Foreign correspondents keep an eye on the world
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Boot is found in Evelyn Waugh’s minor comic novel “Scoop.” He is a gardening writer who wants nothing more than to pen homey columns from the ramshackle manse that he and his eccentric family inhabit far from London. He specializes in overwrought prose such as: “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.” Through a case of mistaken identity, Boot’s editors dispatch him to a country called Ishmaelia, where – after many adventures and hilarious encounters – he blunders into a scoop.
The novel is too dated (1938) and nichey to be of enduring popularity, but generations of foreign correspondents have chortled at the truths they see in its outrageous characters and plot twists.
Foreign correspondents witness amazing and awful things – revolutions, massacres, natural disasters. Some long to see the world. Like William, some stumble into the job. Almost all end up with a believe-it-or-not story to tell at dinner parties. Michael Kelly, who died in Iraq in 2003, had a group of Iraqi soldiers surrender to him 12 years earlier in Kuwait. Vincent Schodolski, who was with United Press International in the early 1980s, once interviewed a party propagandist in Lebanon who argued strenuously that his group was not a “Muppet” of the Israelis.
The best story I know of this kind belonged to Joseph C. Harsch, who reported for the Monitor from 1929 to 1988 and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
In early December 1941, he and his wife, Anne, stopped in Hawaii for a working vacation. As the only nonlocal correspondent on the island, he easily scored an interview with the Navy commander in chief, Adm. Husband Kimmel, who assured him that war with Japan was not imminent and that Joe and Anne could relax and enjoy the island.