Pulitzer Prize winner discounts al Qaeda

Last updated 05:00 19/04/2013

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Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in Wanaka for the Festival of Colour, says he does not think the Boston bombings were carried out by international terrorists.

Hersh had a frank discussion with 15 Mount Aspiring College students this week about some of the stories he has broken, including news of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1969 during which American soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed civilians. Hersh's coverage earned him a Pulitzer Prize three years later.

When asked for his thoughts on the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line this week which killed three people and injured 176, Hersh said he was not privy to any information but his "instinction" was the bombs were not the work of international terrorists.

"If it was al Qaeda, half the city would be gone. They know how to make a bomb."

Anyone could get information on how to make a bomb, he said.

Hersh, who is 76, spent more than an hour with the students, aged 15 to 18, immediately after flying to Queenstown from Washington DC and being flown by helicopter to Wanaka.

The students were given the opportunity to ask questions, with one seeking Hersh's advice on the best way to pursue a journalism career.

He told them to "read before they write". "You just can't go in not knowing what is going on in the world."

He said their generation was entering an exciting time of internet-based news provision, likening the internet to a "premature baby . . . not fully formed yet, but going to be a very powerful tool".

"You guys are lucky. You're coming into a whole new world - the blog world."

He recommended the students submit their work to newspapers, saying freelancers would become more and more attractive as the industry strove further to cut costs.

Some American universities had established newsrooms comprising professors, a couple of journalists and many students, to write stories about parts of cities that newspapers no longer had the resources to cover.

"It is a model for the future. There are a lot of opportunities for work if you are not interested in making a lot of money, which you shouldn't be in the beginning anyway.

"It is an amazing profession." Hersh gave the students examples of how difficult it was to obtain information before tools such as Google were available.

"You guys are lucky - there is nothing you can't know. Twenty or 30 years ago, it was impossible to learn anything."

But he advised them to be wary of Wikipedia, which did not always provide impartial information - to which one of the teachers present warned the students "you heard it here".

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The history and media students, who had to apply in writing to attend the session, were also given a lesson on media ethics by Hersh, who said he had decided against taking many opportunities to obtain information in the name of ethics.

Hersh, who revealed the United States military's mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, is speaking twice in the Festival of Colour.

Yesterday he discussed what wars the US was likely to be a part of in the next decade, looking back at the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars before considering Iran and other pressure points.

This afternoon he will explain how he exposed the My Lai massacre.

- The Southland Times

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