Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, when American soldiers civilians killed more than 500 Vietnamese in 1968. Now he’s gone to the scene of the crime to My Lai for the New Yorker. CJR has a great Q&A where he talks about the state of journalism today:
What is your advice to younger journalists?
It’s real simple. One is: Read before you write. And the other one is: Get the fuck out of the way of the story. There’s no such thing as a sensational story. There’s a story that if you write it right is sensational.
Can you say more about the BuzzFeeds and the Gawkers of the world becoming good for investigative journalism?
There will probably always be a New York Times. And The New York Times, for all my kvetching, it’s still the paper. And it still does great investigative reporting. I can’t stand some of its foreign coverage because it’s instinctively anti-Russian, anti-Iran, anti-Syrian. I don’t like that. My own preference and my own view is: Things are more complicated than you think. There’s nothing like The New York Times, but its prognosis is it can’t be good. I’m not suggesting that its necessarily hemorrhaging money, but it can’t be good…..
What I hate to see, and what I think I see even in the mainstream papers, even in the Times, a story that, they get a tip on something, and they run the tip. Like the whole story about Hillary Clinton’s emails, they did break the story and they got a lot of credit…..I get to the point where I want to know who’s telling what. And because normally if the story hadn’t come, let’s say, from the Clintons—I’m just speaking heuristically—normally if you really got that story from someone on the inside, you would then make an effort on the inside to try and do more with it. You wouldn’t have to pay it off right away. Because when you broke the story you really didn’t know much.
And I’m not crushing his reporting. It was a fine story, and I’m glad it was done. But I just wonder who they owed that story to, because they went real quick with it. I see too many stories that are tips when they get into the paper, when I would take more time and see what’s going on in the story before I make it public.
For my second piece, the CJR autopsy on the Rolling Stone rape story, which found “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”
“The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s [the main source’s] narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.”
Here’s are some useful summaries. Basic findings: CALL your sources. VERIFY any information, no matter how sensitive, from numerous sources. BEWARE of anonymity. Give those accused an opportunity to respond to the story. CHECK and DOUBLE-CHECK all details.
Details of Tuesday’s class below