Seymour Hersh’s recently-released memoir, “Reporter,” is a must-read for journalists, news junkies, history lovers and anyone who loves sparkling invective aimed at some of the most powerful figures of the 20th century.
It also contains a story buried in a footnote that’s a must-read for rock music fans.
In the ‘70s, Hersh had a long conversation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono without realizing who they were. Evidently the rock power couple approached Hersh at a party. Knowing he worked for the New York Times, they wanted to talk to him about their battle to stay in the United States.
Lennon moved to New York City in 1971 on a visitors’ visa, three years after pleading guilty to a minor drug possession charge. The drug possession charge was startlingly petty—London police overturned the apartment to find a small amount of resin oil. Despite the pettiness of the charge, it was enough to put Lennon’s ability to stay in America on shaky ground. In the spring of 1972, Lennon and Yoko could no longer stay in America.
They had an urgent reason to stay in the country. Before meeting The Beatle singer, Oko was married to filmmaker Anthony Cox. After Cox and Yoko fought vicious custody battle over their daughter Kyoko, Cox had taken the young girl and disappeared. Ono was anxious to stay in America and search for her.
With the Vietnam war still raging despite growing domestic discontent about the conflict, American officials wanted Ono and Lennon, visible avatars of the peace movement, out of the country. Senator Strom Thurmond urged the White House to oust the Plastic Ono Band members.
Ono and Lennon met Hersh at the time that their ability to stay in the states was in doubt. As Hersh writes, while he was immersed in his investigations of the Nixon administration’s criminal secrecy, he reluctantly attended a party at the home of the outspoken liberal Episcopal Bishop Reverend Paul Moore in the spring of 1972 when a “pleasant Brit and his Japanese girlfriend” approached him to talk about their immigration problems.
“Of course, it turned out the Brit was John Lennon and his friend was Yoko Ono,” Hersh wrote. “How was I to know? Neither had anything to do with Watergate.”
Hersh and Lennon kept in touch and the Times later wrote about the Nixon administration’s vendetta against the former Beatle’s anti-war stance. Still, Hersh’s inability to recognize one of the most famous figures of the 20th century because he was too wrapped up in reporting on governmental dirty tricks is a model of focus that all reporters should emulate.