By: E&P Staff and The Associated Press
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, a coroner said. He was 73. 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.
Halberstam had come to fame in the 1960s covering the Vietnam war for The New York Times, often sketching stark if unpleasant realities. After a speech this past Saturday in Berkeley, he went to dinner and with a group of friends stayed late discussing the growing similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts. He considered each war a mistake.
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.
Clyde Haberman in The New York Times wrote tonight, “Halberstam was killed doing what he had done his entire adult life: reporting. He was on his way to interview Y. A. Tittle, the former New York Giants quarterback, for a book about the 1958 championship game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts, considered by many to be the greatest football game ever played.”
But another published account had him on the way to doing an interview for a book on the Korean war.
He was born April 10, 1934, in New York City, the son of a surgeon father and teacher mother.
After attending Harvard University, Halberstam launched his career in 1955 at the Daily Times Leader, a small daily newspaper in Mississippi. By age 30 he had won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Vietnam War for the New York Times.
He quit daily journalism in 1967 and wrote 21 books covering such diverse topics as the Vietnam War, civil rights, the auto industry and a baseball pennant race. His 2002 best-seller, “War in a Time of Peace,” was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
Last April, Halberstam told a college audience that the Iraq war was a “mistake” and “heartbreaking.” He added, “I think most journalists were appalled as we moved toward war in Iraq. The worst mistake this administration made was not about weapons of mass destruction. It was the administration’s view that we’d be welcomed as the great liberator. I think they were watching the movie ‘Patton’ when they should have been watching ‘The Battle of Algiers’ about urban insurgency.”
Speaking to a journalism conference last year in Tennessee, he 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.”
The San Jose Mercury News adds the following details.
Halberstam, 73, was a passenger in a red Toyota Camry driven by UC-Berkeley student Kevin Jones. There were no other passengers in the vehicle.
According to Harold Schappelhouman, chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, the car was apparently struck at a high rate of speed by a green late-model Infiniti, with Halberstam’s side of the car bearing the brunt of the hit. Jones was attempting to make a left-hand turn at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road when his car was broadsided.
The impact of the crash forced the two cars into a third vehicle.
The fire chief, who assisted at the scene, said the force of the crash caused a 2-foot indentation on Halberstam’s side of the car, pinning his legs. As firefighters tried to free him, the car’s engine began to smoke, then caught fire.
Rescuers extricated Halberstam, who was wearing a seat belt, then tried to rescusitate him, but they could not find a pulse, Schappelhouman said.
Jones was able to exit the driver’s side of the car, the chief said….
Orville Schell, the dean of Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism, said in an e-mail this afternoon that Halberstam was on his way to an interview for his next book, about the Korean War, at the time of the accident.
“I have spoken with David’s wife in New York City, extended the condolences of the whole school and have offered to do everything that we can in this difficult time for her and their family,” Schell said in his e-mail.
Schell said he told Halberstam’s wife that he “had given a truly inspired talk here at Berkeley.”
In an interview, Schell said that after the Berkeley speech, he, his wife, Liu Baifang; “New Yorker” staff writer Mark Danner; and NPR documentarian Sandy Tolan, joined Halberstam at Chez Panisse, where the five closed down the restaurant discussing the similarities between the Vietnam War and the current quagmire in Iraq.
“No one wanted to leave,” Schell recalled late this afternoon. `It was kind of like the last supper.”