David Halberstam did some good work. The right people disliked him, which says a lot. He was filing negative reports from Vietnam for years before most Americans even began to catch on to the disaster we’d created.
From today’s Froomkin:
“William Prochnau, who wrote a book on the reporting of that period [the US-Vietnam war], ‘Once Upon a Distant War,’ said last night that Mr. Halberstam and other American journalists then in Vietnam were incorrectly regarded by many as antiwar.
…‘They were shut out and they were lied to,’ Mr. Prochnau said. And Mr. Halberstam ‘didn’t say, “You’re not telling me the truth.” He said, “You’re lying.” He didn’t mince words.’
As Glenn Greenwald says, what made Halberstam a great reporter is exactly what journalism now lacks: dogged pursuit of the truth regardless of the toes you’re stepping on, and a willingness to go against the conventional wisdom if that’s where the facts lead. (I particularly recommend the extensive quotes from Halberstam Glenn has included; they’re often stunning.)
From John Nichols at The Nation:
Weich: In The Next Century, you wrote: “As the network news format trivializes political debate, the political system adapts to it. Serious discussion of serious issues is too complicated.” That statement could be applied any number of recent events, including the most recent presidential election.
Halberstam: And very much to our political system now. It’s really very trivialized.
Weich: Where does that leave us?
Halberstam: We’re an entertainment society. We want to be entertained more than we want to think. It’s a serious problem. We’re the most powerful nation in the world, but our network broadcast is increasingly about celebrity, sex, and scandal. It’s less about substance than it used to be. It’s not as good as it should be. And it makes us a more volatile society.
We pay very little attention to the rest of the world, then when the rest of the world doesn’t act in concert with us and salute us, we’re very angry. We think, How could this happen? Why don’t they like us more? We’re not paying very much attention.