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Seymour M. Hersh’s memoir Reporter is out this week, and it’s the story of an epic career in journalism. Here is the son of Jewish immigrants, owners of a dry cleaning store, taking to the streets of Chicago, a law school dropout turned cub reporter, on the police beat, learning that you couldn’t report on a cop shooting an unarmed black man, even if the cop admitted it and the coroner’s report said the man had been shot in the back. Here is Hersh working for the Associated Press in the Pentagon, exposing the U.S. bombing of civilian sites in Hanoi. Here is Hersh making a brief foray into politics as press secretary for the antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1968, getting exasperated on a campaign swing through Wisconsin when McCarthy ditches a fundraiser to see a film adaptation of Ulysses, and soon thereafter quitting. Here is Hersh tracking down Lieutenant William Calley in a condo in Columbus, Georgia, and listening to his account of the My Lai massacre over beers and watching him vomit blood from an ulcer into a toilet. Here is Hersh walking into the office of William Shawn at The New Yorker and being offered a drawing account of $500 a week on the spot as a staff writer. Here is Hersh pounding out stories on Watergate, Kissinger’s crimes, and the CIA’s domestic wiretapping for the New York Times, reporting that would contribute to wide-scale national reckonings with state power and executive malfeasance. And all of that is decades before the revelations of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
I have known Hersh for several years and I worked with him as an editor at the London Review of Books (on pieces whose substance I won’t discuss here; you can read them, and about them,...
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