US journalist pulls no punches

Wanaka woman Veronique Grenier has  a copy of one of US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh's...
Wanaka woman Veronique Grenier has a copy of one of US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh's books signed by the author in Wanaka this week. Hersh was in town to give two talks during the Festival of Colour. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Nincompoops, whackos and psychotic liars were among the assessments made by straight-talking Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh of several world leaders and high-ranking government officials, during a visit to Wanaka this week.

The veteran US investigative journalist (76) gave two sold-out talks at the Crystal Palace yesterday and Thursday, as part of the Aspiring Conversations series in this year's Festival of Colour.

He spoke of the consequences of US military intervention in past and present wars, and used knowledge from his extraordinary network of sources and his detailed grasp of modern US politics to discuss the direction of future conflicts.

He also gave insights into his investigative style, as he detailed how he uncovered the story of the 1969 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, in which hundreds of unarmed civilians were murdered by US soldiers. The story earned him the Pulitzer, the first of his many awards for investigative reporting.

While Hersh's fleeting visit to New Zealand - just four days - was his first, it made a big impression.

''This is comical, it's so pretty. I accused this of being a painting,'' he told the Otago Daily Times, when describing the Queenstown Lakes district.

Wanaka woman Pru Wallis, wife of Sir Tim Wallis, had tried for many years to bring Hersh to New Zealand, but he had always resisted, until now. He expected it would not be long before he made a return trip, however, as his wife - who ''likes to climb mountains'' but was unable to join him this time because of work commitments - was very keen to visit, based on his glowing reports of the dramatic landscape.

''In a perfect world, I don't think I'll be able to get through the next five years without coming.''

During his stay, Hersh has played tennis near Rippon Vineyard, sampled local wines, given a talk to media studies and history pupils from Mount Aspiring College, and dined with New Zealand author and investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who was also part of the festival's Aspiring Conversations series.

Hersh was looking forward to playing golf at The Hills today before flying home to Washington DC.

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz

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