David Halberstam’s Last Speech and Supper

      HalberstamAs many know by now, David Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was killed in a car accidenton Monday just a few short miles from the Stanford campus. As the obits were all quick to point out, Halberstam made his name during an era that paralleled our own, during the Vietnam War. And he did it by reporting facts and truths about the war that inconveniently contradicted the rosy, disingenuous claims that were officially coming out of Washington. As The New York Times said about its former correspondent, “His dispatches infuriated American military commanders and policymakers in Washington, but they accurately reflected the realities on the ground.” Halberstam’s account of how America got it wrong in Vietnam were all famously recounted in 1972 bestseller The Best and the Brightest.

Halberstam spent this past Saturday night dinning in the company of fellow journalists from UC Berkeley, just after giving a speech (mp3transcript) at the university (see original event page here). On Wednesday, Radio Open Source (mp3) talked with Halberstam’s supper guests — Orville Schell, dean of the Berkeley graduate program in journalism; Mark Danner of The New York Review of Books; and Sandy Tolan of NPR — and they reconstructed their dinner conversations, which touched on the Iraq war, the comparative state of journalism during Vietnam and Iraq, and Halberstam’s sense of mortality following his heart attack last year. They also recalled Halberstam’s dogged approach to journalism and how he resisted the temptation to line up behind the government position during times of war, even when faced with the threat of being called unpatriotic. Of course, if you watched Bill Moyer’s PBS expose on Wednesday, you’ll know that we’re not seeing enough of this these days.

Give this segment a listen (get mp3 here), and also spend some time watching the video clip below. Here, you get Halberstam reflecting on his days as a 28-year old reporter in Vietnam and the significant pressures that the American government brought to bear against him, all of which leaves you thinking — plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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