Chris Hedges has been speaking truth to (and against) power since his earliest days as a radical journalist.
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Editor's note: The following excerpt is from "Unspeakable," a new book by Chris Hedges and *David Talbot. "Unspeakable" is published by Skyhorse Publishing. Click here for details.
The mainstream media reacted with shock at the rise of Donald Trump on the right, and Bernie Sanders on the left. Out of touch with the growing bitterness of America's working poor, these families' rage came as news to the journalists who dominate our national discourse. But Truthdig columnist and former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges has been shining a light on the most overlooked people and issues for nearly four decades. Now, he addresses these burning topics in a rare, extended conversation with fellow radical journalist David Talbot, founder of Salon and Hot Books.
Were you immediately made aware of the power that the Times gave you, as well as its limitations?
Yes. I didn't abide by the pool system. I defied the rules. I went out alone. The other Times reporters were doing what Times reporters do best -- sucking up to the authorities. They wrote a letter to the Times foreign editor saying I was destroying the paper's relationship with the military. I knew the game. I was prepared to quit. I was young enough, I could go to another paper.
Why were the other reporters pissed off at you?
They were happily writing pool reports in the hotel. They didn't want to go out. I blew their cover. If I could go out and get stories, why didn't they go out? But [legendary Times editor and correspondent] R.W. Apple -- Johnny Apple -- was overseeing the paper's coverage of the war from Saudi Arabia. When he found out about the letter, he called us all together. He said, "Look we don't work for the military." He was my great protector. He saved my job. They would have sent me back. Johnny made sure I could stay and report.
Johnny Apple famously broke the Times' gray lady mold -- he was flamboyant, full of himself, a well-known gourmand and dinner party host.
He had a lot of Falstaff in him. But he cared about the craft. He was an eloquent writer. He respected good reporters. He wasn't going to let the institution destroy me. My colleagues at the Times, however, were only one of my problems. The more stories I wrote outside the pool system, the more the Bush administration wanted me silenced.
Dick Cheney -- who was secretary of defense then, under George Bush I -- demanded that about a dozen reporters who were defying the pool system be expelled. We were called "unilaterals," a new name for our trade. I was high on the list. But they couldn't find me. I was sleeping with Bedouins in the desert. The US military had already arrested me and confiscated my press credentials. But I did not use press credentials. I was there to be a reporter. If I couldn't be a reporter, I would leave. I wasn't going to sit in a hotel and write up press conferences and pool reports. At that point you might as well take a job with the Pentagon.
I entered Kuwait City before it was officially liberated. I drove my jeep while wearing a Marine Corps combat uniform down the six-lane highway leading out of Kuwait City as thousands of Iraqi soldiers in hundreds of vehicles were fleeing north to Iraq. This soon became the highway of death with miles of burned and wrecked vehicles and charred corpses. I was eventually taken prisoner by the Iraqi Republican Guard during the uprising in Basra after the war. I guess you could say I was embedded with the Iraqis.
And through all this, you managed to file some strong stories.
It was interesting -- when I came back home after the Gulf War, even Abe Rosenthal, who was retired by then, told Joe Lelyveld, who replaced him as the Times executive editor, that he wanted to meet me. He came down to the newsroom to shake my hand and told me, "You're a great reporter."
So even Abe Rosenthal respected you as a war reporter. What did that feel like?