Tuesday, October 28, 2003

How I spent my presidential visit...

Here's how I spent the presidential visit...

My job was press liaison officer for the airport. That's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, known as NAIA, not Clark Airfield, as the Philippine press was reporting right up until the day of the visit!
After more than a week of overtime filled with meetings and site visits, I got to the airport at about 7 a.m. in advance of the 12:30 landing of Air Force One. I was supposed to take care of the 150-some Filipino press that planned to report from the arrival, and make sure the traveling American and International press (about 12 people) made it from Air Force One to the motorcade.
After I explained to the local media officers early that morning what route their press buses should take to not tromp through areas cleared by the Secret Service and arrive at a timely manner to be screened. Of course, they did the exact opposite.
We finally got them all sorted out about an hour away from the arrival. I suggested that after screening, we put them in a small gated area, complete with barbed wire, to hold them until they're all together, then I can send them to the press platform. (Cameramen first, so they get good positions.)
The Secret Service agents loved that idea. "Cool, a cage!" "We're not calling it a cage," I said, "let's call it the 'waiting area.'" "Right. Waiting area. Nice barbed wire."
The departure went much smoother. No protocol. No band. No light, either, as it was about 9:30 p.m.
The press, while a little frisky, was remarkably well-behaved after I explained to them what the ground rules were. Really, it was hard for them to get up the confidence to jump a rope with the Filipino's Presidential Security Group and Secret Service agents surrounding them. But what I did discover was that the poor state of the local media isn't just due to maliciousness, but they honestly don't have a _clue_. I got asked the most bizarre questions. They could have found the answers to these months ago....
"What time are they coming?"
"What kind of plane is that?"
When the backup plane carrying White House staffers landed: "Is that Air Force Two?" "No, it's the backup plane." "Then you call it Air Force Two?" "No, AF2 is whatever plane the Vice President uses." "So what is that?" "The backup plane." "But what is your technical name for it?" "The backup plane."
Later: "We called it Air Force One's Little Brother." "Whatever."
"That tail number is 28000. Is Air Force One's 28001?" "I don't know." "But doesn't it have a tail number?" "Yes." "Then what is it?" "I don't know. Could be anything." (Why do they care about the tail number?!?)
"Where is President Bush going after the Philippines?" "Thailand." "Not to Singapore?" "No, Thailand." "What is he doing in Thailand?" "To the APEC Summit, the whole point of this trip that has been reported for the past several months."
"What is President Bush doing tomorrow?" "He'll be doing a state visit in Thailand." "Who will he see?" "The Prime Minister." "What is his name?" "Thaksin." "How do you spell that?" "T-H-A-K-S-I-N." "Then what?" "He'll visit the King of Thailand." "What is his name?" "I think it begins with a G. How the hell should I know?"

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