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Seymour Hersh

Miraldi, Robert

Publication Year: 2013

Seymour Hersh has been the most important, famous, and controversial journalist in the United States for the last forty years. From his exposé of the My Lai massacre in 1969 to his revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, Hersh has consistently captured the public imagination, spurred policymakers to reform, and drawn the ire of presidents.

From the streets of Chicago to the newsrooms of the most powerful newspapers and magazines in the United States, Seymour Hersh tells the story of this Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author. Robert Miraldi scrutinizes the scandals and national figures that have drawn Hersh’s attention, from My Lai to Watergate, from John F. Kennedy to Henry Kissinger.

This first-ever biography captures a stunningly successful career of important exposés and outstanding accomplishments from a man whose unpredictable and quirky personality has turned him into an icon of American life and the unrivaled “scoop artist” of American journalism.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Prologue: Chasing Sy Hersh

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pp. xi-xvi

...I have been chasing Sy Hersh, America’s quintessential investigative reporter, for twenty-five years. He did not know it, however, until five years ago. I first met Seymour Myron Hersh in the fall of 1985 when he was fortyeight years old. I had invited him to speak at my university, a small state college seventy-five miles from New York City near the Hudson River...

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pp. xvii-xx

...Many people helped make this book possible. I am particularly grateful to Kelsey VanNorman, Robert M. Miraldi, and Mary Beth Pfeiffer. Various assistants aided me, including Ally Brisbin, Anthony Heim, James Audlin, Nina Schutzman, Alyssa Jung, and Marcy Velte. Marguerite Stein and Janet Graham Gottlieb helped me understand the Hersh family ancestry...

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1. The Story No One Wanted

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pp. 1-13

...Geoffrey Cowan was a twenty-seven-year-old Yale Law School graduate working in Washington DC in the fall of 1969. He had just helped start a public interest legal foundation that became an important force in representing civil rights groups, women’s organizations, and labor unions...

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2. The Scoop Heard ’Round the World

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pp. 14-27

...“It must have been a beautiful area, before the war,” wrote Seymour Hersh about Quang Ngai Province. Beautiful, but also, he added, one of the most “dangerous regions in all of Vietnam.” Fertile farmlands and green rice paddies were set in the foothills of the Annamese Mountains with the white sandy beaches of the South China Sea in the distance. But...

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3. Hersh Becomes a Target

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pp. 28-44

...Sy Hersh and David Obst were flying high in late November. On November 25, the president announced that America would stop producing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons. Although not widely known, it was a direct response to Hersh’s 1968 book. Meanwhile, newspapers...

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4. “Front Page” Lessons in Chicago

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pp. 45-54

...The journalism career of Sy Hersh almost never got started. The Chicago native stayed close to home when time came for college in 1954. Money was tight. His father, Isador, a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker, diagnosed with lung cancer in 1952, died just as Hersh and twin brother Alan were getting ready for college. Sy chose a public university...

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5. Selling, Publishing, Failing

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pp. 55-60

...Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is known more for its federal penitentiary than for the fact that it has the oldest active U.S. Army base west of the Mississippi. Occupying 5,600 acres and 7 million square feet in a thousand buildings, the base is sometimes known as the “intellectual center of the Army.” But for Sy Hersh, Leavenworth was just a very hot place where he had to spend three months in basic training to avoid a two-year stint as...

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6. From the “Front Page” to the Pentagon

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pp. 61-66

...Seymour Hersh entered a comfort zone when he returned to Chicago. Just to be in the same building where he had worked at City News must have put him at ease. And he was back covering the Chicago streets he knew so well from growing up on the South Side. But, on the other hand, working for the Associated Press was not the...

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7. At War with the Pentagon

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pp. 67-75

...Sy Hersh arrived in Washington with wife Elizabeth in the summer of 1965. Hersh was part of a remarkable group of young reporters who had joined the AP — James Polk, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974; Gaylord Shaw, a Pulitzer winner in 1978; Carl Leubsdorf, who became one of the nation’s best known political writers; and Barry Schweid, who covered...

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8. Fighting His Editors

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pp. 76-87

...The Pentagon was the world’s biggest military machine, but it also had the largest war public relations apparatus. The government spent more than $20 million a year in 1966 just to promote its activities — including the war in Southeast Asia — with three thousand people assigned to the Department of Defense PR staff. Many of the reporters...

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9. Finding America’s Hidden Arsenal

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pp. 88-97

...covers the military, the headline seemed to warn of ghastly American weapons with a searing exposé to follow. The byline was Seymour H. Hersh. Inexplicably, M for Myron was replaced with an H. Hersh might have been happy, however, if his name had been left off the article completely. The article was bland and muted. A subheadline...

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10. Speaking for Gene McCarthy

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pp. 98-115

...Lyndon Johnson easily defeated Barry Goldwater in 1964 in one of America’s largest landslides. Emboldened, the tall Texan pushed ahead on his Great Society reforms as Medicaid, Medicare, and civil rights legislation sailed through Congress. These were legacies and carryovers of John Kennedy’s presidency, Johnson insisted, but so too was the gnawing war...

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11. Stunning Triumph over Germs

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pp. 116-124

...Leaving the McCarthy presidential campaign was not easy for Seymour Hersh. “I can hate him and I can love him,” Hersh said about the senator, but, mostly, “I love him.” Hersh had grown used to dealing with elected officials who left much of the policymaking to staff members. But McCarthy was different; he was smart, and Hersh felt strongly about him, declaring...

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12. Scoop Artist Meets the Viet Cong

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pp. 125-131

...Winning the Pulitzer Prize changes a reporter’s life. Legendary columnist Mike Royko, who worked briefly for Sy Hersh when he ran a suburban Chicago newspaper, won his Pulitzer in 1972. When a colleague earned the prize, Royko summed up what it meant: “Congratulations, you’ve...

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13. The Times Calls

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pp. 132-143

...is the most well known and highly respected newspaper in the world. As the Bible of the intelligentsia, a must-read for everyone in government, finance, and academe, its foreign news and diplomatic coverage is as closely watched as is the State Department or the United Nations. Former...

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14. Digging into Watergate

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pp. 144-156

...In August 1972 Robert M. Smith, a thirty-two-year-old reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, took the acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, L. Patrick Gray, out to lunch at a fancy French restaurant. Smith had written three page-one stories about Gray, who succeeded J. Edgar Hoover; Gray had taken a liking to the...

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15. Cambodia, Bombs, and Impeachment

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pp. 157-168

...reporters. “These Goddamn cannibals,” Nixon said in an April 27 meeting with press secretary Ronald Ziegler. “Hell, they’re not after [Bob] Haldeman or [John] Erlichman or [John] Dean; they’re after me, the President.” Nixon was working with Ziegler on a speech that he would give right after the resignation of his top aides; he wanted it to be aggressive. “We aren’t going...

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16. Hunting the Coup Plotters

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pp. 169-184

...he had his share of flubs and missed stories. As he pursued Watergate and wider corruption in the White House in late 1973, one source filled Hersh’s ears with sketchy details about some sort of taping system in the Oval Office. Something about the president bugging his own conversations. Hersh was getting nowhere on the story until the source hooked him up...

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17. Skeletons Tumble from the CIA Closet

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pp. 185-196

...Daniel Schorr was one of America’s most famous broadcasters back when the television networks — CBS, NBC, ABC — ruled the airwaves. Rumpled, gray-haired Schorr, the recipient of three Emmy awards, was part of CBS’s Old Guard who learned at the feet of legendary Edward R. Murrow. His reporting earned him a place on Richard Nixon’s enemies...

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18. The Submarine Caper

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pp. 197-210

...As the CIA story splashed across America’s front pages, Sy Hersh became the darling of the national media. He had experienced this before after My Lai. Now it happened again as the press corps caught up with him. “I’m sort of cast in the mold of Cracker Jack reporter, the Clark Kent hero,” he observed, and the ego-driven Hersh did not shy away. In fact, his high...

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19. Going after “The Godfather”

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pp. 211-223

...How did the director of Central Intelligence get the entire press corps to cooperate? William Colby called it “the weirdest conspiracy in town . . . an American conspiracy.” He viewed the silence of the press as “a great tribute to our journalists.” But for others it was a mockery of the adversarial role envisioned by the First Amendment...

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20. The Big Apple Turns Sour

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pp. 224-233

...Sy Hersh never aspired to be an editor. He was too restless to be desk bound or the comma police, but he had ideas how a newspaper should be run. He told Rosenthal, “The paper must always have a least one or two special projects in the works, some story or series of stories that make...

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21. Scoop Artist versus Dr. Kissinger

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pp. 234-246

...Sulzberger’s increasing unease — all led to the inevitable. Rosenthal admitted that by the late 1970s he had reservations about some of Hersh’s work. Approaches applauded five years earlier no longer looked so attractive. “We were all learning how to do things,” he said, defensively. But Hersh’s...

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22. The Summer’s Literary Furor

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pp. 247-257

...sources, especially Edward Korry, the former ambassador to Chile, and with new documents in hand and a more thorough look at the work of the National Security Council and the secret “40 Committee,” Hersh saw it more clearly. Kissinger and Nixon tried to block the election of the socialist...

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23. Who Shot Down the Korean Airliner?

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pp. 258-270

...Henry Kissinger was furious at Seymour Hersh. But as angry as he was, he did not sue. He knew that as a public man, his options were limited. “No public official has a right to demand immunity from criticism, even from a measure of unfair criticism,” he wrote. Moreover, he said, “the...

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24. Reporting the Worst-Kept Secret in the World

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pp. 271-283

...On December 20, 1989, the United States launched an invasion of Panama that was promptly and roundly condemned by the United Nations. The goal was to seize Manuel Noriega. Twenty-four American soldiers were killed, but on January 3, 1990, the Bush administration captured the dictator and brought him back to America. Sy Hersh, who always collected more facts...

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25. Sex, Lies, and Fraud

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pp. 284-297

...Sy Hersh was a twenty-seven-year-old novice in 1963, working the night shift for the Associated Press, earning twelve dollars a week and living in a rented room in Chicago. A roommate woke him early in the afternoon on November 22 to tell him that President Kennedy had been assassinated. “I sat there, glum, like everybody else,” Hersh recalled. And then he cried...

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26. Going after Sy Hersh

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pp. 298-305

...The controversy over the forged John Kennedy–Marilyn Monroe papers was both a nightmare and godsend for Sy Hersh. Everyone now knew he had a big new book on the way. “The bottom line,” he declared, is that if it hadn’t been for the forgery scandal, “the buzz on the book would...

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27. The New Yorker Years

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pp. 306-316

...wanted him fired. Hersh, on the other hand, never left the country and simply tracked down soldiers when they returned to the States. But they both knew the key to war reporting was access to soldiers. With the lesson of Vietnam fresh in mind, the Bush administration put unprecedented restrictions on the press in the Gulf. Hersh was indignant. “You know...

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28. An Alternative View of the Mideast

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pp. 317-327

...The Barry McCaffrey episode both energized and demoralized Sy Hersh. He won no awards. General McCaffrey observed, “Hersh was and still is outraged that there was no career fatality.” And he was disappointed that no publisher asked for a book. Hersh was probably still too hot to handle, or, possibly, even publishers did not want to diminish the glorious Gulf...

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29. Back on Top

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pp. 328-338

...Sy Hersh, sixty-seven years old, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, seventy-two, had been dealing with each other for thirty years. Hersh called him “funny and attractive and witty, seriously good company. You call him, he calls you back. You have a lot of fun. You laugh. He laughs.” And that was despite the fact that in 1975 Rumsfeld, President Ford’s chief...

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Epilogue: A Muckraker’s Unfinished Business

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pp. 339-344

...Sy Hersh was buried in research and writing. Hersh’s housekeeperbabysitter was at his Washington DC home when the phone rang. Hersh’s number had always been listed publicly. In a thick accent the anonymous caller told the housekeeper exactly where her three children were at that...

Selected Works of Seymour Hersh

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pp. 345-350

Seymour Hersh Timeline

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pp. 351-352


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pp. 353-402


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pp. 403-415

Image Plates

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pp. 416-425

E-ISBN-13: 9781612344768
E-ISBN-10: 1612344763
Print-ISBN-13: 9781612344751
Print-ISBN-10: 1612344755

Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hersh, Seymour M.
  • Journalists -- United States -- Biography
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1989-.
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