WTKK is replaying Mike Barnicle’s interview with David Halberstam from last September. It was one of the most educational and enjoyable hours of local radio I can remember.
Halberstam, who died yesterday in a car crash, was a major influence for me in getting into journalism. I remember listening to him on the David Brudnoy show and reading his books prior to graduating from Hull High School. When I walked into the offices of The Harvard Crimson at 14 Plympton Street for the first time back in September, 1987, I felt the presence of the great Halberstam, who had been the paper’s managing editor in 1955.
I remember the afternoon I got a phone call from my father, a Vietnam veteran and at the time a taxi driver in Boston. Halberstam had fit his lanky frame into my father’s cab. There Halberstam, who made his journalistic bones in Vietnam, conversed with my father, who had been working with Vietnamese villagers in the delta at the very same time. My father recalls Halberstam sitting in the front seat and calling him “sir”. They talked about Vietnam, and my father mentioned me, a young Crimson reporter. Halberstam gave my father his phone number to give to me.
Some months later, I called Halberstam at his phone in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (NOTE to bigfoot journalists everywhere: he always kept a listed phone number.) I want to ask him questions for my senior thesis, “Broken Promise“. Halberstam was affable, intelligent and helpful.
Halberstam was at the peak of his game when I saw him at the Kennedy Library last Spring. He was on hand to deliver a keynote talk for the conference “Vietnam and the Presidency”. Halberstam’s remarks were fluid, urbane and erudite. Dressed in a blue blazer and gray wool slacks, Halberstam was the picture of the influential, thinking man’s journalist. His speech delved into the origins of the Cold War, Korea and how it played into American involvement in Vietnam.
To Halberstam’s credit, he balanced his serious tomes with short books about sports. To me, the best book about the ascendancy of my beloved New England Patriots is Halberstam’s “The Education of a Coach”, which brought out the most in the usually taciturn Bill Belichik.
Anybody today has to have a web presence. Blogs are part of the media world. But you don’t write books like Halberstam banging away on your blog all day.