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OBSERVER; The Hissing Of Hersh

By RUSSELL BAKER (NYT) 883 words
Published: June 15, 1983

Among the well-tailored group headed for Seymour Hersh's house, I recognized Endicott. ''Come join us,'' he cried. ''We're all going to stand outside Seymour Hersh's house and hiss.''

Well, he didn't have to tell me what that was all about. I knew Hersh had just published a book of 698 pages, ''The Price of Power,'' which was not very flattering to Henry Kissinger, or so it was said. Personally, I hadn't read it and didn't see how I could for a while, what with six weeks of Dickens's ''Martin Chuzzlewit'' ahead of me and, after that, five more volumes of Dumas Malone's biography of Thomas Jefferson.

Still I'd read in the papers that Hersh's book wasn't very flattering to Kissinger; and knowing that Endicott considers Kissinger the greatest diplomatist since Talleyrand, I wasn't surprised that he might dislike opinion to the contrary.

''But is it bad enough to justify hissing Hersh en masse in front of his own house?'' I asked. ''Worse,'' said Endicott. ''It is a pack of slimy lies.'' ''That's terrible. What are the things Hersh lies slimily about?'' ''How should I know?'' said Endicott. ''I haven't had a chance to read the book yet.'' I told him I knew how it was. What with six more weeks of ''Martin Chuzzlewit'' to go and five volumes on Jefferson after that, I probably wouldn't get to Hersh myself before the summer of 1985. ''And you,'' I said to Endicott, ''are probably busy night and day reading Marcel Proust.''

''Nonsense. Since we first heard about this Hersh book we've been busy planning and coordinating strategy to protect Henry. I haven't even had time to read the comic strips. I was up all last night, for example, organizing a group of Henry's friends to wait at Hersh's bus stop this morning and boo him as he went to the office.''

''For publishing slimy lies?'' ''Exactly.'' ''Endicott, if you haven't read the book, how do you know it's full of lies?'' ''Henry says it is.'' ''But how do you know the lies are slimy?'' ''Henry says they're slimy.'' ''What a man Kissinger must be! Imagine reading a 698-page book in less than three weeks. I'll bet he could rip through 'Martin Chuzzlewit' in a month flat.''

''Are you insane?'' Endicott asked. ''You don't think Henry would waste his time reading a book like Hersh's, do you?'' I was beginning to have reservations about joining in the hissing of Hersh. ''Endicott,'' I said, ''has anybody at all read this book for which we are going to hiss Hersh?''

''I certainly hope not,'' he said. ''Certainly none of Henry's friends has read it. I saw Winston Lord of the Council on Foreign Relations and Larry Eagleburger, very big in the State Department, on the Ted Koppel show the other night beating up on Hersh, and both of them said they hadn't read it.''

''And yet they were willing to bash Hersh?'' ''You can't just hiss Hersh on television. Television is an actionoriented medium. The audience won't sit still for hissing heads.'' ''Ted Koppel must have been plenty sore when he found out they'd agreed to come on his show and bash Hersh without even reading his book.''

''Are you kidding? Ted hadn't read the book either.'' ''Then what did they all find to get sore about?'' ''Nobody was sore,'' he said. ''Except Hersh when they got through bashing him.'' All this gave me a refreshing idea. ''Endicott, I will level with you. I am three weeks into 'Martin Chuzzlewit' and bogged down on page 179. Have you ever read it?''

''Never.'' ''So tell me, what happens in the rest of the book?'' ''How would I know?'' ''I thought maybe if Kissinger had never read it either, he might've told you how it comes out.'' ''Quiet. This is Hersh's house,'' said Endicott. Addressing the group, he explained that each person would hiss Hersh individually for 20 seconds, after which everyone would hiss in unison at 10-second intervals for the next 30 minutes.

I left when it started. ''Where are you going?'' asked Endicott. ''To the bookshop, to find out what all the hissing is about,'' I said. The hissing of Hersh ceased and the group turned to confront me. Cries of ''Shame!'' cascaded upon me as I slunk away. ''But somebody ought to read the book,'' I said. ''Don't be a fool,'' said Endicott. ''Somebody has read it.'' ''Who?'' ''Hersh,'' said Endicott.

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