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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