Just as the Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a grim survey saying, basically, that things are really bad for reporters in Iraq, one intrepid, well-heeled journalist is leaving East Hampton and parachuting into Iraq's Dunbar Province for some lens work. Indeed, East Hampton is known for many things (celebrities, bad taste, social climbers, nouveau riche). War correspondents? not so much. So, how exactly does an East Hampton native prepare for dropping into the shit in Iraq? Well, for starters, it probably helps being somewhat clueless and having little or no experience in journalism and/or war reporting. Second? Drink heavily and self medicate! I'm sure there's a list of things to pack, too. Let's see... combat boots and helmet? Check. Camera and computer? Check. Polo mallet? Check.
"Growing up here was pretty special," 43-year-old Ralph Dayton tells The New Yorker. "Not like it is today. There was none of this materialism. When I was fourteen, I got a job as a beachboy, sweeping out cabanas." He went to law school, and tried practicing law but hated it, so, like many of his townie ancestors, he bought a place in Sagaponack and grew vegetables. The eventual bounty was real estate: he sold the farm and used the income to buy land in the North Carolina blacklands, where he planted cotton, among other things, and was happy."
"Dayton's interest in the military began, he explained, during the early days of the Iraq war, when he met an off-duty Navy Black Hawk pilot during a surfing trip in Costa Rica. The pilot was part of a squadron that inserted and extracted Navy SEALs from Iraq. "I told him where my farm was, and he said, 'We fly over that area all the time. Give me the coordinates.'" A few days later, Dayton says, a group of helicopters landed on his farm; from then on, about once a week, he let them practice their touch-and-go drills there. (During a nighttime exercise, he once pretended to be a "partisan," a U.S.-friendly farmer in a country where a helicopter has been shot down.)
"Two years ago, Dayton decided to get out of farming and become a war photographer. He returned to East Hampton, where he tried to build a portfolio: pictures of surfing, potato harvests, a few trips to Latin America. He took a training course called "Surviving Hostile Regions." But, he found, becoming embedded is "kind of a Catch-22": you need media affiliation, and to get that you need experience. The Times didn't return his e-mails. Eventually, he made his pitch to the Star. "I said, 'Look, I'm willing to finance this myself. Basically, all I'm asking you to do is believe in me.'"
Oh, we do! Totes!
New Job [The New Yorker]