Why journalists in the State Department are led through the kitchen and how diplomats behave outside the cells
“He kept his piercing gaze on me. I looked back with challenge ”. These lines could be the beginning of a tearful romance, but we are talking about a press briefing by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the US State Department. Whether he really looked at me, and not at some other of the journalists sitting next to him, I don’t know. I would like to think that I did not show weakness. But all in order.
On Tuesday, the day after the Summit of the Norman Four, Lavrov arrived in Washington to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump. I was assigned to cover the event. I have not worked inside the State Department, and this experience turned out to be incredibly interesting.
Representatives of accredited media can attend a press event. At the entrance there is a check with metal detectors, and they also ask for two identity documents. For example, a driver’s license and a press card. A temporary pass card is issued at the reception, but there were so many journalists at the event that when we arrived, all the cards were already distributed. We had to wait until new ones were brought. Meanwhile, the main group of journalists has already been taken to the hall where the press approach was taking place. In 10 minutes the cards were brought, and we were taken separately.
It is interesting that even with a day card, without escort of media office workers, you cannot take a single step. And it’s good, because the operator and I didn’t have to go through those confused corridors - we would definitely be lost there. If the main group was led to the left in the corridor, for some reason we went right. I even asked if we were going to the same event.
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In the end, we went to the freight elevator, obviously, so as not to scratch the “front” elevator: we had a special suitcase with a camera and a tripod in a bag. We left on the last eighth floor and almost immediately found ourselves ... in the kitchen! In size, it was not inferior to the kitchens of some American restaurants, about which we had previously made stories. Gourmet desserts stood on one of the surfaces - it’s a pity that I managed to photograph only after the event when there was nothing (I note that the State Department employees did not like that I and another journalist took pictures there).
And from the kitchen we got into an incredibly pompous (sorry, for a pun, Mr. Pompeo) hall, where in addition to crystal lamps, velvet tapestries, fireplaces, paintings and gilding on the ceiling, there were Christmas trees. Several American and Russian journalists were already sitting in the hall. Before me, a Russian taught an American to correctly say the phrase "how are you?"
Meanwhile, employees of the State Department handed out headphones to Americans with receivers, which should have simultaneous translation from Russian into English: Russian representatives abroad almost always speak Russian deliberately, focusing on the domestic market, so to speak. For myself, I was glad that, unlike representatives of almost all other American media, I had to twice reject the proposed device.
High-ranking guests arrived without delay. First - escort of the heads of foreign departments, several people in military uniforms of the USA and Russia, then - press secretaries Morgan Ortagus and Maria Zakharova. Both were by no means dressed in a strict diplomatic dress code: very high heels, cocktail dresses, and bright makeup.
The last to enter the hall were the heads of foreign affairs agencies. I already told the contents of conversation earlier. I only note that the atmosphere was really friendly. Pompeo and Lavrov called each other by name - Sergey, Mike. Despite opposing positions on many issues, they did not argue with each other. There was an impression that on a personal level, they, like colleagues, have mutual sympathy, but both understand that everyone is simply doing their job.
In parallel, I followed the spokespersons. Ortagus listened carefully to the boss, while Zakharova took a photo on the phone and spent most of the time on the screen. As it turned out, she clarified the words of her boss.
Lavrov turned out to be more talkative, unlike his American counterpart, and spoke almost twice as long. Journalists were able to pose only four questions, and each time Ortagus and Zakharova, alternately giving the floor to the American or Russian media, knew the channels and journalists in person and by name. From the USA, they were journalists of the conservative Fox News channel and the Washington Post, critical of the White House, from Russia - Kommersant and the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (that is, the Rossiya channel - this is the disreputable abbreviation Zakharova chose). Therefore, I suppose that these reporters are constantly covering the events in the State Department / Russian Foreign Ministry.
After the meeting, the journalists took pictures in the hall, discussed the event, and in the end they asked everyone to leave the hall. Most media representatives traveled to the editorial offices or followed with Lavrov, who later met with President Trump in the White House.
But we had to go to the position for inclusion, so we were assigned to a separate employee of the State Department to lead us there, to another part of the building. And here another surprise awaited us. I heard that she was called by the name of Nina, and asked where she was from. As it turned out, the girl was born in the United States, but her mother is from Chernivtsi, and her father (ethnic Russian) lived in Odessa before emigrating. Her surname is also very Ukrainian. She doesn’t speak Ukrainian, but it’s not so bad that there is a Ukrainian in the State Department, right?
The original column is published on the website. Ukrainian service “Voices of America”.
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