My Lai. If you know anything at all about the war in Vietnam, you know this word.
It was the village where more than 100 unarmed civilians were killed by American soldiers during a 1968 offensive. The word has taken on literal and symbolic meaning.
We might not know the word at all if it had not been for the efforts of a remarkable, single-minded reporter named Seymour Hersh.
The story of how Hersh, then a broke freelance, stumbled on the appalling events at My Lai is familiar by now: when a military lawyer told him that a soldier at Fort Benning in Georgia was facing a court martial for killing at least 109 Vietnamese civilians, Hersh simply rocked up at the base and went door to door until he found 26-year-old Lt William L Calley Jr (he later followed this up with an even more amazing interview, this time with Paul Meadlo, a farm kid from Indiana who had shot many of the civilians before losing a leg himself). Reading about it here, though, you’re reminded all over again of just how hard it was to get such a scoop published. The first report was rejected out of hand by many media organisations, among them the New York Times, and carefully rewritten – Hersh sold it through a tiny agency – by others seemingly made nervous and resentful by it. Source: Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh – review | Books | The Guardian
The My Lai massacre story was one of many major scoops that Hersh broke in his remarkable career. Now he has written a memoir, Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh, and the quote above is from a review in The Guardian by Rachel Cooke.
Hersh has done what reporters are supposed to do: he has found things out that people — often powerful people have wanted to keep hidden — and he has reported those things. He has not always been right, and he has rarely been gentle.
But as a matter of personal and symbolic pride, he has never been invited to the White House for dinner.
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