Ed Driscoll

The Day The Old Journalism Died

Marvin Olasky makes a great point, writing that the death of David Halberstam in a Bay Area traffic accident on Monday may be looked back upon as a chapter in journalism closing. Olasky compares it to Buddy Holly’s death signifying the end of 1950s-era rock & roll, even if the echoes of that style of music would linger on until 1964:

These days, reporters regularly gather to bemoan the demise of old journalism and the rise of blogs. Future historians will peg Monday’s death of David Halberstam, 73, in a California car crash, as a signpost of the old era’s end.

Halberstam was the first big-time journalist with whom I ever had dinner, in 1969 or 1970 when I was a college student. My fellow leftists and I venerated him for winning a Pulitzer Prize on the back of anti-Vietnam War reporting that had gained the ire of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. As William Prochnau, author of “Once Upon a Distant War,” later noted, Halberstam in his reporting of those he distrusted ”didn’t say, ‘You’re not telling me the truth.’ He said, ‘You’re lying.'”

Compare that with fellow Jurassic journalist Marvin Kalb, who wouldn’t commit to saying on the air yesterday whether or not he thought Bill Moyers and George Soros are on the left. More from Olasky:

We loved that — Halberstam wrote like a god — but four decades later, the epigone of Halberstamism is found in books like Al Franken’s “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” Unlike some of his successors, Halberstam was a hardworking reporter who didn’t grab for sneering laughs, but his 1965 book about Vietnam, “The Making of a Quagmire,” has inspired journalists for four decades to look for a quagmire as soon as the first American soldiers set foot on sand. [Sometimes before they set foot on sand–Ed]

Halberstam’s perceptiveness and blindness were both evident in an interview he gave to the San Jose Mercury News in 1993. He said he was worried about journalism’s future because “The public perceives us as being too powerful and too arrogant.” But he went on to state his version of the problem: “We give a jarring perception of reality to people.” Journalists knew reality, and people weren’t strong enough to handle the shrink-wrapped truth.

Cue Nicholson’s nostril-flaring “You can’t handle the truth” riff.

Halberstam was the best and brightest of the old journalistic era, which will not be resurrected. He elegantly wove tales of government and corporate mendacity. He orated brilliantly about oppression. He worked hard, gained disciples and received not only numerous honorary degrees but something more important — articles upon his death with headlines like “Halberstam was my journalistic hero” and “Saying goodbye to a mentor.”

According to song, the day Buddy Holly’s plane crashed in 1959 was the day the music died. When a car broadsided the one Halberstam was riding in, he died almost instantly as a broken rib punctured his heart. The journalism he was the heart of, one where reporters claimed to possess gnostic wisdom, is also dying. We’ve entered an era of citizen journalism, where everyone has a camera and YouTube replaces You Believe What I Write.

I think it’s safe to say that to a man, the Marxist and socialist elite journalists of Halberstam’s era believed in Marx’s 19th century smokestack-era theories that eventually, the workers would own the means of production and enjoy the full fruits of their labor.

When the information revolution finally came (surprisingly peacefully–we simply all went down to Best Buy and bought PCs and cable modems), the workers not only had an infinitely greater variety of news sources when compared to, say, Halberstam’s 1965 quagmire mass media three TV network salad days. They could make their own news and opinion if they wanted to. And the men of Halberstam’s era hate this new erareally, viscerally hate it.

It’s the new reality. But I guess some legacy journalists just aren