Magazine article The New Yorker

The Beat

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Beat

Article excerpt

What's the proper honorific to use when addressing a diplomat at the United Nations? Mr. (or Madame) Ambassador? Your Excellency? For Matthew Russell Lee, acceptable options include "Hey, man!," "C'est bon, isn't it?," and "Are you the charge d'affaires now, or what?" Lee operates Inner City Press, a Web site that follows the U.N. The other day, as he was staking out the chambers of the Security Council, Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, Portugal's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, emerged, wearing a tweed jacket and beaming. "Little bit out of context, but great quote!" Cabral called out to Lee as he rushed past.

"I have him on the record this morning," Lee explained. "He says the Libya sanctions committee's probably not going to condemn France for air-dropping weapons to the rebels, because--his words--'We're not a kind of masochistic society.' "

Lee, who is forty-five, with stringy hair and a full, Garibaldi-style beard, has been a reporter on the grounds of the U.N. since 2006. "I pretty much never leave," he said, gulping coffee from a plastic juice bottle. Many of his colleagues hold down broader-based diplomacy or foreign-affairs beats, but Lee said, "I'm an all-U.N. guy, from soup to nuts." The comment reminded him that the price of soup in the North Lawn cafeteria had just gone up. "There's probably a story in that," he said. "They brought in an outside supplier."

This week, marked by President Obama's gathering with world leaders at the General Assembly, will be a big one for U.N.-watchers. "They'd really like to make it a big Libya lovefest," Lee said, but he predicted that the tone of the assembly might not be as harmonious as officials hope. A politically fraught vote on whether to elevate Palestine's status at the U.N. "has major letdown written all over it." Occasionally, Lee's Web site influences the world it covers. In August, he obtained a draft of a U.N. proposal to install two hundred military observers in Libya and give NATO ongoing authority there. After Lee posted the document, the country's interim leaders got mad, and the plan was scrapped. "The rebels don't want to be a U.N.-controlled charity case," Lee said. …

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