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Journalist Halberstam, Chronicler of Vietnam War, Dies at 73

David Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize-winner author and reporter who wrote about the Vietnam War, died in a car crash Monday at the age of 73. Writer Gay Talese discusses his impact on journalism.

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    Over a 50-year career, David Halberstam chronicled a broad array of American life, from his early days in newspapers and later in more than 20 books.

    Born in New York in 1934, he graduated from Harvard in 1955. He reported on the civil rights movement for the Nashville Tennessean in the late '50s. In 1962, he went to Vietnam as a correspondent for the New York Times on the assignment which would shape his career, win him a Pulitzer Prize, and later produce one of the seminal books about the war and the men who ran it, "The Best and the Brightest," published in 1972.

    Among his other works: "The Powers That Be," a portrait of the families that operated major media outlets: "The Fifties," a study of that decade's upheaval; "The Summer of '49," which recounted an epic pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox; "Playing for Keeps," a portrait of Michael Jordan; "The Children," about the leaders of the civil rights movement; and "Firehouse," an intimate study of 13 firefighters from a company near his home in New York City, all but one of whom died on 9/11.

    His latest book, entitled "The Coldest Winter," about the Korean War, will be published this fall.

    In 2003, Halberstam was interviewed for the documentary "Reporting America at War." He described the slow realization among reporters in Vietnam that the official accounts and the reality on the ground were entirely different matters.


    When I first went there, I thought we were probably on the right side. It was early on; the American investment wasn't that big. And the essential legitimacy of the American government and of the American military post-World War II and post-Korea still held, that generals told the truth, that we hadn't gotten to the word "spin" yet.

    By January of '63, the advisory commitment, the attempt to help a country to save itself, had been in operation for about — I don't know — six, eight, 10 months. And we kept picking up from our sources that it wasn't working. Something was wrong.

    We were finding out stuff we didn't want to find out. We were going against our own grain. We wanted Americans to win. We wanted it to work. And then it didn't work, so we started saying it didn't work. And that's when they all started attacking us and just, "These are the guys who want us to lose."