Wednesday, April 25, 2007

David Halberstam - The best and the brightest

I was saddened to see that David Halberstam, 73, recently died in an auto accident. He’s not that much older than I am. I have two of his books sitting on my desk, The Powers That Be, published in 1979, and War in the Time of Peace, published in 2001. A prolific author, he wrote many noteworthy books. More than that, he was a journalist in the best sense of the word.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the media’s role in where we as a country are now. I urge you to read Gary Kamiya’s April 10 article in, Iraq - Why the Media Failed, describing ”one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media.”

Halberstam’s death has catapulted into the public arena a comparison of his reporting with that of today’s journalists, This morning, Halberstam on Journalism appeared in the editorial section of the New York Times. According to the article, Halberstam gave the following advice to journalists at Columbia University: “It’s not about the fame. By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are.” (Think: Judith Miller).

Glenn Greenwald of has done the best job of capturing Halberstam’s views on the proper role of journalism and how far away that is from what today’s “media stars” in his April 24 post, David Halberstam on today's American press. In this post, Greenwald includes excerpts from what he thinks are among the best essays and interviews from Halberstam over the past several years. I hope you take time to read what Greenwald has assembled about our best and brightest journalist, who will be missed.

(photo of David Halberstam:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a little David Halberstam story. My father, a foreign service officer, was stationed in Saigon in the early 1960's just as the war was ramping up and David Halberstam was reporting on it. I was an impressionable high school and then college student who was mightily impressed by Halberstam and other members of the press corps, Malcolm Browne and Neil Sheehan. Whenever I accompanied my parents to a Saigon cocktail party where Halberstam, Brown and/or Sheehan were present I tried to think up witty conversational gambits to gain their attention. Mostly I failed in this endeavor, or so I thought.

My moment of notoriety, approximately 15 minutes of it, arrived after my family had left Saigon and my father was stationed in Washington, D.C., attending the National War College. That would be 1964.

In December 1964 I was arrested in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. When I called my parents from jail, they were none too happy. Evidently my father viewed my activism as a potential set-back to his career, which he hoped would be advanced by his attending the National War College.

When I went home to Washington, D.C. for Christmas, my father let his unhappiness be known. He grumbled. But then David Halberstam called, asking if I had been part of the Free Speech Movement, and, if so, could he come over to interview me. He told my father that he figured I would have been arrested as “my father’s daughter.” Imagine my delight.

Halberstam asked me all about the FSM, Mario Savio, going to jail, free speech, and life as a Berkeley student. I loved it. My father sat quietly, listening to my every word. When Halberstam left my father apologized for his grumbling, gave me a big hug and said he was glad I had been arrested for such a noble cause. He said he was proud me.

Thank you David Halberstam!