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David Halberstam (1934 – 2007): Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist and Author Killed in Car Crash

StoryApril 24, 2007
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Katrina Vanden Heuvel

publisher of The Nation magazine

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist David Halberstam has died. He was 73 years old. Halberstam was killed Monday in a car crash in northern California. We speak with The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel about the impact of his life and work. [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, moving from Russia to here at home, before we talk about what sounds bureaucratic but could be very significant, having to do with small magazines, independent magazines in the country, I wanted to ask you about the tragic death of David Halberstam yesterday morning, killed in a car crash in Menlo Park, California, just given an address of University of California, Berkeley, Journalism School on Saturday, and the significance of David Halberstam in the world of journalism.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: He was a towering figure. I think his great significance was his reporting on Vietnam. From his first dispatches from that country, which won him a Pulitzer Prize, there was an unquenchable desire to report what he believed was the truth. I mean, I think he went to Vietnam believing the war was a good war and saw the truth, and he reported what he saw. And in a speech last year, he compared how he was attacked for his reporting, called unpatriotic, un-American, soft on communism — different period — to how journalists today have been attacked for reporting on Iraq, for reporting what they see. So I think it was that unquenchable desire to report on war that is his great legacy.

Of course, he went on to become a figure who wrote about sports, about the media. The Best and the Brightest was an outcome of his great book, The Making of a Quagmire, on foreign policy under Kennedy and Johnson, but The Best and the Brightest was a searing memo-by-memo, meeting-by-meeting revelatory book about the making of a quagmire. And then he went on, of course, to write about the media and other great institutions of this country, including sports. So he leaves a legacy that will be hard to fill, because they’re not — journalists today, I think, as in so many fields in this country, are nichefied, and he had this great expanse and the ability to bring to life, through his reporting, so much.

But, of course, as you know, Amy, it’s wars that have so often tested journalists and tested their ability to be courageous. And David Halberstam was not a particularly political person — I think he was a humane person — but he was a great reporter.

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