Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, April 2008
Born April 8, 1937 (1937-04-08) (age 74)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Alma mater University of Chicago
Occupation Journalist
Spouse Elizabeth Sarah Klein
Awards Polk Award (1969, 1973, 1974, 1981, 2004)[1][2]
Pulitzer Prize (1970)[3]
George Orwell Award (2004)[4]

Seymour (Sy) Myron Hersh (born April 8, 1937) is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and author based in Washington, D.C. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine on military and security matters. He has also won two National Magazine Awards and is a "five-time Polk winner and recipient of the 2004 George Orwell Award."[5]

His work first gained worldwide 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. His 2004 reports on the US military's mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison gained much attention.


Early years

Hersh was born in Chicago to Yiddish-speaking Lithuanian Jewish parents who immigrated to the US from Lithuania and Poland and ran a dry-cleaning shop in the far west side neighborhood of Chicago, called Austin. After graduating from the University of Chicago, with a history degree Hersh found himself struggling to find a job. He began working at a Walgreen's before being accepted into University of Chicago Law School but was soon expelled for poor grades.[6] After returning for a short time to Walgreen's Hersh began his career in journalism as a police reporter for the City News Bureau in 1959. 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 AP over their refusal to run a story on 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.

Vietnam and the New York Times

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 thirty-three newspapers and exposed the My Lai massacre, winning him the Pulitzer Prize in 1970.[6][7]

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 was also active in investigating the Central Intelligence Agency's Project Jennifer.

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. In 1993 Hersh became a regular contributor to The New Yorker.[8]

Hersh has appeared regularly on the Democracy Now! show.[9]

Selected stories

My Lai Massacre

On November 12, 1969, Hersh broke the story of the My Lai Massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were murdered by US soldiers in March 1968.[10] 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 and Cover-up: The Army's Secret Investigation of the Massacre at My Lai 4. A movie was produced, based on this book, by Italian director Paolo Bertola in 2010.[11]

Project Jennifer

In early 1974, Hersh had planned to publish a story on Project Jennifer, the code name for a CIA project to recover a sunken Soviet navy submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Bill Kovach, The New York Times Washington, DC 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 its account in 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.

KAL 007

In his 1986 book The Target is Destroyed (Random House), Hersh alleged that the Soviet shooting down of Korean Air Flight 007 in September 1983 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. The report states that the Soviets, "probably didn't know (KAL 007) was a civilian aircraft" and uses Hersh's book as a reference for the PSYOPS campaign.[12]

Mordechai Vanunu and Robert Maxwell

In his 1991 book The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Hersh wrote that Nicholas Davies, the foreign editor of The Daily Mirror, had tipped off the Israeli embassy in London about whistle-blower 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 also 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 to be part of a disinformation campaign on behalf of the Israeli government.[13]

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 Nick Davies shortly thereafter.[14]

Attack on pharmaceutical factory in Sudan

On August 20, 1998, Hersh strongly criticized the destruction of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, the largest pharmaceutical factory in Sudan—providing about half the medicines produced in Sudan—by United States cruise missiles during Bill Clinton's presidency.[15]


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 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."[16]

A March 7, 2007 article entitled, "The Redirection" described the recent shift in the George W. Bush administration's Iraq policy, the goal of which is to "contain" Iran. Hersh points out 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."[17]

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.[18] 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 is a usual practice in other US-run prisons as well, e.g., in Bagram Theater Internment Facility and Guantanamo. In subsequent articles, Hersh claimed 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."[19] Much of his material for these articles was based on the Army's own internal investigations.[20]

Scott Ritter points out 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 concludes 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. This policy resulted in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

MR. HERSH: One of the things about your book that's amazing is that it's not only about the Bush Administration, and if there are any villains in this book, they include Sandy Berger, who was Clinton's national security advisor, and Madeleine Albright.

Another thing that's breathtaking about this book is the amount of new stories and new information. Scott describes in detail and with named sources, basically, a two or three-year run of the American government undercutting the inspection process. In your view, during those years, '91 to'98, particularly the last three years, was the United States interested in disarming Iraq?

MR. RITTER: Well, the fact of the matter is the United States was never interested in disarming Iraq. The whole Security Council resolution that created the UN weapons inspections and called upon Iraq to disarm was focused on one thing and one thing only, and that is a vehicle for the maintenance of economic sanctions that were imposed in August 1990 linked to the liberation of Kuwait. We liberated Kuwait, I participated in that conflict. And one would think, therefore, the sanctions should be lifted.

The United States needed to find a vehicle to continue to contain Saddam because the CIA said all we have to do is wait six months and Saddam is going to collapse on his own volition. That vehicle is sanctions. They needed a justification; the justification was disarmament. They drafted a Chapter 7 resolution of the United Nations Security Council calling for the disarmament of Iraq and saying in Paragraph 14 that if Iraq complies, sanctions will be lifted. Within months of this resolution being passed--and the United States drafted and voted in favor of this resolution--within months, the President, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, are saying publicly, not privately, publicly that even if Iraq complies with its obligation to disarm, economic sanctions will be maintained until which time Saddam Hussein is removed from power.

That is proof positive that disarmament was only useful insofar as it contained through the maintenance of sanctions and facilitated regime change. It was never about disarmament, it was never about getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. It started with George Herbert Walker Bush, and it was a policy continued through eight years of the Clinton presidency, and then brought us to this current disastrous course of action under the current Bush Administration.[21]


In January 2005, Hersh alleged that the US was conducting covert operations in Iran to identify targets for possible strikes. Hersh also claimed that Pakistan and the United States have struck a "Khan-for-Iran" deal in which Washington will look the other way at Pakistan's nuclear transgressions and not demand handing over of its nuclear proliferator A Q Khan, in return for Islamabad's cooperation in neutralising 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,[22] Hersh reported on the Bush administration's purported plans for an air strike on Iran. Of particular note in his article is that a US nuclear first strike (possibly using the B61-11 bunker-buster nuclear weapon) is under consideration to eliminate underground Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. In response, President Bush cited Hersh's reportage as "wild speculation." [23]

When, in October 2007, asked on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's hawkish views on Iran, Hersh claimed 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.[24]

While speaking at a journalism conference recently, 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. This idea was shot down. This claim has not been verified.[25]


In August 2006, in an article in The New Yorker, Hersh claimed 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 Israel-Lebanon conflict in July 2006.[26] The US government denied these claims.[27]


Kennedy research

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 he had had a "first marriage" to a woman named Durie Malcolm that was never terminated, that he had been a semi-regular narcotics user, that he had a close working relationship with mob boss Sam Giancana which supposedly included vote fraud in one or two crucial states in the 1960 presidential election. For many of these claims, 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."[28] Responding to the book, historian and former Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called Hersh "the most gullible investigative reporter I've ever encountered."[29]

Hersh repeatedly describes Kennedy as a playboy and implies that many journalists were aware of his "womanizing" but turned a blind eye. One of his assertions on his theme, however, is backed with erroneous references (and remains unsubstantiated). The author identifies one Florence M. Kater as a "middle-aged housewife"[30] who supposedly knew of Kennedy's womanizing during his 1960 presidential campaign. According to Hersh, this woman, who was allegedly the landlady of JFK's senatorial aide/love interest Pamela Turnure, decided in 1959 to break the news on this topic. Inexplicably, "in late 1958" (a year before she decided on this intervention) she "ambushed Kennedy leaving the new apartment [to which Turnure allegedly moved to escape Kater's eavesdropping] at three A.M. and took a photograph of the unhappy senator attempting to shield his face with a handkerchief."[31]

Not only does Hersh fail to include the photograph in the book or cite any interviews with Kater, who died many years before he started the project, but the following attempt to locate the story in the media at the time is invalid: "Kater was not taken seriously by the national press corps, but she came close to attracting media attention. On May 14, 1960, just four days after Kennedy won the West Virginia primary, she 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." (Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot, p. 108). The microfilmed editions of May 14 to 16 of the newspaper known at the time as the Evening Star of Washington, DC do not contain such a photograph or brief story. Hersh could not have confused it with the Washington Post or Daily News because their microfilms do not contain any of the material in question either in their coverage of JFK's speech at the university's Cole Field House.

A month before the book's publication, newspapers, including USA Today, reported Hersh's announcement that he had removed from the galleys, at the last minute, a segment about legal documents allegedly containing JFK's signature.[32] A paralegal named Lawrence Cusack had shared them with Hersh and encouraged the author to discuss them in the book.[33] Shortly before Hersh's publicized announcement, federal investigators began probing Cusack's sale of the documents at auction.[33] After The Dark Side of Camelot became a bestseller, Cusack was convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan of forging the documents and sentenced to a long prison term.[34] The documents 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.[33][35] In 1997 the Kennedy family denied Cusack's claim that his late father had been an attorney who had represented JFK in 1960.[33]

Use of anonymous sources

Some have criticized Hersh's use of anonymous sources in his reporting; implying that some of these sources are unreliable or even made up. In a review of Hersh's book, Chain of Command, commentator Amir Taheri wrote, "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."[36]

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."[37]

In a 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 Brian Whitman said, "This reporter has a solid and well-earned reputation for making dramatic assertions based on thinly sourced, unverifiable anonymous sources."[38]


Those who criticize Hersh's credibility especially point to allegations Hersh has made in public speeches and interviews, rather than in print. 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."[39]

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.[39]

In a subsequent interview with New York magazine, Hersh regretted that "I actually didn’t quite say what I wanted to say 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."[39] In his book, 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.[39]

Link between the US government and Fatah al-Islam

In March 2007 Hersh asserted in a piece in The New Yorker that the United States and Saudi governments were funding the terrorist organization Fatah al-Islam through aid to Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.[40] Following the publishing of the story journalists in Beirut uncovered that Hersh put forth the claim without any reliable sources. Hersh had heard the unconfirmed story from Robert Fisk who had, in turn, heard the story from former British intelligence agent Alastair Crooke. Crooke had only heard it circulated as rumor and no one had fact checked the claims before Hersh ran the story[41] which prompted a variety of criticisms.[42]

Morarji Desai Libel Suit

Hersh claimed 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 administration. 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. Since Hersh did not have to take the stand or reveal the name of his alleged source, the Judge found in favor of Hersh. [43][44]





See also


  1. ^ "George Polk Awards for Journalism press release". Long Island University. Retrieved November 22, 2006. 
  2. ^ Edward Hershey. "A History of Journalistic Integrity, Superb Reporting and Protecting the Public: The George Polk Awards in Journalism". Long Island University. 
  3. ^ "1970 Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes - Columbia University. 
  4. ^ "Past Recipients of the NCTE Orwell Award (pdf)". National Council of Teachers of English. 
  5. ^ Phelan, Matthew (2011-02-28) Seymour Hersh and the men who want him committed,
  6. ^ a b Sherman, Scott. "The Avenger". Columbia Journalism Review. 
  7. ^ Rupert Cornwell (22 May 2004). "Seymour Hersh: The reporter who's the talk of the town". London: The Independent. 
  8. ^ "New Yorker Profile". The New Yorker. 
  9. ^ "Calley Apologizes for 1968 My Lai Massacre". 2009-08-24. 
  10. ^ "The Press: Miscue on the Massacre"
  11. ^ My Lay Four movie trailer and presentation
  12. ^ A Cold War Conundrum Benjamin B. Fischer, 1997
  13. ^ Obuszewski, Max (1996-09-04). "The US campaign to free Modechai Vanunu". The Baltimore Chronicle. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  14. ^ Laurance, Ben; John Hooper, David Sharrock, Georgina Henry (1991-11-06). "Maxwell's body found in sea". London: The Guardian.,9174,465666,00.html. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  15. ^ Hersh, Seymour (2006-10-12). "The Missiles of August". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 20, 2006. 
  16. ^ " - Transcripts". CNN. 
  17. ^ Annals of National Security: The Redirection: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker
  18. ^ Hersh, Seymour (2004-05-10). "Torture at Abu Ghraib". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 30, 2007. 
  19. ^ Hersh, Seymour (2004-05-24). "The Gray Zone". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 30, 2007. 
  20. ^ Key excerpts from the Taguba report - Nightly News with Brian Williams -
  21. ^ "Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh: Iraq Confidential". The Nation. 2005-10-26. 
  22. ^ Hersh, Seymour (2006-04-17). "The Iran Plans". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 30, 2007. 
  23. ^ Bush Calls Reports of Plan to Strike Iran 'Speculation' - New York Times
  24. ^ - Seymour Hersh: 'Jewish Money Controls Presidental Candidates'
  25. ^ Think Progress » To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them
  26. ^ Hersh, Seymour (2006-08-21). "Watching Lebanon". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 30, 2007. 
  27. ^ Edwards, David; Kane, Muriel (2007-05-22). "Hersh: Bush administration arranged support for militants attacking Lebanon". The Raw Story. Archived from the original on 2007-12-30. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  28. ^ "Hersh's Dark Camelot", Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1997
  29. ^ "Hersh's History", Barbara Comstock, National Review, May 20, 2004
  30. ^ Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot, 1997, p. 107, hardback edition
  31. ^ Hersh, ibid
  32. ^ Moore, Martha T. "Disputed Kennedy Papers Investigated - Documents Called Forgeries Subject of Criminal Probe." USA Today October 16, 1997, p. 2A.
  33. ^ a b c d Grove, Lloyd. "Was The Handwriting On The Wall? The Long Tangled Tale of Seymour Hersh and the Forged JFK Papers." Washington Post October 27, 1997, p. C1
  34. ^ "Man Convicted of Sale of Kennedy Forgeries - Documents Were Source For Book." The Washington Post May 1, 1999, p. C2. No byline.
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Many Sources But No Meat", Amir Taheri, The Sunday Telegraph, September 19, 2004
  37. ^ "The Avenger: Sy Hersh, Then and Now", Scott Sherman, Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2003 Pages 34-43
  38. ^ "Hersh: U.S. mulls nuclear option for Iran", CNN, April 10, 2006
  39. ^ a b c d Sy Hersh Says It’s Okay to Lie (Just Not in Print). The runaway mouth of America’s premier investigative journalist. By Chris Suellentrop. Published April 11, 2005
  40. ^ Seymour M. Hersh. "The Redirection". The New Yorker. 
  41. ^ Emmanuel Sivan. "Thus are reports about the Mideast generated". Haaretz. 
  42. ^ Gabriel Schoenfeld. ""Blowback" in Lebanon?". Commentary Magazine. 
  43. ^ David Margolick. U.S. Journalist Cleared of Libel Charge by Indian. New York Times. October 7, 1989.
  44. ^ Court upholds ruling in Hersh libel suit. Chicago Tribune. January 31, 1992.
  45. ^

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