Miraldi on Hersh and journalism today

Author and journalism Professor Robert Miraldi told an audience at the College at New Paltz that journalism today remains not only a key part of American democracy, but also a place where committed individuals can make a difference in society.

Miraldi used the example of Seymour Hersh, the famous investigative reporter whose biography — called Scoop Artist – he recently published.  “Make no mistake about it,” Miraldi said, “times have changed. But we still have the chance as journalists — whether as bloggers or tweeters or simply writing long muckraking stories about the bad things that still occur — to make things better.”

miraldi14Miraldi cited how Hersh’s 1975 stories about the CIA spying on American citizens led to a complete revamping of the agency’s regulations and spurred three major investigations.  He also said Hersh’s reporting while at the New York Times led to numerous investigations and policy changes.

Moreover, Miraldi cited Hersh’s 1968 book that led to the halting of the stockpiling and production of biological weapons.  “This was a stunning early victory for Hersh,” he said.

Miraldi traced the long influence of investigative reporting (once called muckraking journalism) on American politics and culture. Hearkening back to the groundbreaking work of turn-of-the-20th century journalists such as Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, Miraldi emphasized how reporters have long played the role of the Fourth Branch of government.

“How can one not be inspired by their work,” Miraldi asked the audience. Miraldi wove stories of his own career as an investigative reporter with that of Hersh, who began in journalism in Chicago in 1959 and then worked for the Associated Press, the Times, The New Yorker and wrote nine books.

Hersh, Miraldi pointed out, has won more awards than any other American journalist and is generally considered to be the best investigative reporter in America. And, yet, he added, he is despised by the political right in America and beloved by the left.  Miraldi pointed out that Hersh is often criticized for having a liberal bias. “But that is so unfair,” he said. Hersh hates it when people ask for his opinion, he added.

“Hersh wants people to look at his exposés, his reporting, his facts, what he uncovers,” Miraldi said.  And that is what has made him famous over the years, beginning in 1969 when he won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for his exposé of a massacre of more than 500 civilians in the village of My Lai in Vietnam.

Miraldi told many of the students in his audience that journalists need patience, that making changes and bringing about reform takes time. He quoted the journalist I.F. Stone, one of Hersh’s heroes, who once said, “reform is like pissing on a rock. It takes a long time for the rock to wear down – but it does wear down.”

Miraldi’s 415-page book on Hersh came out in October from Potomac Books/University of Nebraska Press.  It is the first biography of the 76-year-old Hersh who is currently working on a book on the covert activities of both the Bush-Cheney and Obama Administrations.


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