In my search for gainful employment I began an internship at the Nishi-Nippon Shimbun last month, and so far it has been pretty rewarding. I already have a press pass, making me a real live journalist (now I just need to learn how to write!) and yesterday I got to attend my first Daily Press Briefing at the State Department. I’ll be going to many of these and other similar functions in the future so let me know if you have any questions you want asked (especially on Japan issues).
My boss hailed us a cab, as he so often does, and we arrived at Foggy Bottom a little late, but they didn’t seem to mind. All I had to do was present my press pass, give my nationality, walk through the metal detector, and I was free to enter. A short hallway led to a huge wooden door emblazoned with the words “Carl T. Rowan Press Briefing Room”. It was a scene I had seen dozens of times on TV: a well-dressed Richard Boucher speaking calmly on every world issue you can think of, reporters asking angry questions, all in an immaculate, velvety-blue room designed to look good on television.
A few things surprised me about the visit: a majority of the reporters were 30-something “hardcore journalist” types who had obviously done their homework and then some and seemed to know Boucher personally. They asked questions like this one about the Newsweek story that got people killed in Afghanistan:
QUESTION: Richard, just to follow up on the timeline — and excuse me if I’m wrong — it’s not a week from Monday, I think it was two weeks from Monday that the actual Newsweek thing came out, right?
They called him Richard! How cool is that?
Another thing: Richard Boucher is sharp as a tack. Say what you want about the State Department, but you can’t claim that they hire idiots. Check out this exchange between Mr. B and an angry French (?) man who sat in front of me:
QUESTION: Mr. Richard Holbrooke, a close friend to Nicholas Burns, stated in Washington Post, “No way U.S. troops to leave Kosovo.” I’m quoting. He predicted that Kosovo will become independent, there is no way about that, there is no question about that, and Montenegro will separate from Serbia. Any comment on this multiple division of the Balkans in the early stage by the U.S. policy? What exactly you are trying to do in that area?
MR. BOUCHER: We’re not making predictions. We’re setting up a process where the outcomes can be decided in a way that stabilizes the region, that helps the region as a whole find its destiny in Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, to be honest with you, and I hate to make comparisons, my only weapon is, as I’ve told you many times in this room, history. And allow me to ask how the two gentlemen, Nicholas Burns and Richard Holbrooke, and besides with them, the State Department itself, ignore totally the fact that Kosovo, the so-called sarcoma-kaposis, was created by Adolf Hitler, transferred Albanians from the mainland to fight the Serbs in order to control southeast of Europe seeking an exodus via the port of Thessaloniki to the Aegean Sea.
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think either — first of all, Nicholas Burns and Richard Holbrooke are two different people so I wouldn’t lump them together in terms of their views. Second of all, I don’t think either one ignores history. I will speak for Under Secretary Burns, since he works for us, and the point here is to overcome that history, is to have a future that’s different from the past, and not to — not to repeat mistakes of the past but rather to move forward where this region can find peace and stability within our Euro-Atlantic framework that makes them part of the whole and not separate chunks to create problems.
QUESTION: But since the end of the Second World War, America was trying to reverse whatever Hitler did, with only exception of Kosovo. Why?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think I would characterize U.S. policy as that way.
Notice how Boucher is not only somehow able to formulate an answer to the man’s question (which was delivered in a thick accent from the back of the room) but also manages to totally refute his claim and dress him down.
The coolest thing of all was that at the end of the conference everyone got up and huddled around Boucher for an “off the record briefing”. Obviously, I won’t tell you what was said, but it’s generally known that it’s an opportunity for reporters to ask more candid questions in exchange for agreeing to quote the spokesman as “a senior State Department official”.
I almost feel like a real journalist. Now all I need to do is find someone who will pay me!