WASHINGTON – Privileged aliens,armed with pens,recorders and cameras get into their offices at 3 a.m. to report on the latest events related to their countries many time zones away.
A foreign journalists' target is neither to write a story with pretensions to being a masterpiece,nor is it to get an enormous number of bylines. He – and they are nearly all men – is not looking for a sit-down interview with Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie. He most likely did not rush to the National Mall during the 4th of July celebration,pushing aside patriots for a glimpse of the fireworks,because it wasn't a holiday back home.
About 3,000 foreign journalists work in the United States,according to the U.S. Foreign Press Center,which organizes briefings,provides work space and gives them other help. There is no breakdown on how many are here,in New York at the United Nations or elsewhere.
Those in the capital crave a chance to get President Bush to speak about foreign policy regarding their home country. They never hesitate to chase U.S. administration officials for a comment. They may have greater experience than many American journalists,but due to access limitations at the State Department and the White House,foreign journalists often must use secondary sources,watching Fox News or CNN coverage of official briefings.
“The United States are involved in almost all the conflicts all over the world,and it has troops almost all over the world. And of course we are interested in what this most important and powerful country is doing,” said German Press Agency Bureau Chief Laszlo Trankovits.
Trankovits has worked for Germany's largest news agency as a foreign correspondent in Iran,Iraq,Lebanon,Syria and Israel as well as in Central Africa,Latin America and Western Europe. He is convinced that Washington remains the most difficult place in the world to cover.
“We just want to be treated like American journalists are treated in Berlin,Paris and London,” Trankovits said.
“You don't have lack of information; you have as much information as you want,” Trankovits said,but “the access to the White House is extremely limited. We are not informed about briefings in advance,or informed an hour before. If we are informed about a meeting with a president,we are informed two hours before.”
Becoming indignant at having TV as the only source to listen to what the U.S. administration says,Trankovits said,“That's unacceptable – that's absolutely unacceptable!”
Egypt's Nile News Channel Bureau Chief Mohamed Elsetouhi said his work “was easier with the Clinton's administration” because “not only the journalistic pool was allowed to attend any meeting.”
The pool,a small group of reporters and photographers,covers events when the president or other news source limits access. The pool must share information and photos with all other reporters,but it means most reporters don't witness events for themselves.
After Sept. 11,2001,Elsetouhi said he became one of those few foreign journalists who can interview any U.S. State Department official without having to follow bureaucratic regulations: writing inquiry letters,making dozen of phone calls and beating down the officials' doors.
“I want to talk to them,and they also want to talk to me,” said Elsetouhi,who interviewed former secretary of state Colin Powell three times – unusual not only for a foreign journalist but also for an American.
Another foreign journalist,Sunjoon Kim,deputy editor of the Seoul Broadcasting System,has an opposite view: “It's almost impossible to talk to Bush or [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice. We sent letters asking for an interview with Defense secretary,State secretary and we never got a reply,” Kim said.
Kim was an SBS staff correspondent for 15 years before he got a rare chance for a three-year journalism trip to Washington. Assigned to cover U.S.-Korean nuclear and foreign relations during the remaining year of his stay here,Kim said Washington “can be called the capital of the world.”
“It is the best place in the world to know how the world is moving,” he added.
As chief correspondent for Russian Public Television,Alexander Panov said Americans have a lot of stereotypes about Russia,which are “factors of the foreign policy.”
For example,he said Americans believe that “Russia is a destitute country,a soil for mafia,” which he,as a Russian citizen,does not believe. Panov described current U.S.-Russian foreign relations as an “epoch of the cold peace.”
After working in the United States for more than two years,Panov said Washington is a rough city to cover: “You are allowed to shoot inside the White House or a State department,but on really,really rare and special occasions only.”
Qinduo Xu,China Radio International chief correspondent,has spent only six months covering U.S.-China foreign policy,but he outlined ideas ventilated by his foreign colleagues.
“Whenever the United States speaks,the world listens. As a reporter,you can’t miss it,” Xu said.
The Chinese journalist said U.S. reporters like to portray China as a communist country,“which in their eyes is tantamount to a dictatorship.”
“Unfortunately,there are still many U.S. reporters who look at China with an old,Cold War mentality,” whereas communism is viewed in China as a “political philosophy,” Xu said. “We don’t see anything wrong with communism,which is more like a utopia,an ideally perfect society.”
Khalid Hassan is a Pakistani journalist who first came to the U.S. capital 30 years ago,then covered Europe,particularly Austria before returning. He said he still finds himself and his foreign colleagues to be outsiders: “The U.S. government and news outlets are mentally wedded to the U.S. media.”
Hassan works for the Friday Times of Lahore,a weekly English-language newspaper. He said the “U.S. government and other news outlets must realize that there is a world beyond America,and there are people here in the American capital who write for readers thousands of miles away.”
He said that whenever he covers U.S.-Pakistan relations he is confronted by Americans' lack of understanding or sensitivity about Pakistan and other cultures.
“Americans are not curious about other cultures. The world has shrunk and become small,and the Americans need to broaden their outlook,” Hassan said.
Despite the difficulties,the foreign journalists say they like their jobs.
“Though I only have to stay in Washington for three years,I would love to stay here for another five,six.” Kim said. “Because this will give me a chance to learn more about the United States and the government.”
And Elsetouhi said he wakes up every morning thinking about the news and how he and others cover it.
“My job is only to tell my audience what happened and what was said,” he said. “It's my lifestyle. It is not just for work,it's my personal interest: following the news,what's been said,what's been done. It's my profession,and I have no idea how to do anything else.”