Seymour Hersh, the legendary investigative reporter who exposed the My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib torture scandal, will be signing copies of his latest book, Reporter, and discussing President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy, at UC Irvine’s Crystal Cove Auditorium, tonight at 6 pm. The event is free to the public and is a part of the university’s Margolis Lecture series, which is sponsored by the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies. According to a UC Irvine press release about the event–and this is where things will really get interesting–Hersh won’t just be delivering a lecture and signing books, but actually answering questions from the audience.
For anyone not familiar with Hersh, he’s perhaps the most prolific (and more recently, controversial) investigative reporter in modern American history. He first came to fame in 1969 after chasing down rumors of a massacre of hundreds of innocent South Vietnamese civilians at the village hamlet of My Lai that had taken place a year earlier, but was covered up by the U.S. military. His reporting on the massacre led to two follow-up books exposing the extent of the cover up as well as the pivotal role in the atrocity of the CIA’s Operation Phoenix program, in which tens of thousands of innocent Vietnamese were imprisoned, tortured and killed based on faulty intelligence tying them to the communist Viet Cong.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Hersh churned out story after story exposing government malfeasance overseas and at home, and helped cement the notion in the minds of the public of the need for aggressive, independent reporting that speaks truth to power. In 2004, Hersh made major news again when he exposed the U.S. military’s torture of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison complex outside Baghdad following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The expose, which included photographs taken by American prison guards, revealed the depravity of the conditions facing Iraqis arrested on suspicion of aiding the anti-American insurgency. As with Hersh’s reporting on My Lai, it also helped change U.S. opinion about the war.
In 2015, Hersh faced criticism for his reporting on President Barack Obama‘s foreign policy, specifically a story about the assassination of Osama bin Laden that was rejected by his longtime employer, The New Yorker, and ran instead in the London Review of Books. The story claimed that the U.S. located bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, just blocks away from a Pakistani military base. Whereas the Obama administration and CIA claimed that bin Laden was located as the result of an epic cat-and-mouse game in which American spy analysts eventually tracked one of his couriers to the compound, Hersh, citing an anonymous high-ranking U.S. official, reported that a Pakistani government source had actually told the CIA of bin Laden’s location in return for a cash payment, and that the U.S. had planned to claim it had killed the terrorist leader on the border with Afghanistan–until one of our helicopters crashed at the compound and rendered that cover story invalid.
In the wake of that story, numerous mainstream media outlets attacked Hersh for his reporting, which, it must be said, has never been proven or disproven to this day. Most of the reporting focused less on Hersh’s facts (or lack thereof) and more on his notoriously caustic personality. For my 2016 book Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood, I did a deep dive into how the CIA and Hollywood collaborated to sell the agency’s version of the bin Laden raid to the world via the film Zero Dark Thirty. I also interviewed Hersh for the book. Interviewed is a bit of an overstatement. I got Hersh to answer a couple of questions before he began cursing and impatiently hung up on me.
Needless to say, Hersh’s appearance tonight at UC Irvine is a rare opportunity to hear from one of our country’s most important–and independent–investigative reporters about the wars that President Trump has inherited–and to ask him direct questions about his overall body of work. For more information on the event, click here.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).