While Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and others were writing the new journalism of America in the early 1960s, David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan offered the early warning call, just by reporting the facts, about the US misadventure in Vietnam. As has become legend, White House officials tried to get Halberstam reassigned from his beat at the New York Times because of the unpleasant details of what he was reporting.
Fast-forward a few decades, and we had a press establishment that was too creduluous in the run-up to the war in Iraq, as the New York Times and Washington Post acknowledged in subsequent apologias. The journalist who best played the role of being the skunk at the Bushies' garden party was Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, whose appropriate skepticism of official pronouncements was well-honed, not coincidentally, while covering Vietnam and the My Lai massacre.
I came to admire Halberstam after reading The Powers That Be, his majestic account of some prominent elements of the American media establishment, including Henry Luce's Time magazine and the Chandlers' Los Angeles Times. My admiration was renewed after reading the Teammates, his eloquent account of the almost lifelong friendship of Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio. Halberstam, who has written a number of other books, was still actively working, so his death in a car accident last week, at age 73, is particularly sad.