World

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Halberstam dies in car crash

David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who chronicled the Washington press corps, the Vietnam War generation and baseball, was killed in a car crash early Monday in California, a coroner said.

David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who chronicled the Washington press corps, the Vietnam War generation and baseball, was killed in a car crash early Monday in California, a coroner said. He was 73.

David Halberstam is shown delivering the commencement address at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., last year. ((Josh Reynolds/Associated Press))

ANew Yorker, Halberstam was a passenger in a car that was broadsided by another vehicle in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said.

"Looking at the accident and examining him at the scene indicated it's most likely internal injuries," Foucrault said.

The driver of the car carrying Halberstam is a student at the graduate school of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and was taken to Stanford Medical Center. Two others were injured.

Halberstam spoke Saturday at a UC Berkeley-sponsored event on the craft of journalism and what it means to turn reporting into a work of history.

He was on his way to interview Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle at the time of accident.

"The world has lost one of our greatest journalists," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times.

Halberstam won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 covering Vietnam for the Times.

"He was the institutional memory of the Vietnam War. I think he understood it better than any journalist," said former CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who also won a Pulitzer for his Vietnam coverage.

'Never buckled'

Neil Sheehan, former Saigon bureau chief for United Press International and a friend of Halberstam, recalled the pressure on journalists in the war zone.

"We were in Vietnam at a time when we were being denounced by those on high," said Sheehan. "There was tremendous pressure. David never buckled under it at all."

David Halberstam, left, shown in Vietnam in 1963 working for the New York Times, chats with Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press (centre) and Neil Sheehan of UPI during an operation in the Mekong Delta. ((Time magazine/Associated Press))

In 1972, Halberstam wrote The Best and the Brightest, a critical account of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and of then defence secretary Robert McNamara.

He returned to that era in his 2002 best-seller, War in a Time of Peace, which examined how the lessons of Vietnam influenced American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. The book was a bestseller and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.

At a conference last year in Tennessee, Halberstam said government criticism of news reporters in Iraq reminded him of the way he was treated while covering the war in Vietnam.

"The crueler the war gets, the crueler the attacks get on anybody who doesn't salute or play the game," he said.

"And then one day, the people who are doing the attacking look around and they've used up their credibility."

Began reporting in 1955

Halberstam was born April 10, 1934, in New York City, the son of a surgeon father and teacher mother.

After attending Harvard University, he began reporting in 1955 at the Daily Times Leader, a small daily newspaper in Mississippi.

He went on to The Tennessean, in Nashville, where he covered the civil rights struggle, and then The New York Times, which sent him to Vietnam. He quit daily journalism in 1967 to write non-fiction.

Halberstam's other books included The Powers That Be, a 1979 study of the titans of the news media; Summer of '49, his account of that year's Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in baseball; The Reckoning, about the U.S. auto industry; and The Children, a 1999 narrative about the civil rights movement.

His latest book, The Coldest Winter, about an early battle of the Korean War, is to be published this fall.

He is survived by his wife, Jean, and his daughter, Julia.

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