New York, Jan. 30 — So many dignitaries and famous people, so many captains of industry, heads of state and assorted politicians. Exactly how many, however, nobody knows, but there are at least 2,500 and probably more, and the number depends on who is counting. Anyway they meet once a year as the World Economic Forum, although always with slightly different rosters. It depends on who s up and who s down, or who s been disgraced, lost their jobs, or been thrown out of office since the last meeting. In the past they always met in Davos, a nice little Swiss Alpine village, but starting tomorrow they meet for the first time in New York. I am here as a journalist, and already I have a bad feeling about this. I would rather be back in Davos.
Jan. 31 — My bad feeling is confirmed. I find I am part of the “reporting press,” and not the “participating press,” and so I can get only an orange press pass and not a white one. The orange pass will not get me into any of the meetings; it will not even get me into the Waldorf, where most of the meetings take place. For that I would need a white pass, and be a member of the “participating press.” I think that means I would have to be someone the Davos people would like to see hanging around the Waldorf lobby, Diane Sawyer, for example, or Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. Even Geraldo Rivera might do. Important people show up at Davos — everyone still refers to this as Davos — to feel good about themselves, and confirm their own importance. If they spot Diane or young Arthur –actually Geraldo would be a little dicey — they will know they are in the right place. There are other important people there just like them. That is the way things work.
But no matter; something big is happening elsewhere. My daughter calls to tell me she is going into Roosevelt Hospital to give birth by caesarean section. But I am not to worry, she says, and she will keep me informed. Meanwhile I am supposed to interview Pascoal Mocumbi, the Prime Minister of Mozambique. I think of canceling, of course. Who can conduct an interview at a time like this? On the other hand, the interview is at 4:30, and the c-section is scheduled for 7, and if I show up at the hospital I will only be in the way. So I do not cancel, and it is just as well that I do not. I have been in Africa enough to know that most of its politicians belong in jail, but I have heard that Mocumbi is a good man, and it turns out that he is.
Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal in 1976, and as a member of Africa’s revolutionary generation, Mocumbi helped bring it about. In between his political activities, meanwhile, he went to medical schools in Switzerland and France, where he specialized in — and this is the best part — obstetrics and gynecology. Consequently I ask him what I am supposed to ask him — why is he at Davos, and how are things going back home — and then we go on to c-sections. He explains them to me, and says he wouldn’t mind delivering a baby now himself. I think about asking him if he’d like to go to Roosevelt Hospital with me, but then decide against it. After all, he is a Prime Minister.
Later I wait by a phone. At 10:20 P.M. my son-in-law calls. He tells me mother and baby are doing fine, but he sounds a little dazed, and I want more information. Then, an hour or so later, my daughter calls from the recovery room, and says she’s OK, and the baby is, too, and that he weighs 10 pounds, 9 ounces. When she hangs up I start to cry.
Feb. 1 — I write the piece about Mocumbi and Mozambique. Then I go to the hospital, and see my daughter and grandson. His name is Luke, and a wonderful nurse from Jamaica tells me that at 10 pounds, 9 ounces he is something of a hospital celebrity. Then I remember that his mother weighed less than half that when she was born, and I start to cry gain.
But duty calls, and I go back to hovering around the Waldorf. The big buzz among the Davos people is the party that Lehman Brothers is giving for 200 of them tonight at the Four Seasons restaurant. Invitations are much sought after. Elton John will entertain, and, according to the Times, Lehman Brothers will pay the old queen $1 million to do it. Consequently I think about revising the Mocumbi story, and pointing out what you could do with $1 million in impoverished Mozambique. Davos people, after all, are forever carrying on about helping the poor and oppressed, and they love to talk about making things better. It even says, “WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM: Committed to Improving the State of the World,” on the black canvas bag I was given along with my orange press card.
I decide, however, not to revise the Mocumbi story. I would only seem churlish if I did. But then I remember the Davos “Communications Team” has offered to help members of the reporting press “secure access to top personalities” who are at the Waldorf meetings, and I think about asking for an interview with the actor Alec Baldwin. His official Davos biography lists his many political activities — Democrats for this, and Democrats for that, and so on — but none of his movies, and I think he once said he would leave the country if Bush were elected.
On second thought, however, interviewing Baldwin doesn’t seem like such a hot idea, either, and so instead I hang around near the Waldorf. The Police Department has promised “zero tolerance” for misbehavior by anti-Davos demonstrators, and there are cops all over Midtown. Many of them are roly-poly. When the Police Department decided to enlist more women and members of minorities, it said it would never lower entrance standards, but almost immediately it did. That’s why there are now so many roly-poly cops in New York, especially when they are women.
Feb. 2 — My managing editor asks me to cover a press conference on the possible expansion of the European Union, and, good soldier that I am, I oblige, although I know nothing about the European Union, and cannot think of a single question to ask about it. On my way to the press conference, however, I see a colleague, a South African journalist who lives in London, but gets around a lot, and calls himself “a hack.” I tell him my problem, and he gives me a quick fill: the EU has 15 members; Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are sure to join next; Turkey is a good bet to follow, although Greece and Germany oppose that, and so on. At the press conference later I get a couple of quotes — one from the Austrian Finance Minister, and one from the Polish Finance Minister — and then I write my story. Almost all of it, of course, is based on what my friend, the hack, told me, but what’s so bad about that? How do you think the New York Times‘s Tom Friedman writes all those knowledgeable columns after spending only fifteen minutes in some foreign country?
Feb. 3 — I begin my day at Roosevelt Hospital. Then I talk to some cops. They tell me about the anti-Davos demonstration yesterday, all of which, I am happy to say, I missed. In turn, I tell the New York cops what the Swiss cops did when demonstrators turned up in Davos last year. The Swiss cops collected cow manure from near-by farms, and mixed it in with the water in their water cannons. I am unsure if they ever used the water cannons, but I suspect it was a powerful deterrent. The New York cops say it was also very imaginative, and they speculate about getting the mounted police to provide some horse manure, and then do something similar.
Meanwhile, the people who have organized the meetings at the Waldorf are becoming terribly upset. My colleague, the hack — his name is Roman Rollnick — is responsible. He wrote a story about the anger felt by the hundreds of reporters here, many of whom traveled from abroad, because they were being excluded from the meetings and sessions. When Colin Powell, for example, turned up to debate world issues with, among others, the Secretary General of NATO, the Prime Minister of Australia, and the French, Turkish and South Korean Foreign Ministers, reporters were kept way. (Two Times reporters were allowed to listen, but that’s another story.) Worse, the organizers then put out press releases with their own versions of what Powell and the others said. In journalistic circles, this is called managing the news.
Roman’s story appeared on page one of the Earth Times, the newspaper we both work for, under the headline “Media Apartheid.” It quoted the angry reporters, and identified them by name, and said some were so annoyed that they had packed up and gone home. The Davos organizers do not like publicity like that, and when Earth Times turned up in and around the Waldorf early this morning, they confiscated the copies.
Mind you now, I am not making any of this up. There were some 5,000 copies of the paper printed, and they tried to snatch or trash each one. Earth Times was being delivered to some 1,400 rooms at the Waldorf each morning, along with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, but the organizers of the conference stopped that. When a young Earth Times reporter tried to drop off copies of the paper at the Intercontinental Hotel, across the street from the Waldorf, they grabbed them from her arms.
Earth Times was founded eleven years ago by Theodore Kheel, the labor negotiator, and Pranay Gupte, a former New York Times reporter. It is published by the Earth Times Foundation, and its staff is made up either of journalists who once worked for other publications — think Newsweek, Forbes, Reuters, Financial Times, New York Times — or young people just starting out. The old journalists — I am one — work there because we like it, and have our expenses paid when we got to faraway places, and are not told how and what we must write.
This last, I suspect, is what upset the conference organizers. Apparently you are either for them or against them. As it says on my black canvas bag, they are “committed to improving the state of the world,” and they cannot tolerate anyone, or anything, that suggests otherwise.
Feb. 4 — The conference organizers say it was all a mistake. If anyone confiscated copies of the paper it was only done in error. They are lying, of course, but no matter. Meanwhile I write a story after hearing AFL-CIO president John Sweeney say that the Enron collapse signifies the end of America as we know it. Then my daughter calls from the hospital. She says she and the baby are coming home tonight.
(John Corry is TheAmericanProwler.org’s At Large columnist. He is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.)