Monday, April 14
I was only asking
In the second of his dispatches from the million-dollar media centre at Qatar, Michael Wolff recounts how he angered the US right
The Guardian, April 14, 2003
... I was very popular, it seemed, in France, Canada, and Italy too.
The AP, Reuters, the Times, and the Nation were calling. What's more, I'd had to switch from the Doha Marriott to the Doha Ritz-Carlton for a faster internet connection to download 3,000 hate emails.
I'd lobbed my big question because it just seemed too obvious not to ask. Everybody here was having the same perfectly Groundhog Day experience: you woke up only to repeat the day before, and, no matter what you did or said or thought, you were helpless to effect a change in the next day. So every day everybody asked the same questions about Basra and the supply lines and the whereabouts of the WMDs and Saddam, and got the same answers. They were war correspondents after all (or trying to be). ...
We were in on the joke. We were the high-school kids who got it. The embedded reporters, on the other hand, were the rah rah jocks.
"General, is the war going well, or is the war going extremely well?" was the question we all knew we were here to ask.
("In a world where people are being blown up, it is difficult to explain that life at the Ritz is a kind of death too," said one of the Aussie reporters, contemplating our predicament. "Death by buffet.") ...
Everybody here understood. A roll of the eye. A curl of the lip. A silent scream. They were war reporters.
But I was not a war reporter. I did not have to observe war-time propriety, or cool. I was free to ask publicly (on international television, at that) the question everyone was asking of each other:
"I mean no disrespect, but what is the value proposition of these briefings. Why are we here? .... ... Why should we stay? What's the value of what we're learning at this million dollar press centre?"
It was the question to sour the dinner party. It was also, because I used the words value proposition, a condescending and annoying question - a provocation.
Still I meant it literally: other than the pretence of a news conference - the news conference as backdrop and dateline - what did we get for having come all this way? What information could we get here that we could not have gotten in Washington or New York, what access to what essential person was being proffered? And why was everything so bloodless?
My question, was met with a sudden, disruptive, even slightly anarchic, round of applause - not dissimilar to the whoops when a kid drops a tray in the school cafeteria - and I knew I was in a little trouble.
The question it turned out, spoke powerfully to people who think this whole thing (not just the news conference, but, in some sense, the entire war) is phony, a set-up, a fabrication, in which just about everything is in service to unseen purposes and agendas (hence my popularity in Turkey, France, Canada, and Italy, as well as among the reporters in the Doha press pool).