When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: “Do you have a corporate rate?” I said, “I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.” There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: “ Can I ask you something?” Sure. “Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.”
Interestingly enough, I found a similar reaction on my most recent trip to neighboring Libya. I took the TNR helicopter downtown into Misrata to be close to the center of the protest movements. Looking through the tinted windows of my car as I sped through town, I spotted a well-maintained villa that seemed like an appropriate reporting base, and asked the driver to pull over. Walking briskly past the outreached hands of the crowds seeking to touch the hem of my pants leg, my translator approached the owner of the home and began negotiating an acceptable purchase price.
When I handed him the check, he said, "Jonathan Chait? Author of TRB and the eponymous blog?" I nodded my head kindly. He suddenly started burbling up with questions. Is Nato's intervention a game-changer? Would Qaddafi have an Anwar Sadat Moment? And why was this Paul Ryan claiming to solve our fiscal problems when clearly his budget did not solve our fiscal problems?
I wanted to put his fears to rest, but at the same time, I did not want to give away the material for the lecture that several thousand people had paid good money to see me deliver later that night in Monaco. So I simply placed my hand on his shoulder, and smiled warmly.