Dirty windows

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This week I had a chance to meet Michael Yon. He's the blogger who was embedded with troops in northern Iraq for most of last year and whose reports, and photos, have deservedly won wide acclaim. One of his photos has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Here's his blog. If you haven't read his "Gates of Fire" story, you really should. By the way, Yon says that Lt. Col. Kurilla's recovery is going well.

Yon says that before he went to Iraq, he was struck by the negativism of mainstream media reporting on the struggle there. He wanted to see for himself what was going on. His conclusion is that we are making progress. He's currently writing a book on his experiences and plans to return to Iraq in May.

What advice does he have for embedded reporters?

"Don't go out in a vehicle with dirty windows," he says. He found that soldiers who didn't keep their windows clean were also careless and not sufficiently alert to possible threats. Soldiers who kept their windows clean, on the other hand, were terrific. This reminded me of George Kelling's and James Q. Wilson's theory of broken windows policing.

Neighborhoods where broken windows go unrepaired, they noticed, had higher crime than neighborhoods where damage was promptly repaired, because criminals take broken windows as a sign that the forces of order are not in control. If the police maintain order and prosecute those who commit minor offenses, there will be fewer major offenses. This is the theory behind the crime control policies of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton that proved so spectacularly successful in New York in the 1990s. Their example was followed in many other cities, with similar results—one of the great public policy successes of our times. You can find more in this 1998 book coauthored by Kelling and in this 1982 Atlantic article (subscribers only) by Kelling and Wilson.