NEW YORK – “Is the Ahmadinejad press conference really canceled?” I asked the
woman behind the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit desk at the United
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It was Thursday afternoon, and Ahmadinejad had just spoken to
the General Assembly. A magazine journalist, Dave, and I had heard a rumor that
the press conference was canceled, but wanted to make sure.
“Yes, but it
may just be postponed...we don’t know,” the MALU woman said. “But we can
escort you to the press conference area downstairs.”
During the week of
the UN’s General Assembly, reporters have to follow a complicated kabuki of
repeated security screenings and accreditations. Getting from point A to point B
in the building, due to security blockades and delegateonly areas, generally
requires a half-hour-long tour through the rest of the alphabet.
unless you are in a pressapproved area, most reporter movement around the UN
needs to take place with a MALU escort – a sort of information chaperone, if you
will, who is there to make sure no one gets cheeky. I mean, lost.
escort showed us into an elevator, which quickly filled up with approximately 20
members of the Iranian press. Members of the Iranian press are generally
conspicuous due to their near-uniform (pun intended) adaptation of the
“Ahmadinejad Dress Code”: gray suit, white shirt, no tie.
“So do you
think Ahmadinejad will give a statement?” Dave asked the crowd in the
A tall, smiling man with a camera laughed. “Weren’t you in the
General Assembly? Do you think he needs to give more of a statement than that?” We arrived at our destination
and the group piled out of the elevator.
Assuming we were all going to
the same place, we followed the Iranians.
Suddenly, our media escort was
nowhere to be found, and we were being led through a labyrinth of a windowless,
dimly lit, very off-thebeaten- track hallway. This was the land of the broom
closets and the fuse boxes. Right, left, left, maybe another right.
came into a room with a small television studio for UN TV. A quick survey of the
room revealed that, at least on first glance, we were the only Western
“He’s not with us,” one of the photographers said to
the MALU handler, jerking his thumb at Dave.
“Sir, you will have to
leave,” the MALU handler said to Dave. She looked me up and down. “You
“Why? What’s going on?” “This is a press conference only for
members of the Iranian media, and it’s time for you to go,” she said
“We’re not going,” Dave said. (Dave admits that he has a problem
with authority.) “I’m sorry,” I said, leaping in to play good cop to Dave’s bad
cop. “We were led here. We’re accredited members of the media.”
realized, would probably not be the best time to divulge my employer. Making
like I was gesturing toward my badge, I turned it around to face me.
“You’re not in the Iranian media, and you have to
“But this is the United Nations!” Dave said. “I thought every
nation was equal?” “Sir, do I have to get security to throw you two out? Because
that’s what I’m going to do.” She took us each by our forearms. We shook her
“Okay, go ahead. Call security,” Dave said. He leaned closer to
“She’s not going to call security.”
“Is there someone else we
can talk to?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s in charge,” the woman said, pointing
to another woman.
I called her over and explained our
“Just stand over here and don’t draw attention to yourselves,”
the second woman said firmly.
Fine by us. Problem solved.
UN security, two beefy guys with handcuffs.
“There they are, officer,”
the first media escort said triumphantly, pointing to us with the relish of a
witchhunter in Salem, Massachusetts.
The guy looked at me. From the look
in his eyes, he may have been thinking something along the lines of, “You’ve
gotta be kidding me.”
“Before you take us, that woman over there said
we’re fine to stay here,” I said. “Ask her.”
They did. She vouched for
us. Security left.
Now, at last, we were free to take in the “color”
elements of the exclusive story we were about to get from our imminent proximity
to the Iranian leader. We could note the wires hanging – ominously? – from the
ceiling, or look at the two Iranian women with covered heads, busily texting on
their cellphones in Farsi. There was a strange, unfamiliar sense of tension in
the air among the Iranian journalists – a far cry from the laid-back pre-press
conference mode more common in the UN. Then again, most of those don’t take
place in darkened rooms.
In the meantime, our clearly un- Iranian
appearance was garnering attention, with or without us attempting to draw it to
ourselves. We were on the receiving end of ample stares and glares from our
The camera-toting journalist from the elevator came over
to us. It was clear from his demeanor that he wasn’t going to bring up becoming
“Where are you from?” he asked, eyebrows
“I’m from New Jersey,” I
Which, technically, is true.
“You know that that’s not
what I mean,” he said, starting to reach for my press pass around my
How to respond? I wondered. “The Zionist Entity”? Or perhaps “The
Zionist Regime”? I stepped away from his hand. “The Jerusalem Post
?” he responded, incredulously. “Well, YOU have to
He leaned forward, somewhat menacingly.
“And you KNOW
“Do I?” I asked.
He walked away and started whispering to
another reporter. The second reporter then walked over to another man in the
requisite gray suit jacket and no tie, who looked over.
don’t have to wear a nametag or badge for you to know who they are. And there
was no ambiguity whatsoever, without introduction, that the guy approaching us
now was part of the Ahmadinejad security detail. And clearly, I – a 5’2” Jewish
woman from New Jersey – was a security risk.
“You have to go,” he said,
wearing what Dave would later call a “thug face.” “You have to go right
“She said we could stay,” I said, pointing at the woman across the
room who clearly no longer wanted anything to do with us.
“We have every
right to stay,” Dave said. “This is the United Nations. This is
But this isn’t really America, I thought, as the thuggy guy,
hands on his hips, breathed heavily in my face.
This is not America. This
is the basement of a multinational complex, where a staggeringly high level of
deference is being paid to the whims and fancies of a man being protested
against by hundreds outside. This is a place where the regular rules don’t
matter, and where regulations and standards are easily trumped by fear and
cowardice. This is an underworld.
The woman came over. “I’m sorry,” she
said to me. “They know who you are, and you have to leave.”
problem, I thought as I was escorted out. We all know who we are. We just don’t
agree on who has to leave.