From Little League to Blogging From Beirut

By: Greg Mitchell

No way I ever imagined, while coaching against Mike Witte in Little League, that one of his sons would wind up in Beirut under heavy bombardment — and would blog about it for a leading Web site,

For one thing, blogs hadn?t yet been invented back in the late 1990s. Come to think of it, was Fox News even around then? In any case, Beirut was then being rebuilt and its years under attack appeared to be over.

At that time, the boy, Spencer Witte, was a high school baseball star, and Mike was coaching his youngest son, Drew in our league. (Later I wrote a bit about all of them in my memoir, “Joy in Mudville.”

Unlike his older brother, Griff Witte, Spencer did not go into journalism. E&P recently profiled Griff — he now reports for the Washington Post. When he recently returned from several months in Afghanistan, his parents, Mike and Sally Witte, thought their worries about a son in a war zone were over.

So how did Spencer end up at Fox?

Steve Bromberg, a friend of the Wittes — and I guy I knew back in Little League, where he served as one of the best umpires — now is top editor at the Fox site. He’s a former Gannett newspaper editor. Not long ago, I bumped into Steve in a Japanese restaurant near where we all live in upstate New York. I wanted to hire away one of his Web editors to run our site, but he heartily approved of that.

Flash to a few months later. In June, the entire Witte clan vacations in the Middle East, spending time with Spence and girlfriend in Lebanon, where she is a reporter for a local paper, and he is studying Arabic. They get a stranger in Beirut to take a nice picture of the entire family for this year’s Christmas card.

When they return, they tell me it was a great trip, Beirut is fantastic and everything is swell. Less than a month later, the city is under siege and the Wittes are, naturally, extremely worried about their son and his girlfriend, although they live in a mainly Christian area not immediately under attack. They relay some of Spencer?s concerns about the whole conflict, its roots and likely outcomes.

Next thing I know, I get word that Spencer is starting a blog for Fox ?- and last night, lo and behold, it appears, under the prominent heading, “An American in Beirut.” It?s now featured with a link at the very top of the site, which clicks through to a photo of Spence, that family reunion picture taken last month, and his first two blog postings, which describe his experience of the first two days of the Israeli assault.

He opens with, ?I’m a native of a small suburban town in New York, a recent college graduate and the owner of a rather lackluster collegiate baseball career.? (I can vouch for all of this, except for the ?lackluster? part.) He goes on to explain how he had just seen the film ?American Dreamz? when the trouble started, and then describes in vivid detail the aerial attacks on that first night.

The next day, he observes: ?Things hadn’t been going so well. I arrived in Beirut, and less than half a day later my eyes, ears and senses had been treated to a melody of circling fighter jets, rattling anti-aircraft fire and fast-falling bombs.?

The second blog piece, posted Friday afternoon, concludes with a baseball reference: “This conflict isn’t made up of innings. It has few boundaries and may not end up having any winners. Make no mistake about it, if this becomes a routine — daily and longer outages, perhaps no electricity at all — it will bring real panic and true crisis to real people.”

The third entry arrived Monday, July 24, highlighted by this sequence: “Since I arrived in Beirut just over 10 days ago, I’ve been coming to the same Internet caf? to message family and friends. It’s in Achrafieh, a short walk from our apartment. A lot goes on here, and day-in and day-out I see many of the same faces. There’s a group of teenagers who get together and indulge in hours of NASCAR racing games on a shared PlayStation.

“For the Internet users among us, a link has made its way around the caf?; it posts highly graphic pictures of civilians killed in the south of Lebanon. All are bloodied. Some have been crushed. Others dismembered. Some have lost their heads. Some of the caf? users are clearly upset by what the site offers. Others are seemingly unaffected. Yesterday, one customer was looking at the photos without expression and dipping his hand into a bag of chips, as if watching a movie he had seen before.”

Maybe a second journalist in the family has been born. But Spence — stay safe! As we used to say in Little League: Keep your head down.


Related column by Greg Mitchell: Few Editorials Find Fault with the Bombing of Beirut

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