Friday, August 14, 2009

Journalism's Loss: Bill Cahir, 40

My friend and former Newhouse colleague Bill Cahir was killed by enemy fire yesterday while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. Bill was just 40, and his wife Rene is pregnant with twin girls. Their loss is beyond my comprehension, and he leaves behind a wide circle of friends, including me, who can't fathom the fact that he no longer is with us.

Bill's obituaries in Politico, Politics Daily and one of his former papers, the Express-Times, reflect what a truly exceptional person I knew Bill to be. In this space, I'd like to remember his work as a journalist, which is how I got to know him.

Though Bill was young when we met in 2000, he was definitely from the old school - ask good questions, get the facts, talk to the other side and then crank it out. This was the hard work of journalism, but it was especially hard from Bill's vantage point as a D.C. correspondent. Bill reported for a handful of smaller Newhouse papers in southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, and he took orders from a half-dozen bosses. It could be maddening. But he did it gladly. He loved journalism as its own reward, and he brought a humility and self-discipline to his work that have become exceedingly rare.

These days, some question whether the ideal of journalistic objectivity is possible or ever was. To doubters, I offer Bill's body of work. The writing never was flashy. More often, it was methodical and workmanlike. But it did exactly what it was supposed to do: It gave his readers fact and context they needed to stay informed and develop their own opinions. What you saw was what you got - again, a rarity these days. He had a down-to-earth clarity about his mission as a journalist that I often used as a sounding board for story ideas.

That clarity took him places many of us then at the Newhouse bureau never could have expected. When the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, took place, we all filed our stories that day, as did Bill. But for Bill, the attacks became a calling beyond profession. Not long after that dreadful day, he decided to become a Marine. He enlisted at age 34, just months before the cutoff, and was off to Parris Island.

Bill stayed at our house for about a week after basic training, and we noticed the change in him. For one thing, he was louder - I guess from having drill sergeants yelling in his face. But he was ever more determined that this was the right path for him. And when we last talked at length, shortly before his announcement to run for Congress, I was surprised, but also not. He was unhappy with the conduct of the war, and he wanted to do something about it. This was Bill's new mission, and he was doing it his way - at the front line, working passionately and methodically.

My wife Susanna remarked today that after Bill's two previous tours in Iraq, we somehow assumed he would be safe. How could we? Maybe it was that determination and clarity of purpose - somehow we convinced ourselves that they would get him through. Or maybe we just didn't want to think about the hell that he had subjected himself to as a result of that determination and clarity.

Each of us is shaped by the people we meet and our experiences together, and a few are exceptional. As a reporter and as a person, Bill was one of the few. He showed us the value of being true to one's self and of living life with purpose and courage. That was Bill's gift, and I hope I'll carry it always.

No comments:

Post a Comment