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Seymour Hersh memoir shocks, reveals and educates

By MR Josse
NEW YORK, NY: This column dispenses a few samples of savory revelations offered in Seymour M. Hersh’s crackling new opus, “Reporter: A Memoir” (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2018) that I’ve just waded through. Though crammed with head-spinning disclosures and a cornucopia of big-time names in American government and journalism, space constraints unfortunately do not permit an extensive review here.
Hersh, one of America’s preeminent investigative reporters, not only spills the beans on an unending series of embarrassing but telling gaffs and scandals on virtually the entire gamut of contemporary American politics, intelligence and foreign policy but, in doing so, inexorably sheds coruscating light on the less-known limitations and mores of American journalism, including that practiced at its very apex.
Hersh who burst upon the American investigative reporting scene in 1970, when he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, as a freelancer, for his expose on of the massacre by American soldiers at My Lai in Vietnam, has had a variegated writing career, beginning at the very bottom in Chicago and climbing up the greasy pole of fame/notoriety with stints at the New York Times and the New Yorker where he became too much of a hot potato to stay on as a staff member for long.
Let me now provide some excerpts on themes that are not perhaps well known back home, including recounting “the double cross of Pakistan” in the saga of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“The fact that we had captured bin Laden with the support of the generals who ran Pakistani intelligence and then betrayed them was too important to be left unsaid. And so I published my bin Laden story many months later in the London Review of Books (LRB), after another intensive round of fact-checking by two former fact-checkers from the New Yorker. The story got a good deal of attention, but I was not surprised by the refusal, or the inability, of the press to follow up on that vital aspect of the story – the double cross of Pakistan…The possibility that two dozen navy SEALs could escape observation and not get to bin Laden without some help from the Pakistani military and intelligence communities was nil, but the White House press corps bought the story. The twenty-four hour cable news was devouring the news-reporting business, TV panelist by TV panelist.”
In Hersh’s 1986 book on the 1983 Russian shoot down of Korean passenger Flight 007, he castigated the Reagan administration’s willingness to immediately conclude, without evidence, that Russia had shot down the airliner in full awareness that it was a passenger plane, when it inadvertently flew into Russian territory. It turned out to be a pilot error, but America went into a White House-generated spasm of Cold War hysteria over the shoot down.”
Says Hersh, referring to his book on the subject: “A tragic and brutal Soviet mistake – never acknowledged by Moscow – was escalated into a tinder-box issue on the basis of misunderstood and distorted intelligence, while the NSA, which knew better, chose not to tell others in government what they did not want to hear.”
The essence was that “the Russians has simply mistaken the Korean airliner that had gone off course for an American spy plane that was constantly flying off the Russian coast tracking radar and other signals.”
The “Sampson Option” was a recounting by Hersh of a 1991 history of America’s secret acquiescence in the Israeli decision to go nuclear. That book, as the Jewish author informs, was “far from a celebration of Israeli might, but a critical look at America’s role, from the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower forward, in avoiding confrontation with Israel over its secret nuclear weapons work…My point was not that Israel should not have the bomb but that the sub-rosa American support for it was well-known throughout the Middle East and made mockery of American efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and other nations with undeclared nuclear options.”
It certainly has powerful resonance today as Trump’s America attempts, not very successfully thus far, to denuclearize Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.
Another useful reminder by Hersh relates to the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan presidency where he argues “it was impossible to believe that (Vice President) Bush, as a former CIA director for a muddled president, was not a key player in the mess. Bush and Reagan both escaped with their reputations intact.”
He discovered after months of research that “there was no real stomach among the involved senators for going after Reagan.” He concluded in his book on the subject: “More than three years of investigation and criminal proceedings have put no one in jail. Nor has the disclosure of Iran-Contra, the illicit selling of guns for profit by a renegade group in the White House, led to any constitutional or legal reforms.”
Hersh’s more celebrated book, referred to above, focused on Henry Kissinger. There he was pitilessly pilloried for lying about practically everything, being held responsible for ordering wire taps on colleagues and a battery of blunders whether relating to the conduct of the Vietnam war or extending it to Cambodia while minimizing Kissinger’s acclaimed success with regard to China policy or disarmament goals – not to mention also disparaging well-known media commentators for their perceived admiration of Kissinger.
There are insights into the cozy alleged relations between the White House and senior editors and columnists, including those of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
How very different from today when both the Times and the Post are regarded practically as enemies by the Trump White House!
Hersh has both tons of praise and heaps of criticism for the Times which helped to enhance Hersh’s reputation, both as a staff reporter or freelancer.
He offers no easy formula for success for the investigative reporter, stressing the importance of reading, research, integrity – and a thick skin.

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