Jul
23
2009

Venerating — but Not Emulating — Journos of Yore

In a piece about current media "Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did" by (belatedly) condemning the U.S. war on Vietnam, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald (7/18/09, ad-viewing required) addresses another recently passed war reporter as well:

When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam died, media stars everywhere commemorated his death as though he were one of them–as though they do what he did–even though he had nothing but bottomless, intense disdain for everything they do. As he put it in a 2005 speech to students at the Columbia School of Journalism: "The better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be…. By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are."

In that same speech, Halberstam cited as the "proudest moment" of his career a bitter argument he had in 1963 with U.S. generals in Vietnam, by which point, as a young reporter, he was already considered an "enemy" of the Kennedy White House for routinely contradicting the White House's claims about the war. (The President himself asked his editor to pull Halberstam from reporting on Vietnam.)

And what exactly did Halberstam do to incur such wrath from on high? Well, "he stood up to a general in a press conference in Saigon who was attempting to intimidate him for having actively doubted and aggressively investigated military claims, rather than taking and repeating them at face value"–something present-day reporters are conspicuously remiss in doing themselves–no matter how much they profess to idolize broadcast legends like Walter Cronkite.

In another sorry indication of the state of professional journalism, a New York Times appraisal of Cronkite's career (7/18/09) by error-prone reporter Alessandra Stanley required no less than seven corrections. The appraisal's headline: "Cronkite's Signature: Approachable Authority."