Seymour Hersh: Scoop Artist
- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Potomac Books (October 1, 2013)
(Andrew W. Griffin Red Dirt Report 2015-07-27)
(Sydney Schanberg 2013-07-09)
(John Darnton 2013-08-20)
About the Author
Miraldi tells the tale of the man who is probably our most fearless investigative reporter alive today. It is an unsettling tale. Why do our government leaders lie so easily? How are we going to uncover their mistakes and lies and cover-ups when we no longer support talented investigative reporters?
Seymour Hersh has high expectations of morality on the part of our government’s top decision makers, and he is unrelenting in seeking to uncover bad behavior of those who fall short, and he often pushes potential sources in uncomfortable ways to get his story. He makes himself available to receive tips from anyone who is willing to give him leads, and he works longer and harder than his competition. He has especially watched our military and national security leaders who prefer to act in secret. Uncovering their unsavory secrets seems to be his destiny. He naturally has loud and persistent critics who do not like to have their actions revealed, and he comes in for honest criticism regarding his methods. He is an old-fashioned muckraker who finds lots of muck to rake. He has an outsize ego that detracts from his successes.
Miraldi’s succeeds in giving a balanced portrait of the man and nice descriptions of the ways of a classic investigative reporter. His book is generally clearly written and engaging, but he needed better proofreaders. Sometimes the antecedents of his pronouns are vague, and often there are extra two- and three-letter words that didn’t get caught. The book is printed on lovely, smooth paper.
I loved this book. Seymour Hersh is an old-school investigative journalist. He does not worry about offending people, and he sometimes uses strong-arm tactics to get the information he needs. The results are what matter. Hersh uncovered one of the true scandals of the Vietnam War, the massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians by William Calley, and he went on to cover Watergate for the New York Times and the CIA’s unlawful surveillance of U.S. citizens. Following a book-length expose of Henry Kissinger in 1983, Hersh took some hits for revealing the intricacies of JFK’s sex life in the 1990s (but even that book was remarkable because Hersh got Secret Service agents to break the code of silence). But Hersh again reached the top of the mountain in 2004 in uncovering a new scandal from a new war, the Abu Ghraib torture episode that proved once again that our government cannot be trusted and that war brings out the worst in everyone. So this book is sort of an overview of American scandals from 1969 to the present, which makes it an overview of America from 1969 to the present, as this country is always mired in scandal.
Not all writers make for a good biography. I would imagine that a biography of Hersh’s competitive rival, Bob Woodward, would be quite boring. Woodward is one of the greats, but my sense is that he is not as provocative, foul-mouthed or as daring as Hersh, who uses a lot of unnamed sources, a controversial tactic that gives people an excuse to dismiss whatever stories they did not like to start with. Woodward has been accused of favoring sources who cooperate with him, but I can’t see Hersh doing that. Guys like Hersh make for great biographical subjects because we all know very few people like him. Here’s an interesting point about Hersh: the New York Times hired him in the early 1970s to compete with the Washington Post, which had better investigative reporters than the Newspaper of Record. But five or six years later, it was time for Hersh to leave the Times. He had overstayed his welcome. The Times was growing tired of his personality and tactics. Don’t you want to read about how that all came about?
The book is readable. Miraldi is a great writer. Not a wasted word here. The narrative moves quickly. We only read about the good stuff, which is what I want. The Vietnam sections of the book are great because we see how Hersh found a needle in a haystack in finding Calley. I did not realize that the New York Times did have some scoops in the Watergate affair. The CIA surveillance stuff is more groundbreaking than I thought; it led Congress to formally investigate the agency. I also did not know that Hersh broke the story about the U.S. trying to lift an abandoned Soviet submarine (with military secrets) from the Pacific Ocean floor, or that he went after private industry in the late 1970s.
This is not an authorized biography. Hersh gave the author a few hours of his time. Hersh seems to be too busy uncovering some scandal or other, and he does not like to talk about himself. A few factoids in the book are not flattering to Hersh, though it’s clear that Miraldi admires the writer. So do I. Even without Hersh’s cooperation, I now feel like I know the guy.