As an investigative reporter for The Associated Press, The New York Times and now The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh has primarily covered national security and intelligence. Over the years, he has broken several major stories, including the U.S. government’s development of chemical weapons, the My Lai massacre and the CIA’s domestic spying operations. More recently, Hersh helped expose abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Pulitzer Prize winner is also the author of nine books.
Seymour Hersh says that after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote the book "All The Presidents Men" about how they broke the Watergate scandal, part of any big investigative story became how reporters got the story.
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Seymour Hersh talks about how American John Walker Lindh, who was captured in 2001 by the U.S. military in Afghanistan while fighting with the Taliban, signaled the way detainees in the war on terror would be mistreated.
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Graduating from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in history, Hersh is admitted to the University of Chicago’s law school but flunks out.
Hersh begins his journalism career as a police reporter for the City News Bureau in Chicago. He then joins the U.S. Army and works as a public information officer at Fort Riley, Kan.
Hersh starts his own weekly newspaper, the Evergreen Dispatch, but is unsuccessful with ad sales and the publication quickly folds. He joins United Press International in South Dakota, where he covers the legislature and the Oglala Sioux tribe.
Hersh becomes a correspondent for The Associated Press . Two years later, he is transferred to the Washington bureau to cover the Pentagon.
Hersh, by now on the AP’s special investigative unit, is upset that editors watered down a lead about the U.S. government’s development of biological and chemical weapons. He quits and sells the story to The New Republic.
For three months, Hersh serves as the press secretary for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. After leaving the campaign, he writes several pieces for The New York Times and The New Republic on chemical and biological weapons. His research also leads to his first book, “Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal.”
Hersh receives a tip that Army 1st Lt. William L. Calley Jr., is going to be court-martialed for a massacre of civilians in Vietnam by U.S. troops. (The My Lai massacre took place on March 16, 1968.) Hersh flies to Salt Lake City to talk to Calley’s lawyer, and then to Fort Benning, Ga., to find Calley himself. He writes the story while flying back to Washington, but multiple magazines turn it down. He sells the story to the Dispatch News Service, run by his neighbor Dan Obst. Hersh receives the 1969 Polk Award in the Special Award category for his work on the My Lai story.
Hersh continues to follow My Lai, which becomes the basis of his second book, “My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath.” Hersh receives the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for the My Lai story.
After receiving 40 volumes of top-secret official testimony from the military’s investigation of My Lai, Hersh exposes the government’s attempt to cover up the massacre in his third book, “Cover-up: The Army’s Secret Investigation of the Massacre at My Lai 4.”
Hersh also starts working for The New York Times covering the Watergate scandal and competing with The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Hersh exposes President Nixon wiretapping aides on the National Security Council and in the Pentagon.
Reporting extensively on the CIA’s clandestine activities, Hersh discloses the U.S. covert efforts to destabilize the government of democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende, prior to the military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. That same year Hersh also writes a groundbreaking story about the CIA’s domestic spying operations against anti-war dissidents during the Nixon years. A direct result of his story is the formation of the Rockefeller Commission and the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly known as the Church Committee for its chairman, Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho.
Working on an investigative team overseen by Bill Kovach, Hersh learns of a secret operation known as Project Jennifer to retrieve a sunken Russian nuclear submarine. The CIA was intent on retrieving codes for the atomic missiles aboard the sub. The first attempt failed and Hersh hears of the operation as the U.S. was preparing to retrieve the submarine again. He also learns that the Russians are aware of what is going on and has sent two cruisers to the area. The CIA convinces Clifton Daniels, the Times’ Washington bureau chief, to hold the story, but word leaks out and CIA has to persuade every major bureau chief in the city to hold off as well. Eventually the story is released.
Hersh leaves The New York Times to write a book on Henry Kissinger, “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.”
Hersh’s “The Price of Power” is published after four years and more than 1,000 interviews, and he wins the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction. As part of his voluminous reporting and research, Hersh realized that in his 1974 coverage of the CIA’s anti-Allende efforts in Chile, he had incorrectly implicated Edward M. Korry, the U.S. ambassador to Chile. In a front-page New York Times article in 1981, Hersh corrected his earlier reporting about Ambassador Korry.
Hersh’s fifth book, “The Target Is Destroyed: What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It,” explores the Soviet shooting of Korean Airlines Flight 007 .
His sixth book, “The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy,” tells the story of how Israel obtained nuclear weapons.
Critics attack Hersh’s seventh book, “The Dark Side of Camelot,” in which he describes details of President John F. Kennedy’s life including his extramarital affairs and dealings with mobsters.
Hersh writes a story for The New Yorker, “The Missiles of August,” that criticizes the Clinton administration for bombing the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The article exposes the attack not as a raid on chemical warfare facility but as a retaliatory attack against terrorist Osama bin Laden.
In another New Yorker article, Hersh details in “Overwhelming Force” how soldiers under the command of Gen. Barry McCaffrey massacred Iraqi troops during the final days of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
In “The Price of Oil,” also in The New Yorker, Hersh exposes a business deal involving the Mobil Corporation, Kazakhstan and illegal trade to Iran. The story leads to the indictment of two people involved.
Weeks after the attacks on Sept. 11, Hersh reports in “King’s Ransom” that the Saudi royal family supported al-Qaida and other extremist groups. The article also analyzes the relationship between the royal family and the administration of President George W. Bush.
Hersh continues his investigative work for The New Yorker, writing stories on the government’s case against terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui and the Bush administration’s attempts to kill members of al-Qaida.
An article about Richard Perle’s business dealings, “Lunch With the Chairman,” prompts Perle’s resignation as head of the Defense Policy Board. In “The Stovepipe,” Hersh debunks the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq received uranium from Niger. Hersh writes about the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans in “Selective Intelligence.” These three articles win him the National Magazine Award for Public Interest.
First published as a series in The New Yorker, Hersh releases “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.” The book goes behind the public story of the war on terrorism, giving a detailed account of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and other problems stemming from the U.S. wars is Afghanistan and Iraq.
Hersh receives an unprecedented fifth George Polk award for the Abu Ghraib story.
In “Listening In,” Hersh reported on how the National Security Agency engaged in wiretapping and domestic surveillance and examines how the Bush administration, and especially the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, attempted to refocus the Middle East strategy toward an open conflict with Iran.
Hersh analyzes in “Shifting Targets” how the Bush administration was framing the public conversation to persuade the public to believe that the increased violence in Iraq was a direct result of support by the Iranian regime.
In “Preparing the Battlefield,” Hersh continues to look at the Bush administration and Iran, reporting on a presidential finding signed by Bush to fund covert operations in Iran. He exposes how the scale and scope of the operations had been significantly expanded beyond its original intent.
“Iran and the Bomb” investigates the status of Iran’s nuclear programs to see of its capabilities have been exaggerated by both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Additional Information and References
- 1969 George Polk Special Award
- 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting
- 1973 George Polk Award for Investigative Reporting
- 1974 George Polk Award for National Reporting
- 1981 George Polk Award for National Reporting
- 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction
- 1983 Investigative Reports and Editors Book Award
- 2003 National Magazine Award for Public Interest
- 2004 George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting
- 2005 National Magazine Award for Public Interest
- 2005 Overseas Press Club Award
- 2005 National Press Foundation Kiplinger Distinguished Contributions to Journalism
- “Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal”.” Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968.
- “My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath. New York: Random House, 1970.
- “Cover-up: The Army's Secret Investigation of the Massacre at My Lai 4.” New York: Random House, 1972.
- “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.” New York: Summit Books, 1983.
- “The Target Is Destroyed: What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It.” New York: Random House, 1986.
- “The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy.” New York: Random House, 1991.
- “The Dark Side of Camelot.” Boston: Little Brown, 1997.
- “Against All Enemies: Gulf War Syndrome: The War Between America’s Ailing Veterans and Their Government.” New York: Ballantine, 1998.
- “Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.” New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
- George Polk Awards
- Hersh, Seymour M. “President Linked to Taps on Aides; Nixon Said to Have Backed Action in ’69 in Effort to Plug Security Leaks.” The New York Times, May 16, 1973.
- Hersh, Seymour M. “The Missiles of August.” The New Yorker, Oct. 12, 1998.
- Hersh, Seymour M. “King’s Ransom.” The New Yorker, Oct. 22, 2001.
- Hersh, Seymour M. “Listening In.” The New Yorker, May 29, 2008.
- Hersh, Seymour M. “Shifting Targets.” The New Yorker, Oct. 8, 2007.
- Hersh, Seymour M. “Preparing the Battlefield.” The New Yorker, July 7, 2008.
- Hersh, Seymour M. “Iran and the Bomb.” The New Yorker, June 6, 2011.
- Jackson, David. “The muckraker.” Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2004.
- Johnston, Lauren. “Seymour Hersh’s ‘Chain of Command.’” CBS News, Feb. 11, 2009.
- Charles Lewis interview with Bill Kovach. June 28, 2007. Washington D.C.
- McFadden, Robert D. “13 Polk Awards Honor Journalists’ Work.” The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2005.
- The New Yorker
- Rubien, David. “Seymour Hersh.” Salon, Jan. 18, 2000.
- Sherman, Scott. “The Avenger: Sy Hersh, Then and Now.” Columbia Journalism Review, Jul/Aug 2003.