- ISBN-13: 9780307263957
- ISBN-10: 0307263959
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
- Publish Date: June 2018
- Page Count: 368
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.72 pounds
Well Read: Just the facts
At a time when hard-hitting journalism is under siege within the halls of power and, more insidiously, under threat of extinction because of the economics of the internet, Seymour M. Hersh’s memoir, Reporter, is a welcome tonic. A legend among investigative journalists, Hersh broke some of the most important stories of the last 50 years, and this engaging account of his career during the golden age of journalism is, not surprisingly, filled with colorfully told anecdotes of the art of getting the story.
Hersh’s own origin story is right out of a Horatio Alger novel. The son of Jewish immigrants, Hersh grew up on Chicago’s South Side, working in his father’s store in a largely black neighborhood, playing or watching baseball when he could. After his father’s death, Hersh ran the family business while also attending the University of Chicago. After dropping out of law school, he kicked around at some inconsequential jobs before landing at the rough-and-tumble City News Bureau of Chicago as a copy boy and then a field reporter, and his rapport with the black community in the heavily segregated, openly racist city gave him his first taste of the importance of finding and respecting sources. He worked for The Associated Press in far-flung Pierre, South Dakota, before making it back to Chicago and then Washington, D.C. For all his talent and ambition, though, Hersh struggled to make his mark or land a job with a major paper. He even worked briefly as press secretary in Senator Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war presidential campaign.
Then history intervened. While freelancing out of the National Press Building, Hersh got a vague tip about the court-martialing of a GI for killing civilians in South Vietnam. The story of what came to be known as the My Lai Massacre was being kept from the public by the military, and Hersh went to work with his usual dogged determination, tracking down the accused, Lt. William L. Calley Jr., who was under house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia. The chapters about uncovering the My Lai story, which took Hersh deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole that was the Pentagon’s waging of an unwinnable war, unreel like a tightly plotted suspense film. Unable to interest a major publication in the story, Hersh—with his trademark moxie—self-syndicated it. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, a rarity for a freelance journalist.
This is a captivating memoir that could inspire a new generation of journalists.
Still, his dream job at the New York Times eluded him, and he went to work for The New Yorker. When he finally landed at the Times, he continued to report on Vietnam and foreign affairs until a new story took over the headlines: Watergate. Later, back at The New Yorker, Hersh covered the war on terror, consistently calling out the lies of the Bush-Cheney White House and bringing shocking revelations about the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to light. Hersh, who quotes the Times as calling him “scruffy, scrappy, stubborn, loud,” argues that his achievements have come not from his personality but from doing the work that is the essence of good journalism: a lot of reading, conducting interviews and finding the sources. The stories in his book bear out these claims.
Reporter is a captivating memoir that could inspire a new generation of journalists—assuming they still have the financial support to find their stories and a place to tell them.