Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Halberstam Gave Good Quotes -- and Autographs, Too

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Halberstam Gave Good Quotes -- and Autographs, Too

Article excerpt

I must have called David Halberstam half a dozen times over the past few years for comment, and each time he responded willingly with opinions on any number of topics, from newspaper ethics to the plight of embattled New York Times scribe Judith Miller.

In each case, Halberstam, called at his home office, was thoughtful and insightful. When asked about the Miller case, perhaps knowing his comments about his former employer would hold more weight than some, he added, "I think that's a pretty good quote, don't you?"

Then there was the day he came down to the lobby of his apartment building to sign one of his books for my father-in-law -- and thanked me for my interest.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and legendary author always answered the phone in his well-known, deep-throated voice, ready to give views on whatever the journalism issue of the day. Even if he was in a rush, usually finishing his latest book, he'd either speak quickly or call back later. One time, his wife, Jean, relayed a message to his cell phone and Halberstam called back within minutes from an airport somewhere, gladly ready to put forth some nugget of journalistic insight.

So when I heard of his tragic death in an auto accident late Monday, one of my first thoughts was not just the loss of a great reporter, writer and news mind, but that I would never again get to speak with someone who had such great views on my profession, as well as being so kind about giving his time.

Among his views to E&P over the years were the following:

-- On the lead up to the Iraq War, in January 2003: "It is much tougher these days because the desire to control is greater. I think the press has done well asking questions. But most people who have Vietnam in their bones are uneasy about this war."

-- On reduced reporting of the war, in July 2003: "It's obviously a shallow outlook, but it has been that way forever. But the serious people with serious reporting come forward at this time."

-- On what question he would ask George Bush or John Kerry prior to a presidential debate in 2004: "Do you think we are impaled on a major guerilla insurgency in Iraq and how do we un-impale ourselves? …

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