Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A few good men 

Too bad the state pseudoshutdown kept Mark Yost from putting up this column on the Fourth of July. It's the story of how he went from sailor to reporter to journalist:

I decided to become a journalist when I was a soldier. I was in the U.S. Navy in the early and mid-1980s � "the glory years," as I like to say, a reference to President Ronald Reagan. As part of my duties, I went to some of the world's hot spots.

While sailing in the South China Sea, my ship picked up some refugee boat people on a rickety raft that I wouldn't take out on Como Lake, much less try to float across the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, shortly after coming up the accommodation ladder dripping wet, grabbed me (the nearest sailor), hugged me as tightly as his strength would allow, and could only murmur "thank you" through sobs of joy.

I'd then come back to the U.S. and read accounts of places I'd just been � in papers like the New York Times and Washington Post �that bore no resemblance to what I'd seen. There was one exception: the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I began reading a column called "Thinking Things Over" by Vermont Connecticut Royster, one of the legends of that august page. He would later become a mentor � a God, really � and I eventually worked there.

I'm reminded of why I became a journalist by the horribly slanted reporting coming out of Iraq. Not much has changed since the mid-1980s. Substitute "insurgent" for "Sandinista," "Iraq" for "Soviet Union," "Bush" for "Reagan" and "war on terror" for "Cold War," and the stories need little editing. The U.S. is "bad," our enemies "understandable" if not downright "good."

I know the reporting's bad because I know people in Iraq. A Marine colonel buddy just finished a stint overseeing the power grid. When's the last time you read a story about the progress being made on the power grid? Or the new desalination plant that just came on-line, or the school that just opened, or the Iraqi policeman who died doing something heroic? No, to judge by the dispatches, all the Iraqis do is stand outside markets and government buildings waiting to be blown up.

It's not hard to find these things out. Even if you don't want to read the Wall Street Journal or the good news series from Arthur Chrenkoff, you could go to official sources like USAID's Iraq office, or that the World Bank and the UN are hosting a conference this week that is raising about $1 billion for Iraq. Heard of it? No, because you're too busy watching Live 8. (Did you even know that Iraq's Saddam-era debt has been 80% cancelled?)

A joy of the job I do is hearing stories of how students find their way to a degree in economics. The best stories are from non-traditional students; their life experiences move them to think about how to find their way in the world. A student this morning had been motivated to return to school and learn economics by being around local entrepreneurs. When Mark came on NARN two weeks ago, his time in the Navy was part of the discussion. It clearly was a life-defining experience. I hope that Mark's experience can serve as an example to others as they return from the armed services: Your views have never been more needed in the press than now.

I am awed by the fact that Yost had Royster as a mentor, by the way. He and Robert Bartley were two of my favorites in reading the Wall Street Journal.