Thursday, February 16, 2017

After UN Evicted Press, It Covered UNSC from Park Across The Street, Power Ignored

By Matthew Russell Lee, Part of SeriesVideo

UNITED NATIONS, February 13 – The problem with trying to cover the UN from the park across First Avenue is that your laptop runs out of power, and the scaffolding behind Tudor City is far from water-tight. But it can be done

Adrian from Haiti, there in the park each day from ten to two, showed me the outlet, where I could plug an extension cord for my laptop in. And while the scaffolding wasn't perfect, with a few garbage bags tied to its underbelly, a dry work space could be formed.

But how to talk to diplomats and sources? To some, the word had gone out. An Eastern European staffer who usually spoke to me at the pre-fabricated stakeout now came outside; another even slipped me a draft statement which I went over the Fed Ex to scan and put online. One block further west was Grand Central, with its long lines for the toilet. Some, it seemed, had taken to sleeping in the stalls.

Another guy I met slept down by the river, in a small park by the FDR Drive just north of the UN. He stored the tent he used in a locker at the New York Sport Club on 48th Street during the day, in the same building as the French and UK mission and the even larger office of Ng Lap Seng's and Frank Lorenzo's South South News. 

I had been banned many times from the building, most recently when Ban went to sign the condolence book for the Paris nightclub shootings. The French mission hadn't wanted me to be there. What was their role in this ouster from the UN?

   Even my river friend suggested that I write to the US Mission. They had to be for free speech, right? The Ambassador, Samantha Power, had been a journalist herself. I shot one rung lower, to Power's deputy David Pressman. He covered Africa in the Security Council, was said to have a janjaweed saddle from Darfur in his office in the US Mission building, which had no windows up to its eighth or ninth floor. I'd never been to the mid floors, only to the penthouse ballroom for receptions.

  The former Deputy Permanent Representative for Management and Reform, Joe Torsella, had helped me a few times, with information about the Sri Lankan general I had pursued, Shavendra Silva. After Torsella left, to prepare for a run for State Treasurer of Pennsylvania, I'd never once talked to his successor, a woman named Isobel Coleman. She would come into the UN to give short speeches offering praise, then leave. She'd said nothing about the arrest and indictment of former PGA John Ashe -- something even Torsella, and definitely Mark Wallace and his recess-appointment boss John Bolton would have done.

   Obama liked the UN. So what if a journalist was in the street? But I tried with Pressman, and to his credit he responded. Everything would have to be through Isobel Coleman, he said. Great, I told him, the Government Accountability Project, which defended whistleblowers like my friend Tony Shkurtaj from when I first got to the UN, had already written to Coleman urging action. Pressman shrugged. It seemed they didn't like to be pressured, at the US Mission.

  A woman from a wire service, who only filled in sometimes, came by and spoke with me in the rain. Have you tried CPJ, she asked, referring to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Actually, I had - even before finally going to sleep after the ouster I'd written to CPJ's Joel Simon. I'd been told to contact a Rob Mahoney, and I did. Then nothing. No response at all.

  CPJ came to the UN to launch, as they called it, reports about countries. They did this in the clubhouse of the UN Correspondents Association. Mahoney seemed thick as thieves -- literally, in terms of theft of exclusives -- with Reuters' Lou Charbonneau. Still, a journalist thrown in the street? I expected them to do something. But it was not to be.