Saturday, March 12, 2005

My Own Cheap Japanese Horror Movie

I almost didn't get out of bed this morning. I felt I had reached my breaking point, that I'd lost my hunger for reporting and that I should just give up.

I moped about, staring at random inanimate objects around my room as if I expected them to talk to me or something as I got dressed in my fine black suit.

Somehow I made it in to work at a decent hour, and I seriously considered not going to a press conference that would happen after a meeting between the Japanese Ambassador and a score of lawmakers, including Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, about reopening the Japanese market to American Beef.

Remember Mad Cow, that nasty stuff that results when you force cattle to eat each other? Well, Japan is scared of it, and they think we have it. But we don't, and we're trying to convince their government of it because we want the business. Plus, they love beef. You do too, right?

Well, I felt ill, both mentally and health-wise, but my editor gave me the look that said "cover it like you said you would, or die;" and I complied.

I arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building just in time to realize that this was not a press conference, it was a stakeout. The difference? A Press conference is held in a room, and there is some sort of order.

A stakeout is held in a hall outside a room, and is utter chaos.

Right after I'd taken up a position outside the meeting room, Sen. Roberts walks out and looks at me for a partial second and moves on without missing a beat. He walked to the end of the hall where the cameras and microphones were set up for him.

There was at least 20 reporters there, most of them Japanese. They must want our beef something fierce these days.

The japanese reporters crowded up around the senator with their tape recorders, so that I couldn't record him with my tape recorder at my side or just plain held out regularly.

So, I took advantage of my (almost) six feet of height and their, well, average of 5'4" and simply held my arm and tape recorder out over their heads. Good thing my deodorant held through.

Roberts finished up, and left. I spoke with his press secretary, all was good. I then leaned against a wall for 15 minutes waiting for the next lawmaker to exit the meeting room.

Then a whole gaggle of them just came out and lined up behind the microphone. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Wayne Allard of Colorado, the list goes on. Then the Ambassador came out. And the reporters did something that can only be accurately described as going completely apesh*t.

The ambassador said nothing as he stepped out of the meeting room, even though a dozen reporters were on him as he walked towards the microphone. He said nothing at the microphone, and walked right past it towards the elevators, where he stood and said nothing as reporters chased after him and cameramen ripped their cameras up off their tripods in case he said something. He didn't.

I had to grab the wall so that I wouldn't be washed away by screaming japanese reports as they flew after him in hopes they could quote someone other than evil yankee pig-dog politicians who might already have Mad Cow disease.

So as I clung to the wall, I realized that it was not unlike being in a GODZILLA movie, which I found being very funny.

He got on the elevator, not commenting, and was gone. A few reporters took off down the stairs to chase him. The senators wanted to start speaking again, but they had to wait for the cameras to get back into place, and were obviously bothered by the lack of attention and respect that the reporters had shown.

But something clicked when that ambassador walked by and all hell broke loose as I witnessed my first real media frenzy in person. I remembered what I love journalism for, I found that energy, that drive, that need to find the story and tell it to the world. I had the edge back, and not a damned thing was going to stop me.

Then another lawmaker stepped up to the microphone.

Representative Jerry Moran of Kansas, who represents my home district, was three feet in front of me. He spoke and walked off, and I chased him down and told him I was there to report for a few Kansas newspapers. Few things get a politicians attention like being on the spot before your constituents or getting an opportunity to tell them what they want to hear, and he was happy to grant me an interview.

And it was a good interview that provided more useful quotes-per-second than most interviews. I mean, I usually have to talk to a person for twenty minutes before they'll start giving me quotes like hedid. So either I was on the top of my game, or he was. Either way, between the Moran interview and the absolute gold Roberts gave the reporters -- including a plan to use cattle prods on Japanese politicians to get them to reach a decision on importing U.S. beef -- I had a great story.

Yes, that's right, use cattle prods on Japanese officials. His press secretary told me he meant it too, afterwards.

I can't make this stuff up.


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