August 16, 2004 7:17 a.m.
I became a reporter after a conversation at a cocktail party. After the failed coup in Russia in 1993, some big bosses came over for a catered party at an art gallery. Standing around in a circle, one of them complained that he could not get ice in his drink. I explained that Russians thought cold drinks were unhealthy. A few minutes later I heard the man ask someone, "Who
is that guy?" Later, he told me to put a report together and send it to him.
I thought you had to be born to be a TV reporter — look a certain way. They shined. That night I couldn't sleep. When the chance came, I took a camera to a drug raid in Kyrgyzstan. I followed the police over fences, through hedges, passed barking dogs, at night with a big betacam on my shoulder. We found broken-down dopers shooting up a home mixture. The police held them
in front of the the harsh camera light. The police did not have money for a squad car, so we all walked. We chased two guys through a marijuana field, guns firing. They cut open opium plants in a woman's garden and set them on fire. One detective organized everything for $100 a day. The video was good, the editing was good — the voice wasn't good. They wouldn't run it.
I went to a voice coach in New York who told me to smile when I talked. You held the smile while the words came out. Sure.
By tracking over and over, it got a little better. War made things a lot easier. There was a war in the tiny republic of Chechnya in Southern Russia. It started just before Christmas. It would be cold there, snow, no hotels, outhouses. No reporters wanted to go.
"War zones aren't in my contract," the White House reporter, who was filling in in Moscow, said. They sent me. They didn't know it would be a story.
In the first Chechen war, you could live with the Chechens. It was before things went bad, before they started kidnapping people.
I lived in the basement of a house owned by a man named Tarzan. Tarzan kept a large iron pot of tea and a bucket of sugar ready. You'd pour the hot tea into a clear Soviet glass, then shovel in sugar with a light aluminum Soviet spoon — three or four huge tablespoonfuls — and spin it around with the tea leaves. There was no rush, nothing to do. You could have five or six glasses and talk to Tarzan in the warm basement, then walk out through the snow to the outhouse.
More on Chechen outhouses tomorrow...
I was stationed on a Navy ship off the coast of India on the way to the gulf when 9-11 happened. It was so surreal looking at the video. It was like watching a special effects scene in a movie. Like you, we never could relate to the carnage that took place. We were isolated. The same can be said of civilians who watch the war on TV. It's just not the same as being there. It's too unreal for their minds to comprehend.
— Marcus (Yokosuka, Japan)
— Laurie & Steven (Irving, TX)
I really enjoyed your story about "White Cat." It really touched me. I've always been an animal lover - all kinds of animals. But I think this goes further than that. No matter how bad things get in this world, how terrible people can be to one another, we are reminded of the joy in simple things and not to take them for granted. Yeah, I'm a romantic at heart and maybe an optimist, too. Thank you for sharing this story. It made me smile.
— Linda (Citrus Springs, Florida)
Thanks as always for your wonderful blogs. I am printing them — you are now in a three-ring notebook. When your blog novel ends, I might bind you in duct tape; seems appropriate for our times.
First I must tell you my Mother has said "I really don't want him to go back to Iraq." She's pretty much telling you that you can't go. But you know how Moms are. I live with my Mom and she was leaving on Sept. 11 to help her 90-year-old sister move. She left just as the first plane hit. When she got there, her sisters did not want to watch, not having grasped the big picture. I was alone watching with disbelief as the events unfolded. It's strange how these things are so compelling to watch on TV, so far removed in Kansas, but something that will change your life forever.
As always be safe and thanks for all your good work. — Donna
I really enjoyed reading 'White Cat.' You're doing a great job of personalizing your experiences over there. I hope you stay safe and I hope your 'white cat' stays safe, too.
Steve, I've watched you with admiration from the start of this war. You're a gutsy guy, a stalwart. You report concisely and with passion. I'm easily old enough to be your mother, and I worry about you as well as all our people there. Stay safe.
— Vera (Monroe, CT)
Your story reminded me of Nam. There were few dogs and no cats. We wish there had been a cat. The cat would have kept the rats out of the barracks and trash which would have meant we wouldn't be killing them. I used a drawer once and a piece of chain link fence another time. I'm glad I was successful each time. Of course there were some that got away.
Lou (USA Ret), Colorado Springs, CO
Steve, I appreciate your blog. Today our 19-y/o is flying to Iraq to serve his first mission as a Marine. I am determined to see the glass as half full when I hear of news on the war on terror in Iraq and anywhere. It is difficult because each day I hear so much of the negative, which, I find out later, isn’t always negative, and this makes it unfair and unbalanced! When I hear something of the positive, I say, why didn’t we hear THAT 50 times like we heard the BAD, negative story 50 times!! When the positive IS there, I am determined to see it! Thank you for your part in getting it out to us.
— Jeannie, a mom
Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.