Seymour Myron "Sy" Hersh (born April 8, 1937) is an American investigative journalist and political writer. He was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker magazine on national security matters and has also written for the London Review of Books since 2013.
Hersh first gained recognition in 1969 for exposing the My Lai Massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War, for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. During the 1970s, Hersh covered the Watergate scandal for The New York Times and revealed the clandestine bombing of Cambodia. In 2004, he reported on the U.S. military's mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. He has also won two National Magazine Awards and five George Polk Awards. In 2004, he received the George Orwell Award.
Hersh has accused the Obama administration of lying about the events surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden and disputed the claim that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on civilians in the Syrian Civil War. Both assertions have stirred controversy.
Hersh was born on April 8, 1937 in Chicago to Yiddish-speaking Lithuanian Jewish parents who emigrated to the US from Lithuania and Poland and ran a dry-cleaning shop in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. After graduating from the University of Chicago with a history degree, Hersh found himself struggling to find a job. He began working at Walgreens before being accepted into University of Chicago Law School but was soon expelled for poor grades. After returning for a short time to Walgreens, Hersh began his career in journalism as a copyboy, then police reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago in 1959.He was editor-in-chief of The Southwest Suburbanite in Oak Lawn, IL. He next began a short-lived suburban paper, the Evergreen Reporter. He then decided to move to Washington, D.C. He later became a correspondent for United Press International in South Dakota. In 1963, he went on to become a Chicago and Washington correspondent for the Associated Press. While working in Washington Hersh first met and befriended I. F. Stone, whose I. F. Stone's Weekly would serve as an initial inspiration for Hersh's later work. It was during this time that Hersh began to form his investigative style, often walking out of regimented press briefings at the Pentagon and seeking out one-on-one interviews with high-ranking officers. After a falling out with the editors at the AP when they insisted on watering down a story about the US government's work on biological and chemical weapons, Hersh left the AP and sold his story to The New Republic. During the 1968 presidential election, he served as press secretary for the campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy.
After leaving the McCarthy campaign, Hersh returned to journalism as a freelancer covering the Vietnam War. In 1969, Hersh received a tip from Geoffrey Cowan of The Village Voice regarding an Army lieutenant being court-martialled for killing civilians in Vietnam. His subsequent investigation, sold to the Dispatch News Service, was run in 33 newspapers and exposed the My Lai massacre, winning him the Pulitzer Prize in 1970.
In 1972, Hersh was hired as a reporter for the Washington bureau of The New York Times, where he served from 1972 to 1975 and again in 1979. Hersh reported on the Watergate scandal, though most of the credit for that story went to Carl Bernstein and Hersh's longtime rival Bob Woodward. Nonetheless, Hersh's Watergate investigations led him in 1983 to the publication of The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, a portrait of Henry Kissinger that won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Hersh's 1974 article claiming the CIA had violated its charter by spying on anti-war activists[a] is credited as contributing factor to the formation of the Church Committee.
In 1975, Hersh was active in the investigation and reporting of Project Azorian (which he called Project Jennifer), the CIA's clandestine effort to raise a Soviet submarine using the Howard Hughes' Glomar Explorer. This was one of the most complex, expensive, and secretive intelligence operations of the Cold War at a cost of about $800 million ($3.8 billion in 2015).
After The New York Times
His 1983 book The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House won him the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times book prize in biography. In 1985, Hersh contributed to the PBS television documentary Buying the Bomb. From 1993 to 2013, Hersh was a regular contributor to The New Yorker.
Hersh has appeared regularly on the syndicated television news program Democracy Now!
Mỹ Lai Massacre
On November 12, 1969, Hersh reported the story of the Mỹ Lai massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were murdered by US soldiers in March 1968. The report prompted widespread condemnation around the world and reduced public support for the Vietnam War in the United States. The explosive news of the massacre fueled the outrage of the US peace movement, which demanded the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. Hersh wrote about the massacre and its cover-up in My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath (1970) and Cover-up: The Army's Secret Investigation of the Massacre at My Lai 4 (1972). For My Lai 4, Hersh traveled across the United States and interviewed nearly 50 members of the Charlie Company. A movie was also produced, based on this book, by Italian director Paolo Bertola in 2009.
Documents declassified in 2017 show that Hersh was on the National Security Agency watchlist possibly because of hostility towards his journalism including his writings about the Mỹ Lai massacre.
In early 1974, Hersh had planned to publish a story on "Project Jennifer" (later revealed to be named Project Azorian and Operation Matador), a covert CIA project to recover a sunken Soviet navy submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. CIA director William Colby discussed the operation with Hersh in 1974, but obtained his promise not to publish while the operation was active. Bill Kovach, The New York Times Washington, D.C. bureau chief at the time, said in 2005 that the government offered a convincing argument to delay publication in early 1974—exposure at that time, while the project was ongoing, "would have caused an international incident". The NYT eventually published Hersh's account on March 19, 1975, after a story appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and included a five-paragraph explanation of the many twists and turns in the path to publication. It is unclear what, if any, action was taken by the Soviet Union after learning of the story. It was later revealed that the leaks prevented a second recovery attempt of the submarine after a small portion of it was raised in the summer of 1974.
Korean Air Flight 007
In The Target Is Destroyed (1986), Hersh alleged that the shooting down of Korean Air Flight 007 in September 1983 by the Soviet Union was due to a combination of Soviet incompetence and United States intelligence operations intended to confuse Soviet responses.
Later releases of government information confirmed that there was a PSYOPS campaign against the Soviet Union that had been in place from the first few months of the Reagan administration. This campaign included the largest US Pacific Fleet exercise ever held, in April to May 1983.
Mordechai Vanunu and Robert Maxwell
In The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy (1991), Hersh wrote that Nicholas Davies, the foreign editor of the Daily Mirror, had tipped off the Israeli embassy in London about Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu had given information about Israel's nuclear weapons program first to The Sunday Times and later to the Sunday Mirror. At the time, the Sunday Mirror and its sibling newspaper, the Daily Mirror were owned by media magnate Robert Maxwell who was alleged to have had contacts with Israel's intelligence services. According to Hersh, Davies had worked for the Mossad. Vanunu was later lured by Mossad from London to Rome, kidnapped, returned to Israel, and sentenced to 18 years in jail. Davies and Maxwell published an anti-Vanunu story that was claimed by critics to be part of a disinformation campaign on behalf of the Israeli government.
Hersh repeated the allegations during a press conference held in London to publicize his book. No British newspaper would publish the allegations because of Maxwell's famed litigiousness. However, two British MPs raised the matter in the House of Commons, which meant that British newspapers were able to report what had been said without fear of being sued for libel. Maxwell called the claims "ludicrous, a total invention". He fired Davies shortly thereafter.
Ari Ben-Menashe was Hersh's primary source for the claims that Davies was a paid Israeli agent and that Maxwell collaborated with Mossad.
Attack on pharmaceutical factory in Sudan
Hersh strongly criticized Bill Clinton's decision to destroy, on August 20, 1998, the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Al-Shifa, the largest pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, accounted for half the country's domestically produced medicines.
Hersh has written a series of articles for The New Yorker magazine detailing military and security matters surrounding the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. In March 2002, he described the planning process for a new invasion of Iraq that he alleged had been on-going since the end of the First Gulf War, under the leadership of Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Fried and other neo-conservatives. In a 2004 article, he alleged that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld circumvented the normal intelligence analysis function of the CIA in their quest to make the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Another article, "Lunch with the Chairman", led Richard Perle, a subject of the article, to call Hersh the "closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist."
In May 2004, Hersh published a series of articles which described the treatment of detainees by US military police at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq. The articles included allegations that private military contractors contributed to prisoner mistreatment and that intelligence agencies such as the CIA ordered torture in order to break prisoners for interrogations. They also alleged that torture was a usual practice in other US-run prisons as well, e.g., in Bagram Theater Internment Facility and Guantanamo. In subsequent articles, Hersh wrote that the abuses were part of a secret interrogation program, known as "Copper Green". According to Hersh's sources, the program was expanded to Iraq with the direct approval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both in an attempt to deal with the growing insurgency there and as part of "Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A." Much of his material for these articles was based on the Army's own internal investigations.
Scott Ritter, a disaffected former arms inspector, asserted in his October 19, 2005 interview with Seymour Hersh that the US policy to remove Iraqi president Saddam Hussein from power started with US president George H. W. Bush in August 1990. Ritter concluded from public remarks by President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker that the Iraq sanctions would only be lifted when Hussein was removed from power. The justification for sanctions was disarmament. The CIA offered the opinion that containing Hussein for six months would result in the collapse of his regime. According to Hersh, this policy resulted in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
A March 7, 2007, article entitled, "The Redirection" described a recent shift in the George W. Bush administration's Iraq policy, the goal of which Hersh said was to "contain" Iran. Hersh asserted that "a by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda."
In January 2005, Hersh alleged that the US was conducting covert operations in Iran to identify targets for possible strikes. Hersh also wrote that Pakistan and the United States had struck a "Khan-for-Iran" deal in which Washington would look the other way at Pakistan's nuclear transgressions and not demand handing over of its infamous nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, in return for Islamabad's cooperation in neutralizing Iran's nuclear plans. This was also denied by officials of the governments of the US and Pakistan.
In the April 17, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, Hersh wrote that the Bush administration had plans for an air strike on Iran. Of particular note in his article was that a US nuclear first strike (possibly using the B61-11 bunker-buster nuclear weapon) was being considered to eliminate underground Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. In response, President Bush cited Hersh's reportage as "wild speculation."
When, in October 2007, he was asked in a Democracy Now! interview about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's hawkish views on Iran, Hersh stated that Jewish donations were the main reason for these:
Money. A lot of the Jewish money from New York. Come on, let's not kid about it. A significant percentage of Jewish money, and many leading American Jews support the Israeli position that Iran is an existential threat. And I think it's as simple as that. When you're from New York and from New York City, you take the view of – right now, when you're running a campaign, you follow that line. And there's no other explanation for it, because she's smart enough to know the downside.
During one journalism conference, Hersh claimed that after the Strait of Hormuz incident, members of the Bush administration met in Vice President Dick Cheney's office to consider methods of initiating a war with Iran. One idea considered was staging a false flag operation involving the use of Navy SEALs dressed as Iranian PT boaters who would engage in a firefight with US ships. According to Hersh this proposed provocation was rejected.
In August 2006, in an article in The New Yorker, Hersh wrote that the White House gave the green light for the Israeli government to execute an attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon. Supposedly, communication between the Israeli government and the US government about this came as early as two months in advance of the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight others by Hezbollah prior to the 2006 Lebanon War in July 2006. The US government denied these allegations.
Killing of Osama bin Laden
In September 2013, during an interview with The Guardian, Hersh commented that the 2011 raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden was "one big lie, not one word of it is true". He said that the Obama administration lied systematically, and that American media outlets were reluctant to challenge the administration, saying "It's pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama]". Hersh later clarified that he didn't dispute Bin Laden's death in Pakistan, and rather meant that the lying began in the aftermath of bin Laden's death.
On May 10, 2015, Hersh published the 10,000-word article "The Killing of Osama bin Laden" in the London Review of Books (LRB) on the fourth anniversary of the Abbottabad raid that killed bin Laden (Operation Neptune Spear). It immediately went viral, crashing the LRB website. Hersh outlined with extensive quoting of both named and unnamed sources the background to how bin Laden's presence in Abbotabad came to be known to the U.S. government and how the SEAL raid was in fact known to the Pakistanis and had ISI cooperation. Hersh alleged the U.S. government's narrative was in fact an elaborate cover story meant to conceal Pakistan's relationship with the Al Qaeda leader and to yield maximum political payoff for President Barack Obama in the runup to the 2012 election season:
The killing was the high point of Obama's first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration's account.
The official U.S. version is that bin Laden's location at Abbottabad was identified by the CIA by tracking an al-Qaeda courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Hersh reported that in August 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer walked into the office of Jonathan Bank, the CIA station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad and betrayed the secret of bin Laden's whereabouts in return for part of the $25 million reward, and has since been relocated with his family to Washington and is a consultant to the CIA. According to Hersh, the ISI had captured bin Laden in 2006; he had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains. The ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him. Bin Laden was very ill and was living as prisoner under ISI control in the garrison town of Abbottabad less than two miles from Pakistan's National Military Academy at Kakul (equivalent of United States Military Academy at West Point). According to Hersh, the Saudi government also knew about Osama's presence in Abbottabad and had advised the Pakistanis to keep him as a prisoner and gave financial assistance. Major Amir Aziz, a Pakistani Army doctor, was ordered to move near his compound to provide treatment. Aziz was also given a share of the $25 million reward because he got the DNA sample which conclusively proved that it was bin Laden. Hersh claimed a doctor named Shakil Afridi's vaccination program for Hepatitis B was the way the US obtained bin Laden's DNA. Afridi became the sacrificial lamb because the US wanted to protect its real CIA informant, Amir Aziz, who had been held by the Pakistanis. Afridi was sentenced to 33 years by the Pakistanis. According to Hersh, other vaccination programmes were canceled once this lie was put forth.
Hersh writes that the Pakistan Army and intelligence service were warned about the U.S. Navy SEALs' raid and made sure that the two helicopters carrying the SEALs to Abbottabad crossed Pakistani airspace without triggering an alarm: "The most blatant lie was that Pakistan's two most senior military leaders—General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI—were never informed of the US mission." The report also states that Pakistani officials knew about the raid before it happened in May 2011 and instructed those monitoring bin Laden's compound to allow the SEALs to conduct the operation unobstructed.
Since his killing in 2011, the U.S. media has reported that bin Laden was given a perfunctory naval funeral off the deck of an aircraft carrier, to prevent any gravesite from becoming a symbol of martyrdom. According to Hersh's account of the assassination, bin Laden's corpse never made it to the USS Carl Vinson, because it had been torn apart by automatic fire at point-blank range before the CIA took whatever shreds were left: "Some members of the SEAL team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden's body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains."
Hersh's story drew harsh criticism from reporters, academics, media commentators and officials. Politico's Jack Shafer described the story as "a messy omelet of a piece that offers little of substance for readers or journalists who may want to verify its many claims." Peter Bergen disputed Hersh's contentions, saying they "defy common sense"; Hersh responded that Bergen simply "views himself as the trustee of all things Bin Laden". A similar dismissal of Hersh's account came from former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell. A former intelligence official who had direct knowledge of the operation speculated that the Pakistanis, who were furious that the operation took place without being detected by them, were behind the false story as a way to save face.
Others criticized the press response. In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Trevor Timm wrote that "barely any follow-up reporting has been done to corroborate or refute his [Hersh's] claims", and observed that Slate, for example, "ran five hit jobs on Hersh within 36 hours".
On May 12, the Pakistan-based journalist Amir Mir disclosed that the "walk-in" who had provided the CIA with the information about bin Laden's whereabouts was Brigadier Usman Khalid of ISI.
On May 20, 2015, a former CIA officer and conspiracy theorist, Philip Giraldi, wrote in The American Conservative that he found Hersh's story credible.
In 2018, Hersh told an interviewer, "I don't necessarily buy the story that Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. We really don't have an ending to the story. I’ve known people in the [intelligence] community. We don't know anything empirical about who did what."
Syrian Civil War
During the Syrian Civil War US President Obama argued in a 2012 speech that a chemical attack in Syria would constitute crossing a "red line" and that this would trigger a US military intervention against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After this speech, and prior to the chemical attacks in Ghouta, chemical weapons were suspected to have been used in at least four attacks in the country. On March 23, 2013, the Syrian government requested the UN to send inspectors in order to investigate an incident in the town of Khan al-Assal, where it said opposition forces had used chlorine-filled rockets. However, on April 25 US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated that US intelligence showed the Assad government was likely to have used chemical weapons, in this case sarin gas.
On December 8, 2013, the London Review of Books published "Whose Sarin?", an article rejected by the New Yorker and Washington Post in which Hersh argued that President Obama had "omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts" in his assertion during his televised speech of September 10 that the Syrian government had been responsible for the use of sarin gas in the Ghouta chemical attack of August 21, 2013 against a rebel-held district of Damascus. In particular, Hersh wrote of anonymous intelligence sources telling him that the Syrian army was not the only agency with access to sarin, referring to the Al-Nusra Front Jihadist group, and that, during the period before the Ghouta attack, secretly implanted sensors at the country's known bases had not detected suspicious movements suggesting a forthcoming chemical attack in the period. The White House denied Hersh's allegations, and a number of Syria and chemical weapons experts were critical of the article.
On December 22, 2015, the London Review of Books published Hersh's article "Military to Military" in which he said that there was a divide between the US top brass and the politicians in the White House when it came to dealing with Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq. Hersh reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the United States Department of Defense has indirectly supported Syria's President Bashar al-Assad with quality intelligence in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups, providing said intelligence, via Germany, Israel and Russia, to help Assad push back Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Hersh also writes the military even undermined a US effort to arm Syrian rebels in a bid to prove it was serious about helping Assad fight their common enemies. Hersh said the Joint Chiefs' maneuvering was rooted in several concerns, including the US arming of unvetted Syrian rebels with jihadist ties, a belief the administration was overly focused on confronting Assad's ally Russia, and anger the White House was unwilling to challenge Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey over their support of extremist groups in Syria.
On June 25, 2017, Welt am Sonntag published Hersh's article "Trump's Red Line" which had been rejected by the London Review of Books. He said there was a split between the U.S. intelligence community and president Donald Trump over the alleged 'sarin attack' at the rebel-held town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib on April 4, 2017: ″Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.″ Bellingcat accused Hersh of sloppy journalism: "Hersh based his case on a tiny number of anonymous sources, presented no other evidence to support his case, and ignored or dismissed evidence that countered the alternative narrative he was trying to build."
In his article, Hersh states that the CIA was told directly by the Russians and Syrians of the place and time of the Syrian bombing ahead of time. He asserts that the Russians knew that the CIA was working with the opposition jihadists, and did not want any Americans killed. According to Hersh, the Syrian Air Force officers gave exact flight details in advance to the American deconfliction monitors aboard their AWACS plane, so that the Syrian jets could be tracked precisely, and the U.S. military did a bomb damage assessment (BDA) report on the attack, showing the Syrian Air Force dropped a 500-lb conventional-explosives bomb that wiped out the entire building the jihadis were meeting in. Journalist George Monbiot criticized Hersh's conclusions.
Criticism and controversy
Critics have described Hersh as a conspiracy theorist, in particular for his rejection of official claims regarding the killing of Osama Bin Laden and his rejection that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on Syrian civilians. In 2015, Vox's Max Fisher (now at the New York Times) wrote that in recent years "Hersh has appeared increasingly to have gone off the rails. His stories, often alleging vast and shadowy conspiracies, have made startling — and often internally inconsistent — accusations, based on little or no proof beyond a handful of anonymous "officials."
Hersh's 1997 book about John F. Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot, made a number of controversial assertions about the former president, including that:
- Though Jacqueline Bouvier officially was his first wife, his actual first marriage was to a woman named Durie Malcolm that was never legally terminated, and was hushed up by his father Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.
- He had been a semi-regular user of a prescribed pharmaceutical amphetamine-related drug, receiving injections from Dr. Max Jacobson.
- He had had a close working relationship with American Mafia boss Sam Giancana that supposedly included vote fraud in one or two crucial states in the 1960 presidential election.
- In 1958, when he was a member of the United States Senate, he had an extramarital affair with "an attractive aide in [his] Senate office," Pamela Turnure. This was three years before she became First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's press secretary. In 1958, Turnure's landlady Florence Kater took a photograph of the senator leaving Turnure's apartment in the middle of the night, a photograph that Kater tried repeatedly to bring to public attention to ruin the senator's presidential campaign.
- "On May 14, 1960," says The Dark Side of Camelot, "just four days after Kennedy won the West Virginia primary, [Florence Kater] approached him at a political rally at the University of Maryland carrying a placard with an enlarged snapshot of the early-morning scene outside Pamela Turnure's apartment. Kennedy ignored her, but a photograph of the encounter was published in the next afternoon's Washington Star, along with a brief story describing her as a heckler."
- The reels of microfilm for The Washington Star that cover the month of May 1960 indicate that the newspaper, then known as The Evening Star of Washington, D.C. and The Sunday Star, never published an article about Florence Kater, nor did the article about Kennedy's campaign appearance at the University of Maryland mention a heckler.
For many of these allegations, Hersh relied only on hearsay collected decades after the event. In a Los Angeles Times review, Edward Jay Epstein cast doubt on these and other assertions, writing, "this book turns out to be, alas, more about the deficiencies of investigative journalism than about the deficiencies of John F. Kennedy." Responding to the book, historian and former Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called Hersh "the most gullible investigative reporter I've ever encountered."
A month before the publication of The Dark Side of Camelot, newspapers, including USA Today, reported Hersh had announced the removal from the galleys at the last minute a segment about legal documents allegedly containing JFK's signature. The documents supposedly signed by John F. Kennedy included a provision, in 1960, for a trust fund to be set up for the institutionalized mother of Marilyn Monroe. A paralegal named Lawrence X. "Lex" Cusack had shared them with Hersh and encouraged the author to discuss them in the book.
Shortly before Hersh's announcement that he had removed all references to Cusack's documents, federal investigators began probing Cusack's selling the documents at auction. After The Dark Side of Camelot became a bestseller, Cusack was convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan on 13 counts of fraud and forging the documents, and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years and three months in prison. In 1997, the Kennedy family also denied Cusack's claim that his late father had been an attorney who had represented JFK in 1960.
Use of anonymous sources
There has been sustained criticism of Hersh's use of anonymous sources. Critics, including Edward Jay Epstein and Amir Taheri, say he is over-reliant on them. Taheri, for example, when reviewing Hersh's Chain of Command (2004), complained:
As soon as he has made an assertion he cites a 'source' to back it. In every case this is either an un-named former official or an unidentified secret document passed to Hersh in unknown circumstances. […] By my count Hersh has anonymous 'sources' inside 30 foreign governments and virtually every department of the U.S. government.
In response to an article in The New Yorker in which Hersh alleged that the U.S. government was planning a strike on Iran, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan G. Whitman said, "This reporter has a solid and well-earned reputation for making dramatic assertions based on thinly sourced, unverifiable anonymous sources."
In his Bin Laden story, "Hersh relied at least 55 times on an anonymous retired senior intelligence official." Slate magazine's James Kirchick wrote, "Readers are expected to believe that the story of the Bin Laden assassination is a giant ‘fairy tale’ on the word of a single, unnamed source... Hersh's problem is that he evinces no skepticism whatsoever toward what his crank sources tell him, which is ironic considering how cynical he is regarding the pronouncements of the U.S. national security bureaucracy." Politico wrote in 2015 that Hersh's reporting had increasingly been called into question due to "his almost exclusive reliance on anonymous sources."
David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, maintains that he is aware of the identity of all of Hersh's unnamed sources, telling the Columbia Journalism Review that "I know every single source that is in his pieces. ... Every 'retired intelligence officer,' every general with reason to know, and all those phrases that one has to use, alas, by necessity, I say, 'Who is it? What's his interest?' We talk it through."
In an interview with New York magazine, Hersh made a distinction between the standards of strict factual accuracy for his print reporting and the leeway he allows himself in speeches, in which he may talk informally about stories still being worked on or blur information to protect his sources. "Sometimes I change events, dates, and places in a certain way to protect people. ... I can't fudge what I write. But I can certainly fudge what I say."
Some of Hersh's speeches concerning the Iraq War have described violent incidents involving U.S. troops in Iraq. In July 2004, during the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal, he alleged that American troops sexually assaulted young boys:
Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has. They're in total terror it's going to come out.
In a subsequent interview with New York magazine, Hersh regretted that "I actually didn't quite say what I wanted to say correctly. ... It wasn't that inaccurate, but it was misstated. The next thing I know, it was all over the blogs. And I just realized then, the power of—and so you have to try and be more careful." In Chain of Command, he wrote that one of the witness statements he had read described the rape of a boy by a foreign contract interpreter at Abu Ghraib, during which a woman took pictures.
Link between the US government and Fatah al-Islam
In March 2007, Hersh asserted in a New Yorker piece that the United States and Saudi governments were funding the terrorist organization Fatah al-Islam through aid to Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Following the publication of the story, journalist Emmanuel Sivan in Beirut wrote that Hersh put forth the allegation without any reliable sources.
Morarji Desai libel suit
Hersh wrote in his 1983 book The Price of Power that former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai had been paid $20,000 a year by the CIA during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Desai called the allegation "a scandalous and malicious lie" and filed a $50 million libel suit against Hersh. By the time the case went to trial Desai, by then 93, was too ill to attend. CIA director Richard Helms and Henry Kissinger testified under oath that at no time did Desai act in any capacity for the CIA, paid or otherwise. A Chicago jury ruled in favor of Hersh, saying Desai did not provide sufficient evidence that Hersh had published the information with intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth, either of which must be proven in a libel suit.
In a January 2017 recorded telephone conversation about the 2016 death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, Hersh told former financial adviser Ed Butowsky that he had spoken to a Federal Bureau of Investigation source who confirmed the existence of information on Rich's laptop computer showing he had been in contact with WikiLeaks prior to his death. Although cautioned by Hersh that the information may not be true, Butowsky forwarded the secretly taped discussion to the Rich family setting off a flurry of activity in the media. Hersh later said that he had heard "gossip" and that he was fishing for information.
In August 2018, Hersh said “the story of novichok poisoning has not held up very well. He [Skripal] was most likely talking to British intelligence services about Russian organised crime”. He said the contamination of other victims was “suggestive ... of organised crime elements rather than state-sponsored actions – though this files (sic) in the face of the UK government's position”.
Awards, honors and associations
His journalism and publishing awards include the 1970 Pulitzer Prize, the 2004 National Council of Teachers of English George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language, two National Magazine Awards, five George Polk Awards - making him that award's most honored laureate - and more than a dozen other prizes for investigative reporting:
- "Foreword". Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein by Scott Ritter. Nation Books, 2005. ISBN 1-56025-852-7. Hardcover.
Articles and reportage
- ^ Hersh, Seymour. Reporter: A Memoir. Alfred Knopf. p. 43. ISBN 9780307263957.
- ^ "George Polk Awards for Journalism press release". Long Island University. Retrieved November 22, 2006.
- ^ Edward Hershey. "A History of Journalistic Integrity, Superb Reporting and Protecting the Public: The George Polk Awards in Journalism". Long Island University.
- ^ "1970 Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes – Columbia University.
- ^ "Past Recipients of the NCTE Orwell Award (pdf)" (PDF). National Council of Teachers of English. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 26, 2009.
- ^ LRB Archive (Retrieved June 29, 2016) Seymour M. Hersh London Review of Books
- ^ "Seymour M. Hersh". The New Yorker.
- ^ Phelan, Matthew (February 28, 2011) Seymour Hersh and the men who want him committed Archived March 2, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Salon.com
- ^ Edd Applegate (1997). Journalistic Advocates and Muckrakers: Three Centuries of Crusading Writers. McFarland. p. 87. ISBN 9780786403653.
- ^ a b Sherman, Scott. "The Avenger". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on December 4, 2008.
- ^ Rupert Cornwell (May 22, 2004). "Seymour Hersh: The reporter who's the talk of the town". The Independent. London.
- ^ Then why did he receive this letter in 1976? Abe Rosenthal to Seymour Hersh, when Hersh complained about editing at the NYT (from “Reporter”).
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