Friday, January 11, 2008

Inside the White House media bubble

"Travelling with the White House press corps on an overseas presidential trip is a cross between going on a luxury cruise and working on a chain gang.

On the one hand, it involves business-class travel aboard a chartered Boeing 747 where the Scotch and smoked salmon flow freely. On the other, journalists and reporters are herded on to buses, driven back and forth, constantly scanned and inspected, and ordered around with a "hurry-up, let's go, keep-it-moving" brusqueness that would make a Marine drill instructor proud.

Snorre Wik, an Al Jazeera cameraman, and I are two of about 150 media professionals that are accompanying George Bush, the US president, on his travels through the Middle East.......

Orchestrated events

It's a strange existence inside the White House press bubble. Everything is scripted and scheduled down to the minute. Experienced media professionals say the trips tend to take on a predictable pattern. Brian Haefli, a sound engineer for the CNN network who has been travelling with presidents since the first Bush administration in 1989, said: "It's very repetitive."

"All you see are hotel ballrooms and buffet food. And the picture is always the same - smiling, hand-shaking, and two questions from each side during the press conference."

A small number of reporters and photographers are assigned to "pools", which are allowed to take pictures of Bush at official events, such as shaking hands with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and smiling, or shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and smiling.

The other reporters sit around in a hotel ballroom watching widescreen TVs, gossiping and waiting for the pool people to come back and give their report - which is usually along the lines of: "The president smiled and shook hands."......"

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