Foreign Media Panel - Al Jazeera English, BBC, O Estado de Sao Paulo, Kyodo News
We have four distinguished journalists with us today representing national and international media. The format is going to be very simple. The first part of the format is almost over �'�' that's the part where I talk �'�' because nobody likes a chatty moderator.
Then I will ask each of �'�' after I introduce them, I'll ask each of our journalist guests to speak for a few minutes. I think you'll find the topic very interesting because it's a bit of a floating topic.
And I think we'll hear bits and pieces of different ideas both on how our colleagues here today evaluate which stories they should cover, how they decide how to cover them once the story's been selected, and perhaps a few comments on how successful they think the State Department is in trying to put out its message and delivering its public affairs function. And then, of course, we'll throw the microphone open to questions from the audience, which we look forward to.
And because we only have about 45 minutes, the panelists have agreed that we'll abbreviate their biographies. They're very distinguished, and they have a lot of interesting background. It's available, of course, on the website and in the conference material.
But first of all, beginning nearest to me, Patty Culhane of Al Jazeera English. She's the Washington correspondent for Al Jazeera English. Prior to Al Jazeera, she worked at MSNBC as the White House correspondent, and has traveled with the President both domestically and internationally.
Next to her, Kim Ghattas of the BBC. She's the BBC State Department correspondent. She was recently in China with Secretary Clinton. And prior to that, she was part of an Emmy�'award�'winning BBC team covering the Middle East.
Patricia Campos Mello of O Estado de São Paulo has been the Washington correspondent for her paper since 2006. And she has covered a variety of stories, ranging from the 2008 presidential election right up to the key foreign policy issues of today �'�' Afghanistan, Iran, Guantanamo.
And finally, Shinichiro Serita, who is newly arrived here about a month ago as the Washington correspondent for Kyodo News. He spent the previous three years in Beijing running the bureau there in the People's Republic of China.
And so without further ado, if I may, I'll ask Patty to start.
MS. CULHANE: Okay. Well, thanks for having me. One of the rules in TV is if an anchor asks a question and you don't know the answer, never lie because the audience will know. So I'm going to tell you the truth. I'm filling in for a colleague, and didn't know we were supposed to have opening statements. So I'm going to keep it really brief.
MS. CULHANE: Basically, if you're wondering, Al Jazeera English, I started about a year ago. A very different experience than working for NBC News in Washington, as you can imagine. I covered the military for six years in Norfolk, Virginia, and I recently went for the Haiti response. And I was on a ship.
And the difference between being NBC and Al Jazeera? Was pretty fascinating. I have huge fans in the Navy.
MS. CULHANE: But it's been a really interesting and eye�'opening experience working for an international network that's name begins with "Al," as you can imagine.
We actually find the State Department is our most accessible source when it comes to covering Washington. Everybody else hates us. But we're going to get there. Part of the problem is we're not seen in the U.S., so there's a lot of misperceptions about us. And we're trying to correct that.
But so far, I have to say, our State Department has been pretty open to us. I think some of you actually have watched us, you and four other Americans.
MS. CULHANE: But I'm huge in Bali, if anybody was wondering. No. So we're going to get there, but as far as the State Department, I think so far the access has been good. But I have more to say during questions because I'm completely unprepared.
MS. GHATTAS: I agree. If you don't know the answer to the question the anchor is asking, don't lie. Usually what I try to do is to say, "Well, the details are still coming in. We'll continue watching the story."
MS. CULHANE: Or, "That's a really stupid question."
MS. GHATTAS: Or, "It's a very interesting question."
I also work for an international organization. We have a very big, very diverse audience around the world at the BBC. I think we reach about 200 million, 215 million homes across the world.
So the way we decide what stories to cover is really dependent on what audience we're trying to target. We have audiences in Asia and Latin America and the Middle East, and the U.S. as well. So we cater to very audiences. And it's very difficult to say there is one rule that we follow to decide what story we're going to cover that day or not.
I've just started tweeting, and I have to say that even though I resisted it for a very long time, I find it a very interesting way of being in touch with the audience because I do get comments from viewers and listeners who say, "Oh, you're in Shanghai. Have you been to the New Zealand pavilion?" Or, "This is an article I wrote about the U.S. pavilion. What do you think?" So it's a very interesting way, actually, to be in touch with very diverse audiences from South Korea to Brazil.
Now, I have to agree with Patty. I think that access to State Department officials is quite good. We do get a lot of access as BBC. We are very happy with that.
But I find that what we get from the State Department goes from one extreme to the other. We're either flooded with information, with multiple e�'mails and constant notices to the press �'�' there's a lot of tweeting, a lot of stuff happening on Facebook as well; and then when it's a really sensitive issue, we find that officials very often completely clam up.
And that creates a void which we are then trying to fill by talking to other people, which creates a narrative which the administration may not like. Now, that's the rule of the game. But it's not always helpful to us that there is this void. I'll give you one very quick example.
We were traveling with the Secretary of State in the aftermath of the showdown between the administration and Israel following the settlement crisis and Joe Biden's visit there. The Secretary had spoken to the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. She had told him what the administration wanted to hear back from him, and they were waiting for a phone call.
We were traveling with her on the trip, and we were all waiting for that phone call. And every day the question was, has he called? Has Netanyahu called? Will he call? Will she call? Has he called yet? Is he going to call tonight? Is he going to call tomorrow? And it just took on a life of its own, which made it look like there was a complete radio silence between the two countries.
Officials traveling with the Secretary were hesitant to say more because they wanted to see how this was going to play out. But it meant that they were not in control of the narrative that we were watching unfold, until eventually they came out and said, "Well, actually, the Prime Minister and the Secretary may not be speaking, but officials at other levels are. And there is no radio silence between the two countries."
Just one more point that I'll make before handing over is that in the end, when you ask us, how are you doing putting out your message across, really the way we judge is by the results that you achieve. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.
And a very quick example as well is I was recently with the Secretary of State traveling to China. And at the end of the trip, we got a relatively positive briefing from some of the officials traveling with her about how they thought the meetings with Chinese officials had gone.
And they were sounding reasonably optimistic about what they might get from Chinese officials in terms of cooperation on condemning North Korea, or cooperation on Iran. And it's up to us to listen and report it, with all the caveats.
But in the end, what we are watching for is what are the Chinese going to do. I know it's pretty much stating the obvious, but it's good to remember that what you tell us isn't enough for our story.
We will be going to other sources, and we will be watching for the results, to see whether China is going to vote in favor of sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Security Council, whether China is eventually going to condemn North Korea's actions or not.
And I think I'll leave it there because I do realize that we're also on opposite sides of the divide, and we can't tell you too much about how we try to ambush you.
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: Well, I am going to start by saying I am not a TV person, unlike them. So I'm not really used to, when I don't know the answer to a question, how should I answer that.
So I work �'�' it's not an international. It's a Brazilian newspaper with a Brazilian audience, which is quite different than working for an international organization such as BBC or Al Jazeera. I'm writing for the public, the audience in Brazil.
And so access is a little bit more difficult because we have a very specific audience. And what I think I got here in 2006, which was quite interesting because I got to cover the campaign, and then the elections, and then I embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which was also an interesting experience.
And in all this period, the relationship between Brazil and the United States changed a lot. And this has been the most interesting thing to cover.
Even though we have a leftist government, President Lula got along very well with President Bush. They had a good personal chemistry, and this helped the relationship.
And when President Obama was elected, there was this �'�' as in other parts of the world, there was this euphoria and, really, excitement in Brazil about him.
But then, as time went by, that didn't very well. We've had a lot of disagreements in the last few months, which has been very interesting and very hard to cover, because of course I have much more access to Brazilian government officials sources. And we end up having much more the Brazilian version of things than the American version of things. I'm going to give you an example.
On May 17th, Brazil and Turkey brokered an agreement in Tehran for the nuclear fuel swap. And for the Brazilian government, which has, let's say, diplomatic ambitions and geopolitical ambitions, it was a big coup. It was, oh, okay. That's a victory. We managed to do something that they couldn't do back then in November when the atomic agency tried to do this.
In America, this was viewed quite differently. As a matter of fact, they ignored the agreement and went on to announce that they reached an agreement for sanctions at the U.N. Security Council the following day. And this really irritated the Brazilian government. They were really, really irritated.
So this started a war through the press which was quite ridiculous, to say the least, because none of them �'�' well, right after that, the Brazilian government leaked a letter that President Obama had sent to President Lula on April 20th. Right?
And the American government was, of course, very irritated about this because they leaked the letter. And they had �'�' the intention was to say, okay. See, there's a letter �'�' and the same letter was sent to Erdogan, Prime Minister Erdogan from Turkey �'�' saying what would be an acceptable agreement for a fuel swap. Right?
It wasn't saying that Obama endorsed the agreement. It was just saying what would be an acceptable. But this was used by the Brazilian government to say, see? The Americans said it was okay, and they stimulated us to do this.
But this was all done through the press because the letter was leaked to the press and then the American government felt very irritated by this. So they had a press conference with unnamed government officials.
So then we published �'�' of course, we participated in this press conference, and we published the story with those three unnamed government officials. Then the Brazilian government officials were really pissed, so they had a press conference with high government officials.
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: So this is how it's been developing, which is �'�' I mean, you can see that the communication is not going very well between both countries. But I might just say �'�' it's very important you have a good access here. Otherwise, we're being just fed information from one side.
Even though we talk to, let's say, staffers in Congress and think tankers, it is important to have �'�' to try to have better access, even though we know, we realize, we're not as important a news outlet as other international news outlets. But in such an important geopolitical issue, it would be good, too.
So I think I'm going to leave it at that. If you have any questions --
MR. SERITA: Yes. Hi. I'm working at Kyodo News for about 15 years, but I've been here in Washington just for a month. And before I came here, I was a correspondent in Beijing for three years. And during I was in Beijing, there was many things happening, like riot in Tibet and earthquake in Sichuan or Beijing Olympics, and I covered everything all the same.
But there are many sensitive issues that Chinese never want to be reported. That's why I got detained about 15 times during I was in Beijing. So I think I know very well about the real situation in China right now.
MR. SERITA: So today I'd like to speak about how Kyodo News covered the Chinese policy, and when we analyzed the Chinese policy, and also, when we provided commentary, how we did it.
So I think the firsthand experience is very important. For example, like when I was in Tibet, when I covered the riot in Tibet, it was very sensitive issue. That's why, when I arrived at the airport in the Tibetan areas, two officers are waiting for me. And they took a camera from me.
And they followed me everywhere I went, like at the hotel, in the lobby, they were walking around me and they rode the elevator with me. And they stayed in the room next to mine. And even when I went to the bar in the hotel, they sat down next to me.
MR. SERITA: And I feel sorry for them because they were always with me, and did nothing. So I ordered some beer for them. But they just drank a glass of water.
And the next day, I escaped from them and went to interview some monks, Tibetan monks. And they were so angry at me, and five soldiers had guns, used the master key, and broke into my room at 3:00 a.m. in the morning and detained me. And then the next morning I was put into the police car and driven out of the Tibetan areas.
And from this kind of experience, I think how the monks are, admire Dalai Lama and hate the Communist Party. I can understand very well, and the reason why that China is very sensitive to this issue. That's why I think the firsthand experience is very important for us, to provide commentary or analyze one country's foreign policy.
And also, I think when we cover one country's foreign policy, many times we start from the government announcement. And at that time, we have to judge this is propaganda or not because in China, many times that is propaganda.
So, for example, like I was in Xinjiang, Xinjiang, Urumqi, there was a huge riot happens July 5th last year. And I went there next day, and on 7th, there was a huge demonstration by Han people against the minority group, Uighurs.
And I look like a Chinese and I can speak Chinese well, so I headed over to the demonstration with them. And they have like steel pipes and knives and hammers. And when they found Uighurs, they attacked them.
And I think the reason why that demonstration happens is because of the failure of the policy of the Chinese government, because just after the riot occurred, they cut off the internet. So I stayed long�'distance call.
But for the foreign media, they set up kind of filing center so that we could use the internet. And they also provided some DVDs that show the Uighurs hit the Han people's head with bricks, and also the dead bodies with their throat cut.
And the Chinese government’s purpose is very obvious. They want to carry out massive propaganda that the riot was incited by Rebiya Kadeer. And I think the tactics was mainly to the U.S. that had given asylum to Ms. Kadeer.
But from the next day, the Chinese leaders used that divide and run images of dead bodies and the attack scenery, again in the newspaper and on TV. That excited to Han people and felt, we are attack this much, we have to attack back. And then the next day, that demonstration happened.
So I think when we see the policy, we have to see the truth of the heart of that policy, and this is �'�' whether the government is creating the propaganda or not. And after, we judge, and we have to decide we will cover or not. If so, and we decide how we report.
MR. RUTH: Thank you very much. Before I open it up for questions, I want to do a quick poll here since Kim confessed to being a serial twitterer. I was going to ask, Patty, for example do you use Facebook?
MS. CULHANE: I'm tweet�'free.
MR. RUTH: Tweet�'free. Do you blog?
MS. CULHANE: No. I'm so old�'fashioned.
MR. RUTH: No? Okay.
MS. CULHANE: I know I need to become modern and all of that, but �'�'
MR. RUTH: Not on my account, no.
MS. GHATTAS: I only started a week ago.
MS. CULHANE: I'm sure I'm going to eventually, some time in my life, have to tweet. I'm just really trying to put it off.
MR. RUTH: Very good. Kim, do you use anything else other than tweet? Do you blog or �'�'
MS. GHATTAS: No. We have very strict guidelines �'�'
MR. RUTH: You do?
MS. GHATTAS: �'�' in terms of what we're allowed to do with the BBC in terms of blogging or Facebooking, what we can do as BBC media representatives. So it took a long time to get my Twitter account approved, but I've got it and I'm going to make use of it.
MR. RUTH: And do you get feedback from your upper management about your tweets, just like you would about your stories?
MS. GHATTAS: Yes. Sometimes they call and they say, "We don't like that word you used."
MR. RUTH: They do?
MS. GHATTAS: No, they don't.
MS. GHATTAS: No, they don't, because obviously, if they trust me enough to go on air and speak live on camera, they would trust me to tweet. I mean, the difference between the two is that you tweet slightly into the ether until somebody reads it; whereas when you're live on camera, you're speaking to a presenter who can always quickly interject and say, "Oh, and I think you wanted to add this, or I think you perhaps you meant that," if you miss something out. There's always an editor who can catch a mistake if you've made one.
But the assumption is if you're good enough to speak on air, you can tweet.
MR. RUTH: Very good. Patricia, do you use social media?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: I tweet and blog.
MR. RUTH: You tweet and blog?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: Yes. We're supposed to, all the correspondents.
MR. RUTH: Do you like tweeting or were you a reluctant tweeter like Patty here?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: I prefer blogging, I will say. I think it's more fun, more interesting in the feedback; whereas the tweeting thing, I'm not �'�'
MR. RUTH: Because of the space limitation, primarily?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: Yes. Maybe I haven't learned to do it in the right way. I'm still working on it.
MR. RUTH: And Shinichiro?
MR. SERITA: In China, they block Twitter and Facebook. So I can't use it.
MR. SERITA: But there are some ways to overcome the block. And only like human rights activists, they have a way to overcome the Twitter; they use it. But I don't have it, so I couldn't use it.
MS. GHATTAS: I have a tip for you. I was with the Secretary in China, and I lost my phone. I was using my U.S. phone to tweet, and then I lost it in, of all places, the Great Hall of the People.
And I can just imagine some Chinese official going through all my contact details. But I found a website where you can tweet and circumvent the Chinese censors, so that's how I was able to tweet even though I didn't have a phone anymore because you can't actually access Twitter on the internet. So I'll give you the website.
MR. SERITA: Thank you.
MR. RUTH: Very good. All right. Questions? If there is a question, there are microphones set up on either side in the center aisle there. And if you also, of course, would identify yourself, if you wouldn't mind, when you ask your question. I've got several, but I'm going to give you an opportunity. Actually, I have one coming right here. Excellent.
QUESTION: Hi. I'm Susan Gigli from Intermedia here in Washington, D.C. I just have a question about what your impression is of citizen journalism and how it's affecting your work.
MR. RUTH: Does anyone here have a particular connection to citizen journalism?
MS. CULHANE: No. I don't do that, either.
MS. GHATTAS: Very, very old�'fashioned.
MS. CULHANE: It is, actually, I think, domestic media much more than it is in at least my channel because we are so spread out over the globe. And I think what you're seeing from the domestic point of view is that the resources, the pile of money, is just getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
Now, these companies are still making money. But the profit margins for news programming has been so insanely huge for so long that companies �'�' because media is corporate�'run, for the most part �'�' they've just gotten used to that pile of money. So they've seen so many cutbacks.
And I think part of my reluctance to tweet and do Facebook and all of �'�' and blog is because what you're seeing in domestic media is now these reporters are also carrying cameras because they're trying to keep up with the citizen journalists.
And then, by the way, can you blog and can you tweet? Can you find more fans on Facebook? And it's taking away a lot of the time for actually meeting sources, gathering news.
And I think I saw something on the (inaudible) show about like, well, you do my job for me when you put on the air these unconfirmed eye reports or these �'�' independent journalism.
It's taking away the role of the journalist, is if my company puts something that I've done on the air, they know that I have the training. They know that I have the reputation. And so I think we can feel confident when I go on air with something.
Now, you don't always know somebody's bent or what they're trying to accomplish when you're just getting it off the internet. Now, I'm in a very lucky position because, with Al Jazeera, we are so spread out throughout the world �'�' we have 65 bureaus worldwide �'�' that if something happens in China, we can have somebody in China; if something happens in Egypt, where we have a huge presence in Africa; in Latin America.
So we are able to call our producers and our correspondents and get them to the scene. So we don't necessarily have to rely on eye reports because you know how easy it is to fake video now? I mean, it is so easy to do it.
And that's why, when the WikiLeaks story broke and the sound in the �'�' I'm sure everybody knows; this was the helicopter shooting in Iraq �'�' I called my bosses in Doha and I said, we have to hold this story. Because the audio is so explosive, but audio can be faked by a 12�'year�'old in his basement. And we need to confirm with my military sources that this is authentic before we even consider putting it on the air. And they listened.
MS. GHATTAS: I think, for us, we do have a hub where we gather what we call user�'generated contact �'�' content, sorry, UGC. We do bring in those materials when it's a breaking story. We don't necessarily always put it on air, but it helps us to gather materials sometimes, which we then try to verify.
It's particularly useful in countries where we don't have a presence even though, like Al Jazeera, we have a very big international presence. We have bureaus everywhere. There are some countries where we are banned. We are banned from Burma, for example, Myanmar. We have very limited access to Iran, to Zimbabwe.
So in those places, it's very helpful to get firsthand accounts from the people who are at the heart of the story. And when we're unsure of the material, we will either not use it, or make very clear that this is citizen journalism, that this is something that we are getting from the scene, and that we are unable to verify but believe that it's important for people to view the pictures, if we can make sure that they're not doctored in any way.
I think it's different when it comes to something similar to what Patty was mentioning about WikiLeaks, when it's something that is very clearly very explosive, when it is potentially a developing story. That's when, yes, we need to ascertain exactly where this is coming from, why it is put out there �'�' that's also a very important question �'�' and how can we verify that it has not been doctored.
MR. RUTH: Let me say, Patricia, is there a citizen journalism in Brazil?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: Yes. I was going to say it's not as developed �'�' for instance, not talking about images, about �'�' I remember in the campaign here, there were a lot of scoops by citizen journalists, mainly in the Huffington Post. I can't remember �'�' one of the gaffes by the candidates, or they let something slip, and these were caught by citizen journalists.
In Brazil, I don't think there is �'�' I would say people are so politically engaged as to do this on a regular basis as here. But then again, for instance, there is a program by the Knight Foundation. They are sponsoring like a course for citizen journalists in the slums, which I thought was pretty interesting. And they are doing this right now. I have a colleague who's getting this now.
So I would say it's a different stage. Maybe it's more you do have the eyewitness reports, but the political side of it is not as developed as here.
MR. RUTH: Shinichiro?
MR. SERITA: In China, there is no citizen journalists then.
MR. SERITA: But some people are trying to announce by their blog. But it's still very dangerous to do that. If criticize to the Communist Party too much, and they will get detained.
And also, for us, if we try to get in touch with them, and if the officials know we try to cover them, it is very dangerous for them �'�' not to them; they will �'�' the official is going to detain them, so that is very difficult for us to cover that kind of like citizen journalist.
MR. RUTH: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Wisconsin. What would you say your percentage of your reporting do you report on sort of reacting to the day's events, versus doing more in�'depth reporting, which takes several days to develop?
MS. GHATTAS: It depends, really. It depends on whether there's a developing story which requires updating. If it's a little bit quiet, we'll try to use that time to do in�'depth reports.
Or sometimes we try to �'�' in my case, I try to balance both, where at the same time I'll be on the air, I don't know, commenting on President Abbas' visit to Washington, for example �'�' he's coming tomorrow �'�' while at the same time working with a producer to help me put together a report that I'm working on long�'term.
Like I did something, for example, on U.S./Russia adoption, the whole story, the very tragic story. So that took a long time. It took two weeks to put it together simply because we were doing it in bits and pieces, a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow, until we could gather everything and put out that report.
But all the while I'm doing that, I'm also reporting on the day's events.
MS. CULHANE: And I wanted to tell you that one of the biggest luxuries that I love about being at Al Jazeera is sometimes I'll be like �'�' they want me to take a topic, and they'll give me three days to research it, which in my past life was unheard of because you had 12 live shots to do and you just �'�' you had to do that. Part of that was because it was the White House beat and it's never slow there.
But I will take three days at a time to work on a story, and then I get three minutes to tell it. And the average in �'�' to do about three minutes, which in the world of television is about an eternity. I mean, a minute 20 in domestic television is considered, you really �'�' the executive producer is being nice to you.
So yes, we do actually get to do that, and it's lovely. And I was kidding about the Navy, by the way, sir. They were very nice to me. Good. You're eyeballing me. No, I'm just kidding.
MS. CULHANE: And I actually should clarify. DOD is quite open to us as well. Admiral Mullen is the first official to ever talk to Al Jazeera English.
MR. RUTH: Really?
MS. CULHANE: Yes.
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: I think we do both. We work �'�' as an example, the flotilla attack this week, we were covering every �'�' like all the day's events. And then on Sunday, we do more of an analysis piece, for instance explaining to Brazilian readership what's the influence of Israel in U.S. foreign policy and how is this being questioned or not. So I think we try to combine both.
MR. SERITA: Yes. I think �'�' I do the same thing.
MR. RUTH: All right. I have a question, since there's nobody standing at the mike right at the moment.
Kim, you mentioned, to paraphrase, that sometimes there's a flood and sometimes there's a drought. And it seems to be almost perversely proportional to the sensitivity and the importance of the story.
Do you use �'�' is the silence from the State Department or silence from spokespeople ever something that triggers your curiosity and makes you more interested than you might have been before, just because we're not there?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: Yes, absolutely. Oh, yes, absolutely. Whenever there's a red flag, you stop talking.
MR. RUTH: So it's also counterproductive on our end to go to ground in some cases?
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: Yes. I would say it is because it raises our attention. We're wondering, why aren't you talking? What are you hiding? Why don't you want to tell us? And then we go elsewhere to find out what is going on, what the story might be, whether it's other governments or think tanks, analysts, et cetera.
And in the particular example of the crisis about settlements, we were trying to find out what exactly had the Secretary of State told Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, in terms of what the U.S. wanted. And they simply wouldn't tell us.
And then I said, well, are you not telling us because you don't want it out there in public because if it doesn't happen, then you'll look bad? Because that's what happened with the demand to freeze settlements.
And the silence after that question was very telling. Clearly, yes, they didn't want us to know what requests they had made of the Israeli government because if it didn't come through, then it would look bad for everybody.
But particularly, going back to the issue of the void, we will try to fill the void because in this new age of 24�'hour coverage, we have our own deadlines. And I know it's something that President Obama takes up always as something he finds very frustrating. He says, "I'm not on a 24�'hour media cycle."
But we are, and we find it frustrating when it's simply silence because we have to fill the air. And it's much more helpful, I think, probably, for both sides if you give us something that we can then use and talk to other sources as well. But silence is always very telling.
MS. CULHANE: And also sometimes the answers that people give. There are some people that they spit the stuff out at the microphone and you're like, really? You really think that's going to fly? At some point, we're supposed to not laugh? Is that what you're saying?
So I think that their spokespeople are in a very unfair position because we need the information and we need it right now. We don't care that you have to put it up five layers of the chain of command, and make sure your spelling is correct. And then they're going to tell you to say something different, and then you have to go in front of the media and say some really, truly stupid things at some point.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes some of the things you say �'�' hmm, okay.
MR. RUTH: We won't ask �'�'
MS. CULHANE: You're going to go with that, then? All right. Let me just write that down.
MR. RUTH: We're not going to ask for any specific examples.
MR. RUTH: We have a question over here. Yes, sir?
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Eric Abdul�'Latif (phonetic). I'm an independent evaluator. In the U.S., we've had a number of initiatives to try to make the U.S. more mediagenic in foreign markets and among foreign audiences.
And I wanted to know your opinion about how those initiatives work, what your impression of those are, and if you've ever covered a story about that or if you have any insight into how those initiatives are perceived in your country.
MR. RUTH: Shall we start on the end? Shinichiro?
MR. SERITA: I'm sorry. I didn't understand �'�'
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: What are the initiatives?
QUESTION: Yes. To improve the image of the U.S. in other countries. So, say, it's an intervention to maybe make a video talking about all the great things we've done in your country or something like that; or to promote development, assistance, or aid, or something like that.
MR. RUTH: Does that �'�'
MS. CAMPOS MELLO: I don't think I've ever seen one of those.
QUESTION: Oh, interesting.
MR. RUTH: Well, that's a good answer. But may I say, so part of the question is do you, as journalists, ever cover the story of how America officially attempts to improve its image around the world? Would you make that a story?
MS. CULHANE: I think that was probably a big deal when President Obama started reaching out to different areas other than where his predecessor had. I can say I think what we're seeing from this administration is an attempt to circumvent the mainstream media.
You see a lot more blogging panels, especially at the Pentagon. You see more White House videos that have been shot by their own video journalists. As far as in my country �'�' this is my country. I'm an American.
So the perception of �'�' I think one of the things that they need to realize, though, is eventually, when the mainstream media becomes a focus again, you have to actually talk to foreign media. It's important to talk to foreign media.
And if you don't, then you can make all the promotional videos you want, but it's going to always be labeled, look, the State Department put this video together.
And so there is a reluctance, I think, in this town to deal with foreign media. We're not allowed in the White House press pool, for example. I think there's a foreign media pool now, but that's only when a visiting head of state is here. We don't necessarily �'�' you probably have better access, being from the BBC �'�' have access to the newsmakers.
Because, I think, in a lot of ways, and I have to admit that the style of journalism is different. It's not just American. If you think about Al Jazeera English, we have 50 nationalities working in this one news department. And the Brits tend to be a little bit more aggressive and then �'�' so you have all of these different �'�' but we will ask the hard questions.
So if you have �'�' and I'm sure you all have had bosses who are looking for that easy interview. You're not going to get it, in a lot of ways, from �'�' I know you're not going to get it from my channel. And so you have to be prepared for the tough questions. But to get that across to politicians in Washington has been difficult.
MS. GHATTAS: I have to agree. I think it's much more credible, or officials look much more credible, when they're trying to put across a message by talking to a tough interviewer. And at the BBC, we also ask a lot of very tough questions, and I know that a lot of American officials shy away from talking to us because they don't want to be put on the spot.
But that again creates this void that we keep talking about. And it cannot be filled only by putting out videos, and tweeting, and have a blog at the State Department or at the DOD.
I think that these initiatives are important, and it is important to talk to the rest of the world. Speeches like the one that President Obama made in Cairo are important, but it's the follow�'up that really matters. One year on, people in the Middle East are wondering, so now what?
But also, not to be too negative, I come from the Arab world. I am Lebanese, and I've covered the region extensively. And it's very interesting for me to now cover American foreign policy from this side of things.
But unfortunately, I think that it's also important to realize that some people don't want to hear the message. And that's okay. You can't win everybody. But you have to calibrate the message to the different audiences
But I do think that direct contact is important, particularly by American officials talking to foreign media or talking to foreign audiences. And one of the best examples was Secretary Hillary Clinton, when she went to Pakistan, and for days on end, got very tough questions from all the town hall meetings that she attended. And she just kept going.
And I have to say it was really interesting to watch because I haven't seen many American officials dare do that and be put in this position, where the questions were sometimes quite hostile. But the coverage changed.
While we were in Pakistan, the coverage she was getting in the national media was turning from very negative and very hostile to slightly more positive, where by the time we left, a lot of newspapers were saying that it had actually been a successful visit, which was quite the achievement. So it helps to talk.
MS. CULHANE: We don't actually bite. We're just going to ask you lots of questions.
MR. RUTH: Yes. That's right.
MR. SERITA: Two weeks ago I went to Beijing for SED, Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And at that time, Chinese side has five briefing in the briefing room, but U.S. side didn't have any briefing.
And at that time, Chinese reporter says, China got a lot from U.S. That's why we have lots of to say. But U.S. side didn't have anything to say because they didn't get anything from China. That's why they didn't have briefing. So I think the silence also has very big meaning.
MR. RUTH: Well, I regret our time is up, and I regret it's been so short. It's been fascinating. Thank you.