A Bright Shining Liar

"To be engaged in opposing wrong affords but a slender guarantee for being right."
—William Ewart Gladstone

A quarter century has gone by since David Halberstam, foreign correspondent for The New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize that he said should have gone to his friend and mentor in Vietnam, Neil Sheehan. In 1964's spring of mourning, Halberstam shared the Pulitzer with Malcolm Browne of AP's Saigon bureau and also won most other awards. Sheehan, of UPI, won a consolation prize from the Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity. Halberstam went on to wealth and influence with a series of best-sellers.

Now Sheehan has caught up. His A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam shot up the best-seller lists last winter and won the 1988 National Book Award. Sheehan says he toiled on it for 16 years.

The book received extraordinary promotion. The Washington Post magazine devoted a whole issue to Sheehan, extolling his lonely ordeal that produced "a masterpiece." The New Yorker serialized the book. Harrison E. Salisbury was cited as saying, "I have never read such a book and never expected to." (It was not all that tough. Sheehan received a steady stream of fellowships—$10,000 here, $30,000 there; at least five of them—and mounting advances from Random House until he...

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