The Most Dangerous Journalist in America



Seymour Hersh gets yet another scoop, this one directed at Obama.

It was Richard Perle, one of the better known neoconservatives in Washington, who defined him as such: “Seymour Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” If we think back to the real bombs, the scoops that he has managed to make in a career spanning so many years, the comparison is not such a bold and ungenerous one. The son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, born in Chicago in 1937, he is one of the last true exemplars in a long line of investigative journalists who have written the history of a free press in the land of the free.

The My Lai Massacre

His latest attack regards the killing of Osama bin Laden. The official version given until now is false, Hersh wrote. Barack Obama told lies. The head of al-Qaida was sold out by the Pakistan Intelligence Services, which had held him in custody for some time. The hunt never happened. One strike and America’s most wanted was gone.

The White House denies it, but Hersh can hardly be mistaken. His entire career has been dedicated to revealing uncomfortable secrets, truths hidden from the power of public opinion. Since the beginning, this has been his mission, a mission he continues to carry out, without feeling the weight of the years too heavily. Today, just as in the past, the reporter listens for the right sources, gathers secrets, verifies the revelations, then shoots.

Hersh’s first big scoop went down in history. On Nov. 12, 1969, Hersh revealed the massacre of My Lai to the world. In this village in March 1968, hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were killed by American soldiers. The horror of the war in Southeast Asia and all its most dramatic consequences were revealed, including the fact that those who killed defenseless civilians were young soldiers, completing their national service, catapulted thousands of miles from home.

The peace movement, already strong, was fed by the wave of disgust that followed this sad revelation; the My Lai massacre was one of the stones that helped sink approval for that already disputed war.

Scoops on Iraq

The My Lai investigation won Seymour Hersh the Pulitzer Prize, the most sought after journalism prize in the world. The aggressive journalist spent the ’70s working for The New York Times and The New Yorker, before settling at the latter; the magazine for the liberal American intelligentsia was a natural destination for him. Readers immediately appreciated the large amount of space his lengthy stories received.

Hersh had already become a scarecrow for power. In the ’80s and ’90s, he pulled out additional smaller but important bombs. Yet during the wars of the first decade of the 21st century, the “old” scoop hunter found a sort of second youth. The Bush administration entered his radar. In a series of articles published towards the end of 2002, he explained that the plans to invade Iraq had been ready for some time. He revealed the decisive role Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives played in the decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

Thirty-five years on, the man of My Lai exposed another American scandal: torture in the Abu Ghraib prison. It was Hersh who revealed that the CIA had a secret program of interrogation and maltreatment with the objective of obtaining information from people detained in the Baghdad prison. The program was inaugurated at Guantanamo, then, under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, exported to Iraq.

It was at this point that Richard Perle dubbed Seymour Hersh a “terrorist.” The articles and books published during that period are a testament to the shrewdness of an investigative journalist still capable of delving into the labyrinths of power and of testifying against its being abused.

Attacks on Obama

A true reporter, Hersh leaves no administration untouched. Democratic and Republican presidents had become targets, so Barack Obama could not be left off the list. Hersh launched the first attack in 2013 with an article published by the London Review of Books. Both The New Yorker and The Washington Post refused to buy the article written by the reporter.

In this long piece, the Pulitzer Prize winner asserted that the accusations Obama had launched against Bashar al-Assad’s regime of using chemical weapons against civilians could not be proven because, according to Hersh, other factions in the war in Syria also possessed Sarin gas bombs. Hersh was criticized for having resorted to using only anonymous sources to back up his disclosures. That is why the American papers did not want to buy the story, fearing possible repercussions.

In more or less the same period, Hersh also said that the entire story concerning the elimination of Osama bin Laden should be retold, because the White House’s version was full of lies. Two years later, the article in which Hersh’s findings on the matter is revealed has arrived.

The administration denies it, but the journalist says he can prove what he has written. After an honorable 50-year career fighting the powers that be, the Pulitzer Prize winner fears no one. The last great American investigative journalist still has an important mystery to uncover before he puts down his pen.

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1 Comment

  1. Last night’s PBS FRONTLINE documentary went some way to suggest that Hersh may not be as wrong as his lazy journalist-critics would like us to believe.

    Clearly, this is the time for all journalists on this particular beat to start examining their own (shoddy) work and start practicing a bit of investigative journalism themselves.

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