Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour “Sy” Hersh has a new memoir out, Reporter, that details his role in some of the biggest stories in recent American history, including the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam and abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. In Reporter, however, Hersh also acknowledges a major story that he didn’t report on: the alleged domestic abuse of Pat Nixon by Richard Nixon.
From the New Republic review of Reporter:
In 1974, he writes, Hersh heard that Nixon’s wife Pat was in hospital after being punched by her husband. It was not an isolated occasion. He did not report on the story, he told Nieman Foundation fellows in 1998, because it represented “a merging of private life and public life.” Nixon didn’t make policy decisions because of his bad marriage, went the argument. Hersh was “taken aback” by the response from women fellows, who pointed out that he had heard of a crime and not reported it. “All I could say,” Hersh writes, “is that at the time I did not—in my ignorance—view the incident as a crime.”
It is to Hersh’s credit that he records many of his own mistakes in his memoir, and this is one subject on which his thinking has fully changed. “I should have reported what I knew at the time or, if my doing so would have compromised a source, have made sure that someone else did.”
In that 1998 conversation, Hersh told the Nieman Foundation fellows that he still didn’t consider multiple alleged instances of domestic violence by a U.S. president to be a newsworthy story. As he now acknowledges, Hersh, considered one of the greatest investigative reporters in U.S. history, didn’t know that domestic violence was illegal. (The Nixon family has denied allegations of abuse in the past.) “[T]hen I did not think it was a story. I thought it was his business,” Hersh said by way of explanation, according to the transcript.
Sy Hersh, like many of his other mostly-male peers from the golden age of journalism, churned out aggressive, important stories that changed history. But his dismissal of the relevance of violent misogyny was a feature of that time, not a bug, and with a collective blind spot this big, you have to wonder about all the other gigantic scoops that may have been flicked aside as irrelevant.