Category Archives: journalism

Print, the legend – The life of an American newspaperman

“Hold the front page!” Editors have no doubt shouted those fabled words more often for Seymour Hersh than for any reporter living. Hersh – known to friends and colleagues as “Sy” – is a legend of my trade, born appropriately in that great newspaper town, Chicago, scene of sufficient political corruption and police brutality to sustain a dozen dailies. From his exposure of the My Lai massacre in 1969 and other war crimes by American forces in Vietnam to his recent accounts of official disinformation about Syria, Hersh broke from the pack to tell tales most of his colleagues avoided but which the public needed to know.

What a story. What a life. It’s hard to read this book without a tinge of envy and a lot of admiration for a poor kid from the South Side who watched friends go off to Harvard in the 1950s while he stayed to support his Polish-Jewish mother by running his late father’s dry cleaners. When his twin brother Allan finished his PhD and brought their mother to San Diego, Sy took an English degree and went to the University of California’s law school. Having been expelled for indolence, he got a job with the City News Bureau in Chicago, the windy city’s equivalent of Britain’s Press Association, where he learn the trade. The morning editor made young Hersh scrub his desk, and his beat involved reporting high school basketball scores. “Nonetheless,” he writes, “I was smitten.” Having been drafted into the army for six months of Stateside training in 1960, he returned to work on a suburban weekly, got fed up working for people he did not respect – a recurring theme in his career – and started the rival paper Evergreen park/Oak Lawn Dispatch with a few friends. “My idea of a solid story then was one that found a way to praise an advertiser”, Hersh admits.

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All the Last Wars: around the world with the Goya of conflict photography

There were no civilian cars on the streets of Mosul, Iraq, last December, when the veteran war photographer Don McCullin and I hitched a ride in an Iraqi Army pickup. A few children smiled and flashed V signs at us, but the adults’ stares betrayed hostility or, at best, caution. If Islamic State fighters returned, anyone seen consorting with the army would be punished.

The soldiers took us to an abandoned house in Hay Tahrir (“Liberation Quarter”), a working-class neighborhood in the northeast. Islamic State fighters had only recently been expelled from the area. A blanket was tacked up over the doorway, and daylight came in through the mortar holes in the walls. We dropped onto the dirty floor, folding our legs bedouin-style. The soldiers offered us tea, which had been brewing on a gas burner.

The Iraqis asked McCullin how old he was. Eighty-one, he said. Did he have children? Four boys and a girl. One soldier asked permission to marry his daughter. McCullin told him he couldn’t afford the dowry. After more banter, the soldiers agreed to let us stay the night and go with them to the front in the morning.

A few minutes later, an Iraqi Army Humvee screeched up to the building, and an officer ordered us to accompany him to a forward command post. The brass had discovered that we were in town without permission. Just a month earlier, the Iraqi Army had been welcoming journalists, boasting of victories against the militants, but there was no boasting now. It was the wrong time to be covering the Battle of Mosul.

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