Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 23, 2017

The prescience of David Halberstam

By Jim Turner | May 17, 2017

To the editor:

You may have heard of David Halberstam. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who died in 2007.

He was known for many bestselling books, among them “The Best and the Brightest,” about the Kennedy administration and “Summer of ‘49,” about the Yankees-Red Sox race for the pennant that year.

One of his last books is called “The Next Century.” In it, he mentions many trends that he sees in our society in the year he wrote it, 1991. Let’s look at some quotes from his book and see how prescient they may be considered today in 2017.

“We are more than ever an entertainment driven society.” Not too overwhelming for its prescience but remembering that he wrote this in 1991 – still quite prescient. More than ever, we are an entertainment driven society using all kinds of electronic media that were not even available in 1991.

“Because news is ever more entertainment driven, it follows then that its principal people, its anchors, must be stars.”Nothing truer could be said now. They are stars and not truly journalists, chosen as much for their looks and personalities than anything else. Their paychecks bear this out too.

“If network news trivializes complicated but crucial issues or abdicates covering them at all, can a trivialized political system be far behind?” It is no longer far behind ... it is here and has been for some time. The last election is proof enough, but if you are in doubt, look back at some of the 2016 debates. As far as substance was concerned – meaning and in-depth discussion of crucial issues – the debates were pathetic, no other word for it. Global warming as a crisis would be a good example.

“As the television network news trivializes debate, the political system adapts to it ... serious discussion of serious issues is too complicated.” Halberstam goes on to say that candidates and their advisors learned what the public wanted: telegenic entertaining candidates who were never boring, always exciting, and in Halberstam’s words, candidates “who use a hyped up attack or counterattack, the more simplistic the better.” Sound familiar?

Earlier in his book, Halberstam has something to say about how our government has been run for many years back to the days of the Vietnam War.

“We did not realize that America had become an empire, run by men suited to running empires, men who did not necessarily value truth. They valued power over truth. In power there was truth. We journalists, too innocent for our own good, still believed in the power of truth.”

I still believe in the power of truth. We all must seek the truth, however difficult it might be. It will lead us to a better country and a better world.


– Jim Turner, Fairfield

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