'The best journalist of our times': Words From and About David Halberstam

By RJI on April 24, 2007 0 Comments

by CCJ Staff

"I think that he was the nation's premier journalist." -- John Siegenthaler: CCJ Steering Committee member, Tennessean chairman emeritus, longtime friend of Halberstam (quoted in The Tennessean)

"Always remember, those kids shed their blood on the sidewalk there. They replaced the sidewalk, there's no sign left of it, but the memory lives on with you and it lives on with me."-- Siegenthaler, quoting Halberstam on the civil rights movement in Nashville (quoted in The Tennessean)

"The printed word may be less powerful in America today than it was 20 years ago, in comparison with other media, and there may be cities in which the only people who matter are people with regular access to television and the immediacy of fame that it grants, but I don't think that is true of New York -- at least not yet..." "Here, at least, we are mercifully behind that particular curve instead of ahead of it. Not only are ideas still important in New York, but ideas are still seen as generated by books, so books are still disproportionately important within the culture of the city. For someone who makes his living writing books, and who can sense a general (and perhaps generational) devaluation of the role of print in society as a whole, the idea of living in a city where books and the printed word are still valued is extremely pleasant."-- David Halberstam, (quoted in The New York Times)

"He was speaking about the need for passion to be a journalist, and the importance of it to the whole healthy functioning of the American political experiment. I think those two things were what made him something of an evangelist to the role of the journalist in our society."-- Orville Schell: dean of the UC Berkeley graduate school of journalism, on the speech Halberstam delivered the day before his death (quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle)

"He was not antiwar. They were cold war children, just like me, brought up on hiding under the desk. They were shut out and lied to.
[Halberstam] didn't say, 'You're not telling me the truth.' He said, 'You're lying.' He didn't mince words."-- William Prochnau: journalist and author (quoted in The New York Times)

"I think he was a model for us all...people who are trying to do serious journalism about things that matter."-- Adam Hochschild: award-winning historian (quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle)

"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 in a recent NY1 interview (quoted in The New York Times)

"...Halberstam was an exceptional and relentless journalist...but his strength and beauty, what really set him apart, was that he wrote about everything, absolutely everything. Because everything interested him..." "...He wrote many books on sports, including very popular volumes on the Red Sox and Yankees of the late '40s and early '50s, but "The Breaks of the Game" is his true masterpiece. This profile on the 1979-80 Trail Blazers is essential reading for any fan of sports, culture, race relations and good reporting..." "...Paging through "The Breaks of the Game" right now, I found that an idea I proudly suggested last week -- placing an asterisk next to every record in baseball that was set before Jackie Robinson -- was proposed by Halberstam more than a quarter-century earlier. He was that type of writer, seeing things well ahead of everyone else.""Journalism, already under attack from the government, is much the lesser with Halberstam's passing Monday morning in an auto accident. So is our country. His insight and often courageous reporting made him a powerful, important voice in America. And, sadly, an irreplaceable one.""David Halberstam was truly among our best and brightest."-- Jim Caple: Senior writer for ESPN.com (quoted on ESPN.com)

"Breaks of the Game" was the first big-boy book I ever loved. Within a few pages, I came to believe that he [Halberstam] wrote the book just for me. I plowed through it in one weekend. A few months later, I read it again. Eventually, I read the book so many times that the spine of the book crumbled, so I bought the paperback version to replace it. Through college and grad school, as I was slowly deciding on a career, I read it every year to remind myself how to write -- how to save words, how to construct a sentence, how to tell someone's life story without relying on quotes, how to make anecdotes come alive. It was my own personal writing seminar...Every two years, I read that book again to make sure that my writing hasn't slipped too much. Like a golfer visiting his old instructor to check on his swing. The last time I read "Breaks" was two summers ago. We were due for another reunion this summer, a date that already feels bittersweet because the author suddenly passed away on Monday. He was 73 years-old, a Pulitzer winner, the first respected journalist to question the war in Vietnam. I'm not sure what made him decide to tackle the NBA, but there hasn't been a better basketball book before or since. He nailed everything...Maybe the timing was incredible, but so was the work itself. And it changed my life for the better.-- Bill Simmons, ESPN.com columnist and author (quoted on ESPN.com)

"The South was as alien to him as Africa would be. He knew he wanted to explore a part of the world he didn't know. He had this questing knowledge to understand places and people he didn't know."-- Seigenthaler (quoted in The Tennessean)

"[Halberstam was an] extraordinary journalist and someone who writes with such poise and fluidity, with such zest and passion at the same moment, while writing the truth. The other important thing from my point of view, knowing him since 1960: He sought to live the truth. He not only wrote the truth, he sought to live the truth, to do the truth."-- The Rev. James Lawson: distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University (quoted in The Tennessean)

"He wrote the book about the four of us ["The Teammates"] and it was very flattering...I know it was a best-seller for a number of years. I was very sad to hear this happened. Just a fine man. A great reporter, a great writer, he did everything that possibly a good human being could do. He was just an outstanding man." Johnny Pesky: Former Boston Red Sox player and subject of Halberstam's 2003 book "The Teammates" (quoted on MLB.com)

"For someone who obviously was so competitive with himself, the generosity with other writers was incredible."-- Jean Halberstam: David Halberstam's wife (quoted in The Tennessean)

"It's a great loss for the country. I think he was the best journalist of our times." -- Jim Squires: former Chicago Tribune editor, filled Halberstam's seat in The Tennessean newsroom after he left for The New York Times (quoted in The Tennessean)

"A writer should be like a playwright - putting people on stage, putting ideas on stage, making the reader become the audience."-- Halberstam in a recent NY1 News interview (quoted in The New York Times)