Friday, April 27, 2007

The Best and the Brightest

On Wednesday I posted about David Halberstam.

Please go see what a pro has to say about him in Newsweek.

As it was in the beginning, so it was down the decades: Halberstam, who died on Monday in a car crash in northern California at age 73, was always present at the creation, reporting, watching, thinking, and writing about the unfolding drama of what Henry Luce called the American Century. The Harvard graduate who went from Cambridge to Mississippi to cover the great domestic story of the time became one of the earliest and most important journalists to chronicle the great foreign story of the age: Vietnam, where, in the pages of The New York Times, Halberstam insisted on reporting what he saw happening, not what the government said was happening. The difference was essential, even epochal, and Halberstam achieved something few journalists ever do. He changed history, for he helped change how America saw not only the war in Vietnam but the ways of Washington. It is hardly an exaggeration to suggest that Halberstam's reporting, and his epic book, The Best and the Brightest, were crucial elements in Americans' growing, and justified, distrust of their government.

His was a hope born of experience. Back in the 50s, Halberstam had begun watching America, painfully but surely, cast off the burdens of segregation. Since then, from the American South to Southeast Asia, he bore witness to the conviction that for all our sins and shortcomings, we would, painfully but surely, move toward Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mountaintop. It is a mark of Halberstam's greatness that his work has long helped us see how we might get there, and always will.

The mountaintop is still a long way off, but we continue to climb. We must.

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