David Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Powers That Be, the definitive biography of the American media, died in a car accident in the Bay Area in San Francisco yesterday. He was 73. Halberstam had come to Berkeley to give a talk on ‘Turning Journalism Into History’.
“A writer should be like a playwright — putting people on stage, putting ideas on stage, making the reader become the audience,” Halberstam, who wrote 15 bestsellers, told an interviewer recently.
Halberstam wrote with equal felicity on America’s military failings in Vietnam, the deaths of firefighters at the World Trade Center and the high-pressure world of professional basketball, and usually alternated his serious work with what is considered less-weighty stuff, usually sport, but employed the same reportorial rigour.
Halberstam, who famously said “being a reporter is at the very core of a democracy, being a free person in a free society,” summed up his approach to work by quoting a basketball player.
“There’s a great quote by Julius Erving that went, ‘Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them’.”
Halberstam graduated from Harvard University, where he excelled as editor of the school newspaper, the Crimsom. But in a 1993 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, he admitted he didn’t do nearly as well in the classroom.
“I was a terrible student,” Halberstam said. “Sometimes when I talk to students now, I ask, ‘Who here is in the bottom third of the class?’ When they raise their hands, I say, ‘Well, you are being addressed by another one’.”
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Photo courtesy: Mark Lennihan/ The Associated Press