The Illinois Prize
for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism
2009 Honoree: Seymour Hersh
The University of Illinois’ Department of Journalism in the College of Media presented the 2009 Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism to Seymour M. Hersh, investigative journalist and author with The New Yorker magazine, on November 7, 2009, at a ceremony and dinner held at The National Press Club, in Washington, D.C.
In his indefatigable pursuit of the truth, Seymour Hersh has become synonymous with watchdog journalism. Even more impressive, he has managed to hold this distinction for 40-plus years. Exhibiting his signature enthusiasm, Hersh now regularly contributes exposés to The New Yorker.
Hersh started off as a police reporter for the City News Bureau in Chicago. Upon leaving, he had stints at United Press International and The Associated Press. But he was a struggling freelancer when he exposed the massacre at My Lai. Carried in papers across the world, Hersh’s findings fundamentally altered the American public’s view of the Vietnam War. In 1970, his My Lai reports won him the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. He went on to win a series of assignments from The New Yorker.
Two years later, Hersh joined The New York Times. Hersh became a Times competitor of Woodward and Bernstein, exposing the breadth of corruption in the Nixon White House.
After leaving the paper, Hersh focused on his acclaimed collection of books. He famously took Henry Kissinger to task in 1983. He also wrote seminal works on the “Flight 007” tragedy and the development of Israel’s “nuclear” arsenal. By 2003, Hersh was writing regularly for The New Yorker. One year later, he helped expose the Abu Ghraib scandal—forever immortalizing himself as one of America’s premier investigative reporters.
Hersh’s book prizes include the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times award for biography, and a second Sidney Hillman award for “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.” Hersh has also won two Investigative Reporters & Editors prizes, one for “The Price of Power,” in 1983, and the other for “The Samson Option,” a study of American foreign policy and the Israeli nuclear bomb program, in 1992. In 2004, Hersh won a National Magazine Award for public interest for his pieces “Lunch with the Chairman,” “Selective Intelligence,” and “The Stovepipe.”
And Hersh continues to amaze—writing exemplary accounts of U.S. policy in Iran. In addition to his Pulitzer, Hersh is also a five-time George Polk Award winner.
Hersh is married, with three children, and lives in Washington, D.C.
VIDEO: Illinois Prize 2009 - Seymour Hersh
Comments from Friends and Colleagues
“Sy is the Lou Gehrig of journalism. From the My Lai Massacre to Abu Ghraib, he’s been a leader in the profession, a fierce, tireless tornado. No reporter has amassed a record of explosive, historically pertinent disclosures—and trenchant analysis—to match Sy. No one.”
—Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and best-selling author and former senior national affairs writer, The Wall Street Journal
“He’s obviously unique; he’s never lost his enthusiasm for what he does. He’s a throwback to the old muckrakers.”
—Walter Pincus, national security journalist for The Washington Post
“Many very, very good journalists have come up with a major investigative coup at some point in their career, but Hersh has done it again and again and again. He sets the standard for aggressive, independent, smart reporting. And he’s fearless in his determination to hold government to task.”
—Mark Bowden, Author of “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War”
“Hersh is arguably the best investigative reporter of the last half of the twentieth century, if not the entire century. Sy has inspired a whole generation with his commitment to exposing corruption and abuses of power.”
—Bill Kovach, former Washington bureau chief of The New York Times and former editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“As an investigative reporter, Sy Hersh holds a proud place among such truthtelling, muckraking journalists as Lincoln Steffens, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell, I.F. Stone, the Watergate-era Woodward and Bernstein, and David Halberstam. He pushed against the mainstream—he still does today—rejecting conventional wisdom as he searches for the truth with a diligence and ferocity all too rare today.”
—Bill Moyers, Host of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS
Speeches from Award Presentation
- Walt Harrington, interim dean, College of Media at Illinois (PDF download)