Seymour Hersh's Remarks & Acceptance Speech Video
I was going to make fun. I had a lot of fun planned for Holbrooke, who I’ve known for forty years. Hillary Clinton once actually, I will tell this story, described Dick Holbrooke, this was during the campaign last year, as the only person in America who can be talking to my husband at a cocktail party and be looking behind him to see who else is there. But anyway, I wouldn’t have done too much because he lost his sense of humor years ago. If I had his job I would have too.
So I’m sort of, let me tell you what is so impressive about this. You’re talking to somebody who was born from lower middle class, Eastern European family.
My parents came without education they didn’t get to high school, my mother actually cleaned houses. I didn’t pay for school I went to the University of Chicago, minimal money.
And eleven years after graduating from college, I, as a freelance reporter, I’m sticking two fingers, in 1969, into the eye of a sitting American president a republican Richard Nixon and describing the mass murder as you heard in My Lai to a nation that had really been inured to the consequences of war.
World War II was sanitized for us. We really hadn’t come to grips with the fact that truth be that alas American soldiers not surprisingly fight wars no better or worse than any other armies. It’s always the last resort it’s always brutal it’s always about pay back, revenge for your buddy; it’s not about the flag.
So I do this story in ‘69 and I get fame, fortune, glory and more than I had ever seen before enough to put a down payment on a house. I get prizes like the Pulitzer Prize. And you say to yourself what a special place, you have to say to yourself, this country is; no matter what. This is a country in which the first amendment, as I said, is there. No matter you hear about how much they don’t like us.
And so I‘m a strong believer that we’re not going to be saved ultimately by politicians. Who always make political judgments even in cases of war, life and death; it’s always political I believe. We may have an exception with this president, but we haven’t seen it yet; we may because we all have a lot of hope. But you know I don’t know how Holbrooke was going to spin Afghan tonight; light at the end of the tunnel led by Carzi, but he was going to try.
So anyway here you come, I come from this notion that we have this amazing sort of power. This amazing right, we don’t often do a great job. I don’t have to tell you after 9/11 instead of standing outside and holding George Bush to the highest standard possible we were jingoistic; we fell in line, we didn’t ask some of the questions.
One of the questions that later occurred to me about 9/11—we learned at some point that September the 11th was the date planned by Al Qaeda; all powerful, mystical, all knowing omniscient Al Qaeda. But I always started thinking—it was years later I asked myself one day suppose September the 11th had been like today rainy, cold, cloudy; what would have happened to those guys hijacking. In other words we didn’t ask the right questions about WMD obviously, even about Al Qaeda.
And so but we’re there; we are really, I think, more than any other unit in our society, in the Congress—even in the judiciary we had some terrible decision just made the other day in the second circuit in the case of the Canadian. We are there…
And tonight I got to tell you listening to Chouchou and listening to this reminds me again; that if we’re going to get a salvation in the world—and I actually have had similar experiences I’ve spent a lot of time literally three, four, five, six visits in the last few years talking to journalists in the Middle East and the difference between what they do, what Chouchou does and what I do is the word courage has nothing to do with what I do. I do it and I’m exalted, they do it and they run risk. What the International Center is doing, and I’m making a pitch for them I don’t even know them that well I’m just telling you, is essential.
I was in Cairo and I spoke to 60 journalists off the record. Mohamed Heikal, some of you may know the great wonderful journalist of Egypt, had me in. In his retirement he’s put money into a fund to encourage investigative reporting. I spoke to 50 or 60 journalists; half of them women, half of them were in the Islamic garb. They all had the same thing they wanted to know from me. How do they expose corruption, how do they expose wrong doing, how can they get into military secrets? And they were coming to me; they were from Egypt, they were from Yemen, they were from Lebanon, they were from other places in the Middle East. All of them were listening to me expound about how to do this and that. The only difference being their reporting was going to lead to jeopardy for them; mine doesn’t.
We live in a very special place. And so we really have to support this kind of stuff. Because I’m going to tell you if there is going to be a change in the world we live in; I think we and our colleagues in Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Far East are going to have much more to do with it than any political leadership. In fact I would argue that political leadership is going to drive it other way, clearly we’ve seen in the last eight years how much farther backwards we’ve gone. Anyway, so the message is real simple; what do we offer? What we offer you; people say to me what do you do, what you do?
And let me tell you my theory of journalism it’s really pretty simple. I’m a parent, I live with my significant other, I have children. Trust is the core of the relationship; I don’t lie to my children, I don’t want them to lie to me. I used to say occasionally with the exception of 13 – 15 year old girls, but I’ve stopped saying that, because I get too many hisses, in Berkley.
Anyway, but the point is quite seriously, in my personal life what do I do. In my personal life, like all of us everywhere around the world, we want respect and trust in our intimate relationships and truth telling. And in this country particularly given the presidents we’ve had, Johnson, Nixon, Bush. The same sort of demands and requirements that we make and we insistent on having, that we must have in our personal lives; we don’t begin to ask of our national leaders. Those people who have the right to send our sons and our daughters to die in the name of democracy. We don’t begin to hold them to the same standards we hold our immediate family members to.
And when you start realizing the extent to which it’s a bad bargain for us; that we make a distinction between something that is so important to us in life and we shrug off the inability to always believe our national leaders. What can I say that’s our job, our job is to hold these people.