Friday, October 31, 2014

White House Charges $60K a Head for Next Charter; I Got a Bargain with Cuomo

Then Again, Watertown's a Little Cheaper to Get to than Beijing

For news organizations who want to cover President Obama's on his next swing through Asia, getting a seat on the press charter isn't a problem. Getting accounting to pay for the trip is another story.

The Washington Post reports each journalist who wants to span the globe with POTUS will first have to ante up $60,000 for a seat. And that doesn't include meals, hotels and so-called ground costs. That'll set the journos back another $10K or so. No word yet on whether the White House will include sodas and an in-flight movie to soften the blow.

That's a lot of samoleans to watch a lame-duck president commune with heads of state, but the big dogs will invariably be on the plane, though they'll be bringing fewer puppies along for the ride. Too many kibbles for a likelihood of not too many bits of news.

Back when I was a reporter for UPI in Albany in the mid-1980s, I took several day trips with Gov. Mario Cuomo as he made public appearances across the state. Interest in Cuomo was high, at a time when he still hadn't decided whether to run for president. UPI was still a viable news service then, at least in name, if not on its balance sheet (the company had gone Chapter 11 in 1985).

Getting a seat on the prop plane wasn't an issue. Only a handful of reporters would be on one of these trips, where you would sit across from him on a bench seat. Maybe he'd give you some news on the flight out--and that would be your story--rather than what Cuomo would actually speak about on the ground. The flight back to Albany was generally off the record or inconsequential; Cuomo would chat with us then about other besides politics.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which was in charge of the governor's plane would, every now and then, send a bill to my office, in essence charging UPI for letting me ride on a plane that was making the trip anyway. Typically, the bill was in the $200-$300 range. I dutifully put it in my manager's box. And it was dutifully forgotten by everyone, including the state. Just as well. UPI was never big on accounts receivable.

The White House, on the other hand? They don't strike me as IOU types. I suspect there may be a few UPI veterans there. They know better.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Filing Dispatches from the Valley of Death

Ebola Reporting Nothing Short of Heart-Rending, Courageous

Ebola has certainly grabbed its share of headlines over the last month, though I suspect it was still viewed with detachment by most Americans. That is, until yesterday, when word came of a Liberian man holed up in an isolation ward in a Dallas hospital. Now it's no longer one of those "African" problems, you know the kind that get a short mention in the wire briefs buried in a newspaper.

Fortunately, some media have ignored the xenophobia and have told the Ebola story with compelling renderings that provide the context for why thousands of foreign doctors and soldiers are pouring into Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to treat the afflicted and stop the virus's spread. It gives you some hope. But just as quickly you realize just what it is they are up against. And soon the hope begins to ebb.

That was my feeling after reading today's story from Adam Nossiter in The New York Times from a forlorn (is there any other) district in Sierra Leone, where he visited what the headline aptly calls "A Hospital from Hell."

“Where’s the corpse?” the burial-team worker shouted, kicking open the door of the isolation ward at the government hospital here. The body was right in front of him, a solidly built young man sprawled out on the floor all night, his right hand twisted in an awkward clench.
The other patients, normally padlocked inside, were too sick to look up as the body was hauled away. Nurses, some not wearing gloves and others in street clothes, clustered by the door as pools of the patients’ bodily fluids spread to the threshold. A worker kicked another man on the floor to see if he was still alive. The man’s foot moved and the team kept going. It was 1:30 in the afternoon.