There are many dozen staff, journalists and crew who are quite thankful the massive operation that is a prime ministerial trip to America is just about over.
If you saw any footage of Julia Gillard’s events to Washington and New York over the last couple of days, spare a thought for the poor cameraman who had to lug his equipment through up to three security check points per event, with up to six events in a day.
The post-September 11 security regime has hit US government facilities and principals even harder than the “p-rno-scanners” hit airports.
The Secret Service protecting the US president conduct five-day advance background checks on anyone coming within 100 meters. Don’t think you’re going to get closer than those last few meters though. The Australian media scrum, where the journalists try not to stick their voice recorders too far up the prime minister’s nose, will never again happen over here.
Hillary Clinton’s security took on a life of it’s own at the State Department-hosted event for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. One scanner, x-ray and equipment check to get in the building. ID must be a passport or US issued. Oops, someone left their passport on the bus, back we go. Then we’re taken into an oval-shaped room — very popular in pseudo-Independence era refurbishments — called the treaty room, where Gillard and Clinton will stand behind velvet rope and please respect that they will take no questions.
Another scanner, x-ray and equipment check to go from that already-secure floor to the main auditorium. No, hold sir, you need to step over here. Another pat down.
Every piece of equipment must be turned on and appear functional to verify that it’s not a bomb. If it’s going near the president, then the dogs take a sniff too. Journos carry a lot of equipment to do our job, and crew even more.
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Did you think you were going to see some behind-the-scenes interaction between famous people? They’re swept into the buildings by underground carparks and the first we see of them are walking side-by-side all-a-smiles from a door where all the real action has already taken place.
It’s a shallow view from the pool.
Then we pack up and move to the next location and wait.
Gillard was, and usually is, willing to take questions from journalists, but only one of the people she met — Senator McCain — was willing to take questions themselves. To be diplomatic, that means Gillard can’t either.
The routine two-for-two question deal, where visiting and home-town journalists collectively get to ask two questions of the two leaders, was knocked down by the White House at the last minute due to the president’s domestic vulnerability.
Only two events on Gillard’s US trip were not leveraged for television coverage: her meetings with the nation’s chief spook James Clapper and chief media baron Rupert Murdoch. One can almost imagine the prime minister’s office asking anyway: “Howzabout just one snapper?”
It’s a little sad then that the media market most favourable to mindless footage, which also happens to be the people Gillard wanted her message of Australia’s leadership and prosperity to reach, didn’t run any of it.
Journalists travelling with the prime minister scoured the local papers for mention of her arrival and multimillion dollar contribution to Vietnam War education. It was a picture and caption, buried in the metro (local news) section, where the head of a G20 government was listed behind a guy named “Scruggs”.
The instantly iconic shot of Barack Obama and Gillard hand-balling a football to each other, taken by the White House’s official photographer, didn’t pique any American media interest either.
Gillard’s message did get to the right people, at least those with the money and power. But some would be right to question what press access to these trips, at a cost to Australian media of around $10,000 per journo, is really worth other than ratings.