Foreign Relations: Journalists from Afar Are Dismayed by the End of a Convention Mainstay

By Hull, Dana | American Journalism Review, October-November 2004 | Go to article overview

Foreign Relations: Journalists from Afar Are Dismayed by the End of a Convention Mainstay


Hull, Dana, American Journalism Review


Covering the Democratic and Republican national conventions is a rite of passage for many American reporters, and indeed in Boston and New York the number of journalists seemed to dwarf the delegate count.

But for foreign journalists--particularly those from media outlets little-known in the United States or who are traveling to the U.S. for the first time--a convention can be an over-whelming professional and logistical challenge.

For decades, the U.S. State Department's Foreign Press Centers, or FPC, helped hundreds of foreign journalists navigate America's unique political system. FPC staffers guided foreign journalists in getting credentials, answered questions about the Electoral College, arranged for briefings with well-known party strategists and pollsters and organized trips to battleground states. The FPC had designated workspace at the conventions, complete with phone lines, fax machines, copiers and staffers on hand to offer international reporters research assistance.

But that suddenly changed this summer: The Bush administration cut the FPC's convention budget, and for the first time since 1984 there was no Foreign Press Centers presence at either major political convention.

"The reason the State Department gave was a budgetary consideration," says Jerry Gallegos, superintendent of the House Press Gallery, whose office oversees media credentialing for the conventions. "But the foreign press was convinced it was because they were not writing stories favorable to the Bush administration on the war in Iraq."

The State Department says it regrets the lack of a presence at the political conventions, but mentions it has nothing to do with what the foreign journalists have reported. "I have not heard even a hint of this as a reason, so I give it no credence," says Paul Denig, director of the Foreign Press Centers. "They regret it and we regret it. But you can only do so much."

Jake Gillespie, a retired Foreign Service officer and former Foreign Press Centers director, told USA Today that the convention aid for foreign reporters costs about $450,000, or, "less than peanuts."

The funding request to cover the costs of press operations at both conventions was denied shortly before the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and rumors abound about which State Department or Bush administration official made the call. But foreign journalists echo Gallegos' assessment: They feel slighted and are convinced that the decision has more to do with what they are writing than with budget concerns.

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