American investigative journalism collapses

By Tapani Lausti

Seymour M. Hersh, Reporter: A Memoir, Alfred A. Knopf 2018.

The recent arrest of WikiLeak’s founder Julian Assange made a large part of the corporate press gloat in a way that highlighted the continuing degeneration of serious journalism. WikiLeak’s revelations of the true face of the American role in the world confirm the findings of the great investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh. Over decades Hersh has pulled down the veil that has covered American crimes against humanity: torture, indiscriminate military strikes on civilian targets and targeted assassinations. Hersh also revealed how the CIA was spying on anti-war resistance in the US, thus violating its own charter.

Now Assange is in jail awaiting possible extradition to the US. Hersh for his part has been sidelined from the American media. His fate symbolises how the elite power has been able to corrupt independent journalism.

Having started with revelations of American atrocities in Vietnam, Seymour Hersh made a name for himself as a courageous investigative reporter whose work made him an enemy of presidents, government officials and big business luminaries. In spite of his prominent role of revealing the ugly side of American politics, he kept his personal politics separate from his reporting. He writes: “My hatred of the Vietnam War stemmed not from an ideology but from what I had learned in reading and reporting on it – on-the-job training, in a sense.”

Hersh’s “crime” was to show that the United States of America was not in reality a defender of democracy and human rights. His work in chronicling the crimes of the US empire in the end virtually blacklisted him in the American media. And the loss of his voice—he used to work for The New York Times and later The New Yorker —is evidence that the press, always flawed, has now been neutered by corporate power. Hersh’s memoir is as much about his remarkable career as it is about the death of investigative journalism and the transformation of news into a national reality television show.

A revealing detail in his pesonal and journalistic life was his friendship with I.F. Stone. With his four-page investigative paper I.F. Stone Weekly, this legendary journalist worked outside the mainstream media. Together Stone and Hersh would talk “incessantly how to do better reporting.” Hersh writes: “There was no mystery how Stone did it: He outworked every journalist in Washington .”

Hersh’s memoirs are published with this recommendation by the British writer John le Carré: “This book is essential reading for every journalist and aspiring journalist the world over.” I couldn’t agree more. Hersh has an important message for aspiring journalists: “I had already figured out the core lesson of being a journalist – read before you write …”

Writing intelligently about world politics requires a thorough study of the historical background. These days too often “acceptable” conclusions take you to a world of ideas that mainly reflect elite interests. Outside this world you might find opinions that are not helpful if you want to make it in mainstream journalism. Here is Hersh again: “Any good reporter knows which of his colleagues are the real thing – people who work hard and care about being fair while also getting it right.”

Hersh can be merciless when he reveals the true nature of people who have made it to the top. He writes about Henry Kissinger: ““… the man lied the way most people breathed – and worse.” Unfair? “I did not worry about Kissinger’s rights, his immorality and deceit, and power, made him fair game, so I thought.”

Another crook-like politician was Dick Cheney. Hersh explains how his writing on domestic spying “had at least one unintended and unfortunate consequence: It brought Richard Cheney into the world of national security.” Much later Hersh learned that Cheney wanted to protect the CIA from Congress and then go after Hersh. During many years presidents and the power elite were obsessed by the political implications of Hersh’s writings.

During the controversy of Hersh’s book on Henry Kissinger, Noam Chomsky sent a message to Hersh about his journalism: “It is really fabulous, apart from the feeling that one is crawling through a sewer. It sets a new standard for far-reaching and insightful analysis of the making of foreigm policy, one that is going to be very hard to equal.”

Later in his career, Hersh saw how politicians’ views on national security started to trump the people’s right to know. Many editors and publishers went along with this world of lies and secrecy. The rest is history: Now Seymour Hersh has difficulty publishing his revelations. And Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are in prison.


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