As for the Washington regional issues that this column has typically addressed, I hear lots of well-meaning rhetoric but see little political will to do enough to actually overcome chronic social, economic and racial inequities.
I give up my contract with The Post with deep gratitude for the treasures that the newspaper has provided me. These include steady intellectual stimulation and wonderful friendships with smart, irreverent colleagues. I’ve also believed I was making a worthy contribution to society, although some commenters on my articles clearly think otherwise.
(I feel positive in the same ways about my 12 years of volunteer work for WAMU 88.5 radio, where I will soon end my Friday morning news analyses.)
A typical career at The Post begins in the Metro section and ends on National or Foreign, but I did it in reverse. I started on the Foreign desk, where I did tours as a correspondent in Mexico and Germany.
At the very end of the German posting, I was sitting in East Berlin in 1989 in what had been a long and tedious news conference given by East Germany’s media chief, Günter Schabowski. Someone handed him a short note about changes in border policy. He read it aloud and quickly departed.
Sitting next to me was Ferd Protzman, my friend and then-competitor from the New York Times. He turned and said, “That’s it, then. The wall is coming down.”
We could scarcely believe it and listened repeatedly to our tape recorders to make sure we had heard correctly. The East Germans among us, jaded by the regime’s history of lies, thought it was a ruse.
I and Ferd, who later worked for The Post as its local art galleries columnist, were sure it was real only after we ran into NBC’s Tom Brokaw in a stairwell. He’d had a short interview with Schabowski and confirmed the significance. We rushed back to West Berlin to file our stories.
My most unusual experience may have come when I was visiting a swath of El Salvador’s mountains controlled by Marxist-led guerrillas. When insurgent leaders learned it was my 32nd birthday, they slaughtered and cooked a goat to celebrate.
My favorite stunt — and that’s the right word for it — was crossing the Rio Grande twice in 24 hours to sneak into El Paso from Mexico to illustrate the weakness of U.S. border controls. That was in 1984. Controversy over immigration is hardly new.
The peak of my career abroad came in 2001. I was fortunate to get what I consider the Best Job Ever, as managing editor of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) in Paris. My excellent boss was David Ignatius, now the distinguished Post foreign affairs columnist.
Unfortunately, the New York Times, which then shared ownership of the IHT with The Post, decided arrogantly that it wanted to control the IHT all by itself. In an ugly corporate power play, the Times threatened to gut the IHT financially unless The Post sold its half of the paper. Our publisher, Don Graham, did so grudgingly, and I was out of my dream job. It’s some consolation that the Times reportedly then lost tens of millions of dollars spent in a failed effort to keep the IHT afloat.
My most gratifying experience was overseeing The Post’s Metro staff in covering the tragic mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. For three days’ work, we won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting — the only time The Post has won that particular Pulitzer. It was a true team effort, with more than 60 journalists involved. I was honored to pick up the certificate and trophy at the low-key ceremony in New York together with Mike Semel, who then was Virginia editor and now is local editor.
A main lesson I drew from covering the Cold War and its aftermath was that noble promises are not necessarily kept.
In Central America, the threat of Marxist insurgents in El Salvador and a leftist government in Nicaragua prompted the U.S. government to urge long-term investments to rebuild and reform the region’s economy and politics.
But Washington lost interest as soon as the radicals were defeated. Now we’re paying the price as political corruption and criminal gangs in Central America drive tens of thousands to flee to the United States and create a different kind of challenge.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, President George H.W. Bush called for “a new world order,” based on international collaboration and democratic principles. His son, George W. Bush, betrayed that with disastrous results by invading Iraq on spurious grounds and despite widespread opposition from our allies.
In covering local issues since 2005 as an editor and columnist, I’ve seen the Washington area establish itself firmly as one of the nation’s “superstar” metropolitan regions. We have an affluent, highly educated workforce, and an urban renaissance has transformed downtown D.C.
Our economy also has gradually evolved from one overwhelmingly dependent on the federal government to one with a vibrant and growing private sector. Highlighting the change was Amazon’s choice of Northern Virginia as the site of its second corporate headquarters. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
But our area has failed to use its wealth to lift up nearly half a million people here still living in poverty. We rank near the absolute bottom among the nation’s largest metro areas in both economic and racial “inclusion,” which measures the degree to which economic benefits are shared equitably, according to the Brookings Institution’s Metro Monitor.
Gentrification has made it harder than ever for poor and working-class people to afford housing. The District’s record investments in affordable housing, though welcome, aren’t nearly enough to fill the need, and the suburbs are doing even less.
Despite the danger posed by climate change, we have failed to build a transportation and land-use network that significantly reduces dependence on cars.
These local troubles, though frustrating, are overshadowed today by national trends. Most concerning, a significant chunk of the population actively resists accepting overwhelming evidence that vaccinations are needed to combat the coronavirus and that the 2020 presidential election was legitimate.
Even in our comparatively enlightened region, all five Republican congressmen from Virginia and Maryland voted against certifying President Biden’s electoral college victory.
Part of the problem lies in my own profession, of course. The growth of the Internet has revolutionized journalism, and with mixed results. It’s much easier to distribute information, but a major consequence has been the accelerated spread of mis- and disinformation.
I know my able colleagues and successors at The Post will continue to protect and advance the causes of objective truth, and of tough but fair journalism. It has been a privilege and pleasure working with them and striving to best serve you, our readers. I hope to stay involved in some way in regional issues, so you may hear from me again. For now, I say thanks and farewell.