The experience of reading Hersh’s memoir is like visiting a lost world ... It’s all reporting—dense and detailed reporting on reporting. That iterative and pointillist style of telling a story does fall into a genre: noir...To put it in a callow way, this stuff is cool. It’s also very masculine. Almost every person in Hersh’s memoir is a man—a sign of the time and the industry ... Dwight Garner of The New York Times faults Reporter for lacking detail and color about human beings who are not Sy Hersh. It’s true: This is not a psychological or social portrait of any of the major players who ran newspapers during the decades covered in the book. And the Nixon anecdote reveals that what is left out of Reporter, namely women and a political consciousness that includes women, speaks a little loudly for comfort. Hersh is not a political theorist, nor a literary memoirist, nor a paragon of journalistic behavior. He’s a reporter. Looking back over his career from today’s vantage point, he is something of an incomplete hero. It’s easy to mourn the loss of this industry’s old form, and to lionize Hersh as its most ferocious remnant. The past is a foreign country, and, for better or worse, they did journalism differently there.
The qualities that make Seymour Hersh a first-rate reporter—his hustle, his wonkiness, his nighthawk drive to unearth a radioactive fact and then top that fact—make him a second-rate memoirist. Like a greyhound or a kamikaze pilot or an insurance man peddling a policy, he’s not built for reflection ... If Hersh rarely seems quite human, neither does Reporter. He piles on the policy and deadline details while leaving people and their beating hearts mostly behind ... To be fair, Hersh does get his share of stories told. Battles with his journalistic ally and nemesis Abe Rosenthal, a legendary editor of The Times, are delightfully recounted ... So many of journalism’s old war dogs have left or are leaving us, and there’s a sense that we won’t get many more memoirs like this one. If this book’s pilot light isn’t fully lit, it still puts a big career across.
Hersh's career is a tribute to the pursuit of the 'unpredictable result.' We used to value reporters who were willing to alienate editors and readers alike, if that's the way the truth cut. Now, as often as not, we just change the channel. This has been bad for both reporters and readers, who are losing the will to seek out and face the unpredictable truth. When it comes time for the next generation of journalists to re-discover what this job is supposed to be about, they can at least read Reporter. It's all in here.