In a couple of unscientific polls overnight, Americans generally derided 16-year-old Farris Hassan -- a Florida high school journalism student who skipped a few days of school to fly to Iraq -- for pulling a foolish stunt. (Headline writers, of course, disagree 10-to-1, because how many times does a kid named "Farris" take a "day off" for an adventure? Too bad his last name wasn't Bueller.)
OK, yeah, it was foolish for him to basically parachute into a war zone with little or no preparation for his own safety, or for the safety of people who'd unexpectedly be forced to protect this wide-eyed, overly enthusiastic pup. When he gets home, ground him for a month and don't let him go to the prom, fergawdsakes.
But deep down in the heart of his heart is an instinct that most professional journalists don't have or have forgotten: The instinct to see for himself.
Most of those dismissive, smug Americans clicking on their Internet polls whine incessantly about how the media isn't presenting the proper Left/Right view of the war. They claim the reporters in Iraq would risk their lives just to insert subtle political views in their stories. They seek out only "fair and balanced news" that suits their pre-fabbed opinions, and everything else is propaganda. They don't need to see for themselves because they already know the facts without ever lifting their fat asses out of their nice soft chairs except to fetch more chips and dip.
Farris Hassan has a long way to go before he's a good newsman. He hasn't yet been exposed to the mechanics of storytelling, the ethical minefields, the withering disappointment of discovering that not all his colleagues are as passionate about the craft as he is. But he's got something most of them don't: The instinct to see for himself.
Now, if he can just stay alive long enough to learn the rest, he'll make a good journalist someday.