“I am a survivor,” Seymour Hersh writes in his new book, Reporter: A Memoir, “from the golden age of journalism.” That age, before cable news and the internet and the 24/7 news cycle, when newspapers were the primary source of information for most people and reporters had the resources to dig deep into stories, is long gone. “We are sodden with fake news,” Hersh laments, “hyped-up and incomplete information, and false assertions delivered nonstop by our daily newspapers, our televisions, our online news agencies, our social media, and our President.”
Starting out as a freelance reporter, Hersh went on to work for the New York Times and then the New Yorker magazine, where one of his editors was David Remnick. Hersh continued to investigate and write stories that exposed the wrongdoings of high officials, earning him the wrath of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, among others. Hersh was audacious, relentless, and meticulous; he built an astonishing web of sources, military and government insiders willing to tell him what was really happening, confirm key facts, or point him in the right direction. Hersh recounts an anecdote in which William Colby, the director of Central Intelligence, complained to a colleague that Hersh knew the inner workings of the CIA better than Colby did.
The Hersh approach to reporting is ultimately simple: Read before you write, find people who know the truth, and let the facts tell the story. In a historical moment when the president of the United States refers to the press as an enemy of the American people, investigative journalists with guts and integrity matter more than ever. Reporter is vital reading for anyone who believes that democracy cannot survive without a robust and independent press.