David Halberstam Dead at 73
For those among us who despair at the dwlindling number of writers who can truly wield a sentence, some extremely sad news crosses the wires this evening: David Halberstam was killed earlier today in an automobile accident in Menlo Park, CA.
He was, as the obituaries would say, 73.
Of course, he was more than just another New Journalist (though he was among the finest of that species), and more than just a best-selling author with a Pulitzer all his own. Covering the earliest stages of the United States' invasion of South Vietnam for The New York Times, Halberstam's dispatches were so blunt in their portrait of the rapidly deteriorating Diem regime, and so at variance with Washington's own version of events, that then-President John F. Kennedy had the Times' publisher, Arthur Ochs 'Punch' Sulzberger, reassign his ass to the Paris desk (and that's where he went). But he went on. With 1965's The Making of a Quagmire and the majestic The Best and the Brightest (1972), Halberstam established himself as the only journalist in America who could grasp the full spectrum of that blood-soaked folly in Southeast Asia; seeing it as no less than the demonic spawn of third-rate academics fashioning themselves into an intellectual/managerial elite.
True, he wasn't the only journalist in Vietnam to openly challenge the official line in his reporting (in fact, the above photo, from 1963, shows Halberstam, on the left, with two of the others: Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press and fellow Times maverick Neil Sheehan), and you could never call him a radical with a straight face. But he always devoted himself, even when his work reached a nadir of relevance (his books on Baseball are . . . problematic), to getting the story in all its protean detail.
I think you would agree that the contrast to our present-day reportorial class . . . those J-school grads who content themselves with the magic tricks of CentCom handouts and Pentagon briefings . . . is incalculable.