The Legacy of Mr. Hersh
A Review of Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh
Have you ever picked up a book and the first chapter made you want to change careers? Reading Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh made me feel this way. This book chronicles Mr. Hersh’s experiences as an investigative reporter and author. I would definitely recommend it for any writer — journalist or not — and for any reader who wants to understand the process that a good investigative reporter goes through to get a good story for the front page of the newspaper.
Now, you might be thinking “Newspaper? Who reads a paper newspaper today?” I do. Two or three of them every morning that I can. This book reminded me why I prefer the paper version of the newspaper to watching the twenty-four-hour cable news cycle.
Being a Reporter is Challenging
One key takeaway from this book is the challenge of being a reporter. Stories do not just fall in a reporter’s lap, and good reporting takes diligence, time, and effort. Mr. Hersh displayed a tenacity, a bit of luck, and a drive that led to his success. His integrity provides a study for those who want to be reporters, and his loyalty to the truth over corporation, politics, and greed is amazing.
Mr. Hersh uses a life of amazing reporting experiences to teach us that good reporting takes diligence. He carefully researches and fact checks his stories. He goes to great lengths to tie up loose ends while attempting to view the story through a variety of lenses. He carefully tracks down and verifies sources, and in instances where he cannot verify his sources he does not publish the story. He also does not publish stories that could inadvertently identify or harm his sources.
He also teaches us that good reporting takes time. He highlights multiple times that having a solid and accurate story is more important than being the first to report a story. It is better to take you time and verify that the story is solid than to rush to publish. This is a lesson that any writer could take away from this book:
Being first is not nearly as important as being right, and being careful, even if it did not matter in the case at hand.
— Seymour Hersh
Hersh also teaches us the importance of putting effort into the work. He is the polar opposite of the lazy reporter. He chased stories across the globe, at 3 o’clock in the morning, and to dangerous locations. He had the tenacity to knock on door after door after door for an entire day to hunt down a single source. In the face of the word “no” he would find another path to the truth. This focus on effort is a lesson that we could all learn from Mr. Hersh.
Good Reporters Chase Things That Might Pan Out
The book highlights the importance of going “down rabbit holes” to see if things pan out. Mr. Hersh would chase leads into dead ends from time to time, but more frequently, he chased them to places that opened new doors into his investigations. Good reporters follow leads and see where they take them.
Mr. Hersh takes the reader on a fun and exciting journey as we follow him through the processes he went through to chase stories. He would catch the scent and drop everything to chase a new angle on a story. The result has been an amazing career with numerous awards and, most importantly, uncovering the truth behind a wide array of incidents for the American public and beyond.
But Sometimes They Don’t Pan Out
Of course, it is not all sunshine and roses. Mr. Hersh does discuss some periods when the leads he chased did not pan out. At times he would spend quite a bit of time chasing a dead end. Other times, he would find something but lack the detailed information or sourcing necessary to include it in his reports.
Some of the most difficult moments that Mr. Hersh highlights involve the need to protect his sources. He demonstrates the importance of journalistic integrity and discusses the importance of protecting sources. If sources are not protected, future sources will be reluctant to share information making it more difficult to get to the truth. I look forward to the day that Mr. Hersh is able to publish his volume on Cheney when he can fill in the gaps and still protect his sources.
The Role of the Reporter in Democracy
This book is a fantastic tribute to the role of the reporter in a democracy. Mr. Hersh highlights many instances where strong and accurate reporting brought the truth to the American people. Journalists fill an incredibly important role in our society — highlighting the truth even when it is a bit uncomfortable. But, he highlights how sometimes an unwanted or uncomfortable truth is an important part of a nation pulling together and healing in order to move forward to a bright future. Current and future journalists could learn quite a bit from Mr. Hersh on the importance of their role and the importance of maintaining their integrity in a democratic nation.
Overall, this book is an excellent read for anyone interested in the journalistic process. The book would be particularly useful for those interested in journalism, consumers of the news, and any writer. Be prepared for a page turner — I could not put it down — that will make you want to read more about current events and the events of the past.