The media circus came to town. They may still be here as you read this.
Circuses are supposed to be fun, and this one has been. For those who missed or are
missing it: tant pis.
Dennis Gray of The AP in Bangkok had it right in the mid-80's. A sign on his office
wall, according to one of his aging pals who was in town, read: "Pol Pot - Get
him in the story!"
Mr. Pot has come to the fore - somewhere - and guess what? The hacks have flooded
Cambodia from all over the planet.
All of this says that Pol Pot still has drawing power. It also says that the rest
of the planet doesn't give a twit about Cambodia and hasn't a clue what's going on
It's not the journos fault; many of them would rather be somewhere else, and they
have been worrying about whether they can make it in time to Hong Kong by Monday.
But others in the press corps love coming back, having covered the war here for more
than three decades. They've seen some frightening history and, for better or worse,
it changed their lives.
Tuesday last week the Grey Tops were sitting at the FCC when the shooting started.
The youngsters ran off. Two Dons - Jimmy Pringle of The Times of London and Newseek's
Ron Moreau - at first thought, "Oh? Khmer New Year. Must be someone shooting
at the frog who is going to eat the Moon." The date clicked in and then they
thought: "No, must be for the Queen's Birthday." Two minutes later when
they realized that it was serious fighting (probably by the time Matt Lee was taking
a fateful left turn on Norodom from St 178 only to get two bullets thru the windshield)
Jimmy and Ron decided to order another drink and watch the fireworks from the breezy
porch of the Club.
Matt Lee has since confessed that it was perhaps one of the stupidest things he has
done in his life - that left turn straight into gun fire. Jimmy Pringle later told
Lee when he was bitching about the pain: "Your arm might be hurting now, but
that was a very shrewd career move."
Seth Mydans of The New York Times also went to check out the firing but lost his
glasses. He's a grey top too and glasses are part of his survival kit.
But the shooting didn't play well. Where's Pol Pot was still the reason so much money
could be spent on sending all the old friends back for a visit.
One editor said, "Unless you see Pol Pot face-to-face, there's no story."
Another said: "Shooting in town? So what. There was gunfire in Columbia yesterday
Greg Davis, the Time photographer, rolled in June 28 from Japan. His first comment
was: "You should see what they are writing," as he looked at his old pals
of three decades, "It's all crap."
A Korean reporter, who probably happened to be here by chance because of Grandma
Hun, stopped by the Post and asked: "What's Pol Pot's address and telephone
Then there was the Cristiane Amanpour rumor which spread like wildfire. She's coming,
they said, followed by a bureau-by-bureau rundown of who was hated in CNN and what
their inexcusable faults were, with one reporter wondering - appropriately - why
Peter Arnett wasn't the man who should be on the scene to cover Mr. Pot.
The bottom line is that they are all here, or were, and they are a great bunch. They
don't mind a good rashing. They're are bored because there is no imminent Pol Pot.
Why not dig into a good verbal fight. They don't accept that most of the world hates
them, that journalists are a mistrusted class, that the press is a bunch of bollocks,
that they haven't a clue what the "real issues" are. They do know that
people like to read, those that can, and so the industry is self-perpetuating because
there are so many word junkies on the planet. People still buy papers in spite of
their love of hating them.
The circus in-town has included quite sharp human beings who are, for the moment,
under-employed and over-paid by the New York Times, Newsweek, Ch. 9 Hong Kong, The
Chicago Tribune, The Age, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Stern, News Limited,
the Sunday Times of London, VOA, The Los Angeles Times, Asiaweek, Time, ITN, BBC,
Fuji, Asia Works, the Guardian , the Washington Post and God knows who else - its
been impossible to keep track.
Sadly, all of them missed the real story. But that one doesn't sell. It was the shooting
in Phnom Penh last Tuesday, bringing the war to the capital once again, once too
many - who cares - that is on many Cambodian minds.
Pol Pot is, of course, a factor, but he's finished, he's been discarded by his own
people, long ago. The rest of the country has long since given him up as a lost soul.
The Khmer people pray he dies soon with adequate retribution.
They are a fun bunch, the foreign hacks. Many of them are here by order. Strangely
enough, most have a soft spot in their embittered hearts for Cambodia. Some are hoping
that Pol Pot bumps Hong Kong off the front page on July 1. They believe Cambodia
is a better story. Where else could you find such a tale about which so few have
even the slightest clue what the hell is really going on. The hacks admit it.
Y'all come back soon now, ya' hear. They hear it, but their bosses don't.