Seymour Hersh, behind the byline Profile: Vanity Fair story shows an unflattering side to the investigative reporter.


October 19, 1997|By Michael Prager | Michael Prager,BOSTON GLOBE

It is grand to have illusions, until you find out they're illusions. That disheartening lesson comes in the November Vanity Fair, in Robert Sam Anson's report on Seymour Hersh's coming book on the Kennedys.

Hersh burst into prominence in the late '60s when he revealed the massacre at My Lai, and it was only the first in an explosion of exposes: the secret bombing of North Vietnam, then of Cambodia; domestic spying by the CIA; the wiretapping of Kissinger's aides.

Sy Hersh seemed to be someone to emulate. But Anson paints an ugly picture, helped by Hersh's own admissions. ("You think I wouldn't sell my mother for My Lai? Gimme a break.")

Anson relates that Hersh has bordered on using blackmail to get some sources to talk, a technique that contributed to his departure from the New York Timesin 1979. And Hersh's celebrated brush with documents purporting to prove that JFK did all sorts of nasty things raises questions about how deeply Hersh values the truth. The papers are now proven fakes, but Hersh stood by them for years, even as doubts mounted.

It's enough to make you question whether "The Dark Side of Camelot" is credible. But by now the book is an entity larger than its lurid tales, and it is sure to be a huge seller.

Spies like them

Distasteful skulduggery of a different sort is the theme in the October issue of George, which celebrates its second anniversary with the subject of spying.

The issue is historically illuminating and affecting. There is, for example, the memoir of Colin Beavan, who plumbs family secrets of a clan whose leader, his grandfather, was a CIA official who almost certainly sanctioned murder and who knows what else. The central question -- whether the secrecy born of international intrigue is why there's so much denial in Beavan's family -- is perhaps a bit strained but still poignant.

There's also the tale of how the CIA reached into the inner circle of the Dalai Lama, with the aid of its secret Tibetan army, to dupe him into fleeing his homeland in 1959, possibly saving his life.

And there's a wonderful yarn about Tophat, the CIA's best and brightest Soviet spy, who provided 27 file drawers of data in 18 years of espionage and had made it into comfortable retirement before being exposed by CIA mole Aldrich Ames and executed.

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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