“Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib (P.S.)” (Seymour M. Hersh)
Rachel Cooke has an excellent profile of the great American hero, Seymour Hersh in the Guardian UK:
Every so often, a famous actor or producer will contact Seymour Hersh, wanting to make a movie about his most famous story: his single-handed uncovering, in 1969, of the My Lai massacre, in which an American platoon stormed a village in South Vietnam and, finding only its elderly, women and children, launched into a frenzy of shooting, stabbing and gang-raping. It won him a Pulitzer prize and hastened the end of the Vietnam war. Mostly, they come to see him in his office in downtown Washington, a two-room suite that he has occupied for the past 17 years. Do they like what they see? You bet they do, even if the movie has yet to be made. ‘Brad Pitt loved this place,’ says Hersh with a wolfish grin. ‘It totally fits the cliché of the grungy reporter’s den!’ When last he renewed the lease, he tells me, he made it a condition of signing that the office would not be redecorated – the idea of moving all his stuff was too much. It’s not hard to see why. Slowly, I move my head through 180 degrees, trying not to panic at the sight of so much paper piled so precipitously. Before me are 8,000 legal notepads, or so it seems, each one filled with a Biro Cuneiform of scribbled telephone numbers. By the time I look at Hersh again – the full panorama takes a moment or two – he is silently examining the wall behind his desk, which is grey with grime, and striated as if a billy goat had sharpened its horns on it.
And then there is Hersh himself, a splendid sight. After My Lai, he was hired by the New York Times to chase the tail of the Watergate scandal, a story broken by its rival, the Washington Post. In All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book about their scoop, they describe him – the competition. He was unlike any reporter they’d ever seen: ‘Hersh, horn-rimmed and somewhat pudgy, showed up for dinner in old tennis shoes, a frayed pinstriped shirt that might have been at its best in his college freshman year and rumpled, bleached khakis.’ Forty years on, little has changed. Today he is in trainers, chinos and a baggy navy sweatshirt and – thanks to a tennis injury – he is walking like an old guy: chest forward, knees bandy, slight limp in one leg. There is something cherishably chaotic about him. A fuzzy halo of frantic inquiry follows him wherever he goes, like the cloud of dust that hovers above Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown strip. In conversation, away from the restraining hand of his bosses at the New Yorker, the magazine that is now his home, his thoughts pour forth, unmediated and – unless you concentrate very hard – seemingly unconnected. ‘Yeah, I shoot my mouth off,’ he says, with faux remorse. ‘There’s a huge difference between writing and thinking.’
[From Rachel Cooke meets Seymour Hersh, the most-feared investigative reporter in Washington | Media | The Observer ]
and this tidbit makes me really anticipate the Obama presidency, perhaps some of the more heinous crimes of the Bush Administration will be exposed:
The unknown quantity of voter racism apart, however, he is hopeful that Obama will pull it off, and if he does, for Hersh this will be a starting gun. ‘You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on 20 January [the date of the next president’s inauguration],’ he says, with relish. ‘[They say:] “You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then.” So that is what I’ll do, so long as nothing awful happens before the inauguration.’ He plans to write a book about the neocons and, though it won’t change anything – ‘They’ve got away with it, categorically; anyone who talks about prosecuting Bush and Cheney [for war crimes] is kidding themselves’ – it will reveal how the White House ‘set out to sabotage the system… It wasn’t that they found ways to manipulate Congressional oversight; they had conversations about ending the right of Congress to intervene.’
A little personal history:
Seymour M Hersh (the M is for Myron) was born in Chicago, the son of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Lithuania and Poland (he has a twin brother, a physicist, and two sisters, also twins). The family was not rich; his father, who died when Seymour was 17, ran a dry-cleaning business. After school he attended a local junior college until a professor took him aside, asked him what he was doing there and walked him up to the University of Chicago. ‘Chicago was this great egghead place,’ Hersh says. ‘But I knew nothing. I came out of a lower-middle-class background. At that time, everyone used to define themselves: Stalinist, Maoist, whatever. I thought they meant “miaowist”. Seriously! Something to do with cats. Among my peers, they all thought I would write the great novel, because I was very quick and cutting. I’ve just read Philip Roth’s new novel [Indignation], and the arrogance of his character reminded me of that certitude. I was always pointing out other people’s flaws.’ He went to law school but hated it, dropped out and wound up as a copy boy, then a reporter for the local City News Bureau. Later he joined Associated Press in Washington and rose through its ranks until he quit for a stint working for the Democrat senator Eugene McCarthy. Pretty soon, though, he was back in journalism. ‘Using words to make other people less big made me feel bigger, though the psychological dimension to that… well, I don’t want to explore it.’ His wife of 40 years, Elizabeth, whom he describes as ‘the love of my life’ in the acknowledgements of Chain of Command (they have three grown-up children), is a psychoanalyst. Doesn’t she ever tell him about his ego and his id? He looks embarrassed. ‘No, no… marriage is… different. When you live with someone you don’t… The hardest part for her is when she tells me to take out the garbage and I say: “Excuse me? I don’t have time. I’m saving the world.”‘ Later, however, he tells me that journalism, like psychoanalysis, is about ‘bringing things into focus’.
but you should read the rest of the article yourself.
I’d love to see a film made about Sy Hersh, but Brad Pitt? Really? Whatever gets you funding, I guess.