Obama Snubs Foreign Press

International TV reporters get shut out of Obama's Grant Park rally

Apart, perhaps, from the unusually mild weather, nothing seemed out of the ordinary this morning when Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago made his round past the various international media outlets that had set up shop in Millennium Park.

The Bean reflected and deformed the compact Mayor and the crowds that flocked around him; Chicagoans passing by asked him for photographs, and he posed patiently; the radio and television correspondents that had been granted an interview asked all the predictable questions – “Is Chicago ready for this event?” “What’s the significance of this event?”; Daley’s answers were similarly predictable, if perhaps somewhat presumptuous –“This is an event to celebrate [Sen. Barack Obama’s] victory,” he said: “And that’s a very significant thing; people want to be part of history.”

But, as a Swiss television reporter pointed out, the European media would like to be “part of history” too, and, right now, they weren’t. Because, hold on a minute—Millennium Park? Wasn’t the Obama rally going to be in Grant Park? Then what were all these foreign broadcasters doing here, in the shade of the Bean? Shouldn’t they be out at the five-story riser set up across from the stage where Obama will be speaking this evening—and where the crowds are expected to be?

They should. And they would—if they could.

Bill Dunlop is president and CEO of Eurovision Americas Inc, the American branch of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the largest association of national broadcasters in the world. According to Dunlop, foreign media interest in this election day is unprecedented.
“All major television networks in European countries are hosting special overnight election programs”, Mr. Dunlop said, adding that “the entire European press corps” is in the United States right now, with correspondents in Washington, Phoenix, and Chicago. Overall, EBU operates sixty-eight fiber circuits between the United States and Europe to carry their broadcasts, compared to only twenty-five on 2004’s election night. Forty-five EBU members—all the major public television networks from Germany, Italy, Spain, and France, as well as “most of Eastern Europe, and the Russians”, have correspondents reporting from Chicago tonight, and they rotate on EBU’s seven stand-up positions in order to give audiences back home a live impression of what’s happening in Grant Park—except that they are not exactly in Grant Park.

“We applied for eight positions on the riser,” which holds eighty positions in total, at $1000 per spot, Dunlop said, “and we were told by the Obama campaign last Thursday, five days before the event, that we were given only one. Obviously we cannot possibly rotate forty-five correspondents on one position.”

Pleas to the Obama campaign about “the huge interest of European audiences” in tonight’s event “all fell on deaf ears”, Dunlop said. The result: EBU is now broadcasting from Millennium Park, far away from tonight’s action and excitement. (Said Dunlop: “The Obama campaign has underestimated the huge interest in the event.” He added that EBU had applied for four positions at the McCain rally in Phoenix, and was assigned the requisite number—even though the McCain event is hosted inside a hotel ballroom, as opposed to the much larger scale Obama event outside.) The Obama campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The city of Chicago, meanwhile, proved of little help, declining the EBU’s request for a spot nearer Grant Park. When asked, by that same Swiss reporter, how Mayor Daley could “explain such a disaster” (the disaster being that “the European media are outside, unable to report on the biggest event in recent history”), the mayor raised his hands in a “I-didn’t-do-it” manner and replied: “Secret Service! Secret Service!”

“The US Secret Service does all the credentials of all the media. I have nothing to do with it. I don’t handle PR, that’s not my job,” Daley said.

Not his job—and not his problem either. “I love my city, we are very proud, and we welcome you to our city,” he told the disgruntled reporter; and therefore, he wished not to be pestered about such trivialities as a broadcast location. “You should be happy you’re here”, the mayor said—upon which he excused himself, and all but disappeared into the glaring sun.

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Lynn Berger is a freelance writer based in New York City.