Monday, April 15, 2024

‘New Yorker’ Journalist Brings Controversial World View to Boca

Controversy-courting investigate reporter Seymour Hersh will speak at 7 p.m. Monday at the Mizner Park Amphitheatre for the Festival of the Arts BOCA. The Polk- and Pulitzer-winning journalist is an expert on foreign policy, and one of his specialties is government secrecy overseas. He is most known for exposing the

My Lai Massacre and its aftermath during the Veitnam War, and he has written at length about the more recent U.S. military’s treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

Hersh is currently working on a long-form piece for The New Yorker about Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

What specifically will you be addressing in this speaking engagement?

I don’t come with a fixed speech, but it will be about foreign policy. So much of what I do is rumination. Right now I am amazed at what’s going on in the Middle East. These kids in the protests, who are basically young and bringing along the unemployed and the lower class, are not running around saying “Death to the Israelis.” They are losing the sense of Arab humiliation and are just being themselves, and what we’re seeing is amazing. There’s nobody in the world who can’t see how the West lives. We have jobs and orderly lives; even with our disparity in income, you can live well here.

My sense is we’re seeing the end of al Qaeda. They prayed on humiliation, and that’s disappearing. Israel still has to do something about the humanitarian problem they’re creating in the Arab world, but this is a time of great hope that has nothing to do with us. So I’ll talk about the world as it is today, and I usually do a country tour.

A tour of the Middle Eastern countries?

A tour of the countries we’re at war with. Where I give President Obama terrible marks is in foreign policy, because he’s carrying out Bush policies, which are basically stomping out ragheads. But Obama is probably right to stay out of Libya. Gaddafi will go down, and it will be horrible. He’s just got to go. But my country is waging an unconscionable war in Afghanistan that nobody on the inside has any chance that we’ll come out well on. You read stories recently about nine Afghan boys being killed, because Gen. Petraeus, has doubled up on the bombing.

Didn’t Defense Secretary Robert Gates essentially admit last month that the war is unwinnable?

Yes, exactly, he said that any defense secretary that sends people into war in Asia or the Middle East should have his head examined. That should have been the lead story of every newspaper.

But how could it have been, when there’s Charlie Sheen…

The pathetic thing is putting him on all these shows. What a sad story, everybody exploiting him … and he’s exploiting himself, of course.

One of the things you’re known for is getting out information that is potentially or overtly damaging to certain administrations in power. It makes me wonder if this information is yours alone if it is known by other reporters who may be too concerned about access or their own reputations to print it.

They knew about My Lai. Some of the reporters I saw witnessed some of the horrible stuff that happened. It’s self-censorship. Here’s my attitude in a nutshell: This is an amazing country. My parents came from old country, Lithuania and Poland. My mother cleaned houses for a living. She had no high school education. I went to the University of Chicago with a degree in English, and 11 years later I’m sticking two fingers in the eye of a sitting president, saying that Americans don’t fight wars any better than krauts in World War II. It’s hard for someone like me to be cynical to this country; in many other countries, I’d be in jailed or beaten up for saying these things. In America, I win prizes, fame, fortune and glory.

What I say to myself is, as a parent, is that I don’t want to lie to my kid or have them to lie to me. But I’ve learned in the last 30 to 40 years not to expect that out of our leaders. Of course the president doesn’t tell the truth! It’s a bad deal for us. We just have a bad bargain. My attitude has been that I’m going to hold you to the highest possible standard. It gets me in all kinds of trouble, but it gets me a lot of great stories.

How do you handle personal smears and attacks on your reporting and tactics?

If I had a thin skin, I’d be in some other business. I know what I’m talking bout, so I don’t defend myself.

I really admire the long-form reporting that you do, and I wonder if you feel that that kind of reporting is become endangered in the age of Twitter and cable news, where everything needs to be condensed into a soundbite to be digested by the mass public.

Totally. I work for the best place in the world, for The New Yorker, where after a story has been edited and fact-checked, the last person you deal with is the grammarian. He’s somebody who goes in and finds comma faults and looks for parallelism. He’ll say, “I think we need a semicolon here instead of a dash.” He’ll inject parallelism in some sentences. He’ll also read the story for similarity of sounds. He’ll pull a word out in a paragraph because it has too many S sounds.

Since the Festival of the Arts is partly a literary festival, who do you enjoy as a reader, whether it’s other nonfiction reporters or fiction writers?

I’m not reading as much fiction as I used to. David Foster Wallace wrote a novel my kids said I have to read, and the first 200 pages is about getting ready for a marijuana toot he’s about to have!

I read most nonfiction about the wars. I’m Rereading Samantha Power’s “Chasing the Flame.” I also like to read Henning Mankell, who writes Swedish crime novels, but they’re much more than that. And I finished John le Carre’s new novel.

Tickets for Hersh’s lecture are $35 or $50, and he takes the amphitheatre stage at 7 p.m. Call 866/571-2787.

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