic liar,” Hersh told me when we met in London in June. Henry Kissinger was “the other great liar of our time.”