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David Halberstam -The Murder of an American Journalist

Never, never, never let them intimidate you,” was David Halberstam’s advice to the Columbia Journalism School’s graduating class in May of 2005. The former New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter received the 2005 Columbia Journalism Award, the School’s highest honor for career achievement. He said, “People are always going to try to intimidate in all kinds of ways — sheriffs, generals, presidents of universities, presidents of countries, secretaries of defense. Don’t let them do it. “If someone tries, do me a favor and just work a little harder on your story. Do two or three more interviews. Make your story a little better.”

He described what he said was the proudest moment of his career. “In the fall of 1963, I was one of a small group of reporters in Saigon. We had enraged Washington by filing pessimistic dispatches on the war. The President of the United States, JFK, had already asked the publisher to pull me. On that day, there was a major battle going on in the Delta. The Americans were not yet in a full combat role. The American military command tried to keep out all reporters so they could control the information. We pushed hard to get there with no luck.” He said the afternoon briefing that day was given by Maj. Gen. Dick Stilwell, “the smoothest young general in Saigon . . . He began by saying Neil (Sheehan, also of the Times) and I had bothered General Paul Harkins and Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, and we were not to do it again. “I stood up, my heart beating wildly, and told him we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense. I said we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins.”

Halberstam received the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 as a war correspondent in Vietnam. His 1972 book, The Best and the Brightest, was a critical history of America’s role in the Vietnam war. Among his other books are The Powers That Be (1979), the influence of the news media; The Reckoning (1986), a comparative history of the automobile industry in the U.S. and Japan; and The Breaks of the Game, an account of a year with the Portland Trailblazers basketball team. Halberstam described the beginning of his career, first with a Mississippi daily in a town of 8,000, then with the Nashville Tennessean “probably the best and most aggressive paper in the South in the Civil Rights days.” “Every night I would go out todinner with a member of a great staff of an embattled newspaper. Each night was a seminar in journalism. I could listen to them talk about what they had done that day, how they had put their stories together. I was a human sponge.“One of the things I learned was that the better you do your job, the less popular you are likely to be. So if you seek popularity, this is probably not the profession for you."

Kevin Jones, who appears to have engaged one of the Arkansas-style projects that Richard Mellon Scaife funded, deliberately drove into oncoming traffic and caused the death/murder of David Halberstam.

Kevin Jones is a foot soldier for Richard Mellon Scaife, the political warfare specialist who routinely targets and destroys anybody who does not advance his ideology. Their mission is to replace intelligent people with propaganda "think-tanks" like IRD. According to California-based investigative reporter Matt Smith, "IRD and its allies' use of right-wing nonreligious foundation money to smear liberal church leaders through mailings, articles in IRD-aligned publications, press releases, and stories in secular newspapers and magazines has more in common with a CIA Third World destabilization campaign than ordinary civilized debate."

The IRD is the organization that justified the staggering death toll during the Reagan presidency -- with more than 200,000 political killings in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua alone (D'Escoto, 2004). Following the lead of the Reagan White House, IRD christened the military forces that carried out the violence, including the documented murder of hundreds of Catholic priests and nuns, as "freedom fighters" (Lernoux, 1991). Ronald Reagan described the Contra "death squads" in Nicaragua as "the moral equal of our founding fathers." The links between IRD and the first-term Reagan administration earned the IRD the moniker of "the official seminary of the White House."

The strategy sessions that journalists like Kevin Jones attend are about clandestine and devious tactics for gaining power. They deliberately present "a soft and friendly face to the public," (which is why he offered to drive Halberstam) and they do whatever it takes to push their agenda forward. In that context, the murder of a brilliant journalist like Halberstam was necessitated by the paranoid obsession to reclaim what they think is theirs -the right to dictate their agenda without being diverted by the truths that a man like Halberstam routinely exposed.

Kevin Jones is evidently an advocate of the twisted agumentation that justifies murder. In the world of Kevin Jones and Richard Mellon Scaife, journalists like Halberstam must be "neutralized" and he was.

This is just par for the course, there is nothing unusual about the death of Halberstam. Clearly, Richard Mellon Scaife has even developed a track record of funding projects that lead to the murder of lesser-known targets like Steve Kangas, a popular web publisher who was shot to death in Richard Mellon Scaife's private Office Tower. If the murder of Steve Kangas had been adequately resolved, David Halberstam would probably still be alive today, and that is pretty clear and obvious because the "serial" in the killer is predictable, and so is the target.

David Halberstam said that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the September 11 attacks. In his own words:

We are in some ways a much easier target for them, despite our wealth, than they are for us. And that’s a very hard thing for a rich, developed superpower to understand — that our very strength makes us vulnerable. Our strength makes us a target, and it’s hard to respond. There’s a danger that if we use our power carelessly, if we just bomb away, then we’re doing their recruiting and passing the burden on to our children. One of the things that was much more done in the French-Indochina War: a French patrol would go through a village where many of the people were on the fence in the struggle. A Viet Minh solder would kill one French soldier. The French would then open up on the entire village, killing all kinds of people. The French would then leave the village that night, at 6 o’clock, and at 7 o’clock the Viet Minh would arrive to recruit the children of those who had been killed. That’s something we need to be very aware of: to apply power not just with strength, but with wisdom. And we need to be very careful about that.

This is Halberstam's last column, and if it does not reflect the obsession to kill his ideas, his death was probably an accident:

"We are a long way from the glory days of Mission Accomplished, when the Iraq war was over before it was over—indeed before it really began—and the president could dress up like a fighter pilot and land on an aircraft carrier, and the nation, led by a pliable media, would applaud. Now, late in this sad, terribly diminished presidency, mired in an unwinnable war of their own making, and increasingly on the defensive about events which, to their surprise, they do not control, the president and his men have turned, with some degree of desperation, to history. In their view Iraq under Saddam was like Europe dominated by Hitler, and the Democrats and critics in the media are likened to the appeasers of the 1930s. The Iraqi people, shorn of their immensely complicated history, become either the people of Europe eager to be liberated from the Germans, or a little nation that great powerful nations ought to protect. Most recently in this history rummage sale—and perhaps most surprisingly—Bush has become Harry Truman.

We have lately been getting so many history lessons from the White House that I have come to think of Bush, Cheney, Rice, and the late, unlamented Rumsfeld as the History Boys. They are people groping for rationales for their failed policy, and as the criticism becomes ever harsher, they cling to the idea that a true judgment will come only in the future, and history will save them.

Ironically, it is the president himself, a man notoriously careless about, indeed almost indifferent to, the intellectual underpinnings of his actions, who has come to trumpet loudest his close scrutiny of the lessons of the past. Though, before, he tended to boast about making critical decisions based on instinct and religious faith, he now talks more and more about historical mandates. Usually he does this in the broadest—and vaguest—sense: History teaches us … We know from history … History shows us. In one of his speaking appearances in March 2006, in Cleveland, I counted four references to history, and what it meant for today, as if he had had dinner the night before with Arnold Toynbee, or at the very least Barbara Tuchman, and then gone home for a few hours to read his Gibbon.

I am deeply suspicious of these presidential seminars. We have, after all, come to know George Bush fairly well by now, and many of us have come to feel—not only because of what he says, but also because of the sheer cockiness in how he says it—that he has a tendency to decide what he wants to do first, and only then leaves it to his staff to look for intellectual justification. Many of us have always sensed a deep and visceral anti-intellectual streak in the president, that there was a great chip on his shoulder, and that the burden of the fancy schools he attended—Andover and Yale—and even simply being a member of the Bush family were too much for him. It was as if he needed not only to escape but also to put down those of his peers who had been more successful. From that mind-set, I think, came his rather unattractive habit of bestowing nicknames, most of them unflattering, on the people around him, to remind them that he was in charge, that despite their greater achievements they still worked for him.

He is infinitely more comfortable with the cowboy persona he has adopted, the Texas transplant who has learned to speak the down-home vernacular. "Country boy," as Johnny Cash once sang, "I wish I was you, and you were me." Bush's accent, not always there in public appearances when he was younger, tends to thicken these days, the final g's consistently dropped so that doing becomes doin', going becomes goin', and making, makin'. In this lexicon al-Qaeda becomes "the folks" who did 9/11. Unfortunately, it is not just the speech that got dumbed down—so also were the ideas at play. The president's world, unlike the one we live in, is dangerously simple, full of traps, not just for him but, sadly, for us as well.

When David Frum, a presidential speechwriter, presented Bush with the phrase "axis of evil," to characterize North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, it was meant to recall the Axis powers of World War II. Frum was much praised, for it is a fine phrase, perfect for Madison Avenue. Of course, the problem is that it doesn't really track. This new Axis turned out to contain, apparently much to our surprise, two countries, Iraq and Iran, that were sworn enemies, and if you moved against Iraq, you ended up de-stabilizing it and involuntarily strengthening Iran, the far more dangerous country in the region. While "axis of evil" was intended to serve as a sort of historical banner, embodying the highest moral vision imaginable, it ended up only helping to weaken us.

Despite his recent conversion to history, the president probably still believes, deep down, as do many of his admirers, that the righteous, religious vision he brings to geopolitics is a source of strength—almost as if the less he knows about the issues the better and the truer his decision-making will be. Around any president, all the time, are men and women with different agendas, who compete for his time and attention with messy, conflicting versions of events and complicated facts that seem all too often to contradict one another. With their hard-won experience the people from the State Department and the C.I.A. and even, on occasion, the armed forces tend to be cautious and short on certitude. They are the kind of people whose advice his father often took, but who in the son's view use their knowledge and experience merely to limit a president's ability to act. How much easier and cleaner to make decisions in consultation with a higher authority.

Therefore, when I hear the president cite history so casually, an alarm goes off. Those who know history best tend to be tempered by it. They rarely refer to it so sweepingly and with such complete confidence. They know that it is the most mischievous of mistresses and that it touts sure things about as regularly as the tip sheets at the local track. Its most important lessons sometimes come cloaked in bitter irony. By no means does it march in a straight line toward the desired result, and the good guys do not always win. Occasionally it is like a sport with upsets, in which the weak and small defeat the great and mighty—take, for instance, the American revolutionaries vanquishing the British Army, or the Vietnamese Communists, with their limited hardware, stalemating the mighty American Army.

There was, I thought, one member of the first President Bush's team who had a real sense of history, a man of intellectual superiority and enormous common sense. (Naturally, he did not make it onto the Bush Two team.) That was Brent Scowcroft, George H. W. Bush's national-security adviser. Scowcroft was so close to the senior Bush that they collaborated on Bush's 1998 presidential memoir, A World Transformed. Scowcroft struck me as a lineal descendant of Truman's secretary of state George Catlett Marshall, arguably the most extraordinary of the postwar architects of American foreign policy. Marshall was a formidable figure, much praised for his awesome sense of duty and not enough, I think, for his intellect. If he lacked the self-evident brilliance of George Kennan (the author of Truman's Communist-containment policy), he had a remarkable ability to shed light on the present by extrapolating from the the past."



 
 

 
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