Wednesday, April 25, 2007

David Halberstam - The Best and the Brightest

David Halberstam's death in a car crash this week is certain to prompt all sorts of homage from our media stars describing Halberstam as a superior journalist, someone who embodied what journalism ought to be. Halberstam spoke truth to power, revealing the flaws and fissures in the body politic, as well as the pillars and bedrock foundations that has made the American experience what it is. His life has been tragically ended, though not his voice.

Halberstam was sent to Vietnam by the New York Times in 1962 and has said he initially supported U.S. activity in there but soon questioned American involvement. He wrote about how succeeding American governments became gradually more enmeshed in Vietnam in his 1972 bestseller, "The Best and the Brightest."

Halberstam, along with Malcolm W. Browne, won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Vietnam.
Halberstam "stayed the course and he kept the faith in the belief in the people's right to know," the AP's George Esper, who spent 10 years in Vietnam, told the wire service. "In the end, and I think we can all be very proud of this, he was proven right. The bottom line was that David was more honest with the American public than their own government."

Halberstam quit daily journalism in 1967. His 21 books include "The Best and the Brightest," "The Breaks of the Game" (about the 1970s NBA), "The Powers That Be" (about the news media), "The Reckoning" (about Ford, Nissan and W. Edwards Deming's engineering methods), "The Fifties" (a chronicle of the decade) and several on baseball, including "Summer of '49," "October 1964" and "The Teammates."
His constant shifts from heavier material to lighter fare were deliberate, he said. "You do an allegedly serious book on politics or whatever, and then you catch your breath doing a smaller book on sports," he told in 2003.
His 2002 best-seller, "War in a Time of Peace," was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
He was long a strong believer in skeptical, hard-hitting journalism, and wondered about its future.
"The reporting you get on the main networks is more about entertainment and sensationalism and scandal rather than substantive, so I've been somewhat melancholy and critical of it over the last decade and a half," he said in 2003.
But he said there would always be value in the work.
"The idea that somewhere before it is a big story that there is some young person ... putting themselves on the line morally, ethically, journalistically, that is a great thing," Halberstam told the AP. "I mean, that is what a free society is about."

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