Saturday, March 4, 2017

Spinning UN Eviction, Reuters Told NYT It Was OK, Defended Ng's Bribery Conduit

By Matthew Russell Lee, SeriesVideo III

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 – Weeks after the UN's eviction, the guy I'd contacted at the New York Times finally decided to come check it out. First I'd tried with the New Yorker writer who'd written a “Talk of the Town” about Inner City Press in 2011, and asked him to cover the eviction. We don't do that, he'd said, suggesting this Corey Kilgannon at the Times. And now Corey was coming - but I couldn't sign him in.

  I went down to wait out on First Avenue, then called a friend of mine when Corey showed up. My friend signed Corey in and we raced up to the Press Briefing Room, just before the noon briefing started. But Media Accreditation wouldn't let Corey in. He had his New York City press pass, but the UN likes to keep things in-house.

   I went in first and started asking questions, leaving the corruption ones for last. Half way through the briefing, or what seemed like half way since I didn't know when it would end, I heard a commotion in the back. They had let Corey in, and scribes turned to look him up and down, friend or foe, censor or rebel. I guessed we'd find out.

  I got to my corruption question, a new indictment against an official of Ng Lap Seng's South South News, and Dujarric said he'd had enough and walked out. You saw that? I asked Corey. He nodded. “I'm going to ask him about it,” Corey said.

  After the briefing I showed him how my pass wouldn't work on the turnstile to the second floor. I have to have a minder, I told him. We went back to Media Accreditation. We want to go see the second floor, I said. I was also going to show Corey the windowless fourth floor bullpen I was working from, but we ran into a guy who'd said he wanted to help. He could tell you more, I said to Corey. The guy agreed to talk with Corey in his cubicle. I stood outside - and saw when various of the United Nations Correspondents Association scribes, from Voice of America to Reuters to Pioli himself, came sniffing around. They invited Corey to meet with them in the other, back wing of the third floor. I sat on the floor by the escalator, charging my laptop and writing. The die was cast.

  More than an hour later Corey came out shaking his head. Those people really don't like you, he said. I'm not saying I'm not going to write the story. I'm just saying it's going to be different than I thought it would be.

  Different can be good, I said. My friend predicted Corey would end up writing nothing. “They'll lobby the Times,” he said. “Or it will come out like a freak show.” Or, I thought, both.

The freak show had begun. At the next day's noon briefing, the scribes filled the front row and they had a plan. Lou Charbonneau started it: “Since you say you're reviewing South South News,” he asked Ban's Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq, always eager to be liked, “will you be reviewing the finances of others accredited or seeking accreditation as media here?”

 Yeah, Lou's predecessor as Reuters bureau chief Evelyn Leopold said, what about bribery of media here?

  They had been tweeting that, that I covered the Tamil, or Western Sahara, because someone was paying me. Who? I told them I liked underdogs, even those under sanctions.

  Well, Farhan said, catching their drift, we are going to review things in a new way. So this was where it was going: use exposure of UN corruption as the pretext to go after those who expose and report about it.

  I raised my hand but Farhan wouldn't call on me. I started tweeting with one hand, reaching into my backpack with another. Finally I held it up, the UN Correspondents Association ball sponsor book. “So this,” I said, flipping it open to the UNCA pages bought by South South News, next to ENI oil and a purse company, “have you checked if it were in return for a photograph with Ban Ki-moon?”

  Farhan cut in: “The Secretary General takes photographs with a lot of people.” 

 “A lot of indicted people?” I asked.  This briefing is over, Farhan said. I went straight to the focus booth, first screamed some words that began with F, then began writing. Tomorrow they were supposed to evict my office. I waited for the video to go online, went down to the video archive shop in the basement and started editing. Would those in Congress or their staffers understand?