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Fri Sep 13, 2013, 04:37 PM

Seymour Hersh: A Man Still on Fire

In the fall of 1969, as men walked on the moon and Ted Kennedy's car slipped off a bridge, Sy Hersh, a 32-year-old hard-nosed reporter, was chasing down the biggest tip of his life. The Army was detaining a soldier, somewhere, for allegedly killing a large number of Vietnamese civilians. He understood that such a massacre spoke directly to what the war in Southeast Asia had become: American boys killing old men and women and children.

Seymour Myron Hersh needed little convincing that the war was bad -- and little training in how to track it down. In his cub reporting days at the City News Bureau in Chicago he had learned to do whatever he had to get information in the rough-and-tumble of the Windy City. Then, at the Associated Press for four years, he learned to cuddle up to all sorts of sources, from a triumphant Martin Luther King Jr. to reluctant generals who confirmed illegal bombings in Vietnam.

And, more importantly, Hersh had learned to hate the growing conflict in Vietnam. "If it's a just war and it makes sense, it's going to be reflected in the coverage," he said. "There was something wrong with that war." But the AP, a neutral journalistic arm, muffled him more than he could tolerate. When in 1968 he wrote a long exposť about America's growing use and production of chemical and biological weapons, the AP neutered the story.

Hersh quit, an angry young man indignant that the U.S. was ignoring what the rest of the world had agreed to -- international protocols that banned these weapons. He wrote a seminal book on the topic, but it bombed at book stores. And now, a freelancer, with a growing family, he was looking for stories. And that is when a source called Hersh because he heard he was tough, angry, persistent -- and hated injustices. When Hersh got the tip he became a bulldog, duping the attorney for the accused soldier, William Calley, into revealing that his client was charged with killing 111 "Oriental human beings." The number would grow to more than 500.


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