“Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News,” President Trump tweeted last week, in his latest attack on the nation’s press. A week earlier, federal prosecutors revealed they had secretly captured years’ worth of phone and email data from journalist Ali Watkins, who broke several high-profile stories related to the Senate Intelligence Committee. A former top aide on the committee, James Wolfe, has been charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with the press. Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders recently dropped the United States to number 45 in its annual ranking of press freedom. When the group first published its list in 2002, the United States came in at number 17. We speak with the nation’s best-known investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh. He has a new book out looking back on his more than half-century of scoops and digging up secrets. It’s titled “Reporter: A Memoir.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News.” Those were the words of President Trump last week. It was just his latest attack on the nation’s press. A week earlier, federal prosecutors revealed they had secretly captured years’ worth of phone and email data from a reporter, Ali Watkins, who broke several high-profile stories related to the Senate Intelligence Committee. A former top aide on the committee, James Wolfe, has been charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with the press.
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders recently dropped the United States to number 45 in its annual ranking of press freedom. When the group first published its list in 2002, the United States was at number 17.
Well, to talk about the state of the media and how—we spend the hour with the nation’s best-known investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh. In 1970, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on how the U.S. slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese women, children and old men in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. The event became known as the My Lai massacre.
AMY GOODMAN: Sy Hersh went on to expose many of the government’s deepest secrets, from Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia to the CIA spying on antiwar activists, to the CIA’s role undermining the Chilean government of Salvador Allende. Former CIA Director William Colby once privately complained about Hersh, saying, quote, “He knows more about this place than I do.”
Well, Sy Hersh has also helped uncover how the U.S. has secretly carried out assassinations across the globe. Hersh continued to break major stories after the September 11th attacks, most notably, in 2004, he exposed the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq that shocked the world.
Well, Seymour Hersh is out with a new book, looking back on his more than half a century of scoops and digging up secrets. It’s called Reporter: A Memoir.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you for the hour, Sy.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Glad to be back.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why don’t we begin, before we go back in time at your remarkable investigative reporting, to your assessment of the press today in this era of Trump?
SEYMOUR HERSH: I’m ecstatic that, finally, the major media is no longer trying to cope with tweets, and digging into real news. What’s happened in Mexico, you know, it’s been going on for two months. It only took ProPublica to get a tape and to get the Democrats going. That it was a political issue was not seen. I don’t know what’s wrong with, what’s going on with the press. It took them a long time to get it.
You mentioned Yemen. You’re one of the few people, this program, that continually reports about Yemen. And it’s not just we’re aiding. We’re supplying intelligence. We’re refueling planes. We’re working very closely with the United Arab Emirates and, of course, the Saudis, who are doing most of the horrific stuff that’s going on.
And talk about—it’s terrible what’s happening at the border. My wife just gave a lot of money to some group, and it’s gotten everybody going. But it’s been going on for two months. And while the—what I’ve been screaming about is: Stop worrying about the tweets. I was at a conference of journalists in Orlando last week, investigative reporters and editors, and I spent a day talking—
AMY GOODMAN: With Juan.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Yes, and 1,800 kids there, in a down time economically. There’s something going on. People understand the need for really good reporting. The things that the government are doing, this government are doing, below the surface, for example—I was talking to a lot of reporters about it, local reporters—they’re lowering the standards of safety for baby cribs, because some manufacturer went to somebody connected in the government and laid off—who knows, whatever, politically or economically. I mean, this is going on across the board.
And meanwhile, we’re focused on this man’s tweets. And the more we focus in the press—for months, I was going nuts, because he goes up in the polls. A lot of people in America that like the idea that there’s somebody out there that doesn’t care about the press. Anyway, they’ve got their teeth into something, finally, and it’s going. They treat Haley, this woman who wants—is running for president, seriously. I can’t believe they treat the woman—
AMY GOODMAN: The US ambassador to UN.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, my god! How can you possibly treat her seriously? She’s been a prop for over a year in the job. And so, I think things are changing. This could be a turning point. You know, I say that, but all he had to do is change the policy, and then we’re back into listening to tweets.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you describe yourself in your book as a survivor of the golden age of journalism. Could you talk about what was the golden age of journalism? And compare that to, as you’re saying, all of these hundreds and hundreds of kids that we saw this past weekend in Orlando seeking to become investigative reporters.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Right now what you have is such a division in the media that there’s no middle ground. There’s no—when I worked, I was a freelance reporter, and I understood, even then, a story was a story. And it wasn’t looked at as are you either pro- or anti-Trump or, you know, whatever. Right now you have a situation, because of the craziness of cable news, which takes any information they get and blasts it out there with no thought—we’re all driven. And the public has—they used to turn to The New York Times, my old newspaper, for which I worked for years, happily, in the ’70s, as an arbiter of integrity and truth. Right now, everybody is seen as either pro- or anti-. You don’t have a middle ground.
And what I meant by the golden age is you could write a story and get it published, and people would believe it. Now you can write a story and get it published, and people will say, “Well…” As many people, even in this—you saw, in your own broadcast, many—he still gets support from many people in America, when he starts talking this crazy, insane stuff about immigrants. And so, there’s no—there’s no national standard. The Times used to be a national standard. There’s so much division in the country right now, caused by him, but it’s been going on for a long time, sort of the secular—I don’t want to use the word “secular.” It’s the wrong word. But just the notion that you can take your choice: If you like Trump, you watch this; if you don’t like him, you watch something else. There’s no middle ground.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to take a break, and then we’re going to go back in time, because even as you talk about the golden age of reporting and journalism, when you had your My Lai exposé, this astounding story in Vietnam—and it wasn’t the only massacre, obviously, even not even the largest massacre—but your story was turned down everywhere, even as you continued to report it. We’re talking to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh for the hour. Stay with us.
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