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Jewish World Review / June 26, 1998 / 2 Tamuz, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Perks and the press

XI'AN, China -- I have often wondered why, on these foreign trips, the White House press corps is forced to wear huge, colored ID tags around our necks.

In the United States, we get by wearing small tags on chains that contain a computer chip so that the White House knows when we go into the building. (Someday, I expect, they will also contain small, explosive charges, so that future presidents can just push a button and blow our heads off.)

Maybe the Chinese
know something we don't

The press corps flew to China the day before the president so that we could grab some sleep before the president arrived. The flight takes 18 hours with a brief stop in Alaska, where you can get off the plane and buy beef jerky for $14 a bag. (The jerky does last about a thousand years, however, and so I guess you could hand it down from generation to generation, like an heirloom.)

We departed, as always, from Andrews Air Force base just outside Washington, D.C., where we learned that three reporters from Radio Free Asia had just been told by the Chinese government that their visas had been revoked and that they could not enter China.

Some people thought that the rest of us should refuse to go to China as a sign of solidarity.

Most reporters thought, however: "Hey, I want to go to China! My kids are expecting souvenirs!"

The decision to go was made easier because Radio Free Asia is funded by a U.S. government agency, which means its reporters could be considered government employees, not independent news reporters.

President Clinton had made the creation of Radio Free Asia (which is modeled after Radio Free Europe) a campaign issue in 1992 and the refusal by China to let the reporters in was an embarrassment and insult to him.

To make it up to the reporters, Clinton gave them an interview before he left for China, and one reporter asked him how he expected to negotiate with the Chinese over important stuff if he couldn't negotiate over piddling stuff like visas.

It was a good question (which means that reporter might soon be transferred to Radio Free Antarctica) for which Clinton didn't have much of an answer.

"I think they made a mistake," he said.

In any case, the rest of us trooped onto our Cathay Pacific chartered 747 (for which the press pays, as we should -- no tax dollars are wasted on us; they are reserved for $1,200 toilet seats). We immediately began the Great Game: What seat did we get?

The jet has first-class seats, business-class seats and tourist-class seats, also known as steerage. We all pay exactly the same amount, however, so who gets what seat?

The White House decides, and people have been known to go nearly suicidal when they get a bad seat.

As you might expect, the famous TV faces get the first-class seats, along with a few other reporters thrown in. Sometimes, I get a first-class seat, and sometimes, I don't. But getting a first-class seat is a double-edged sword.

Yes, the seats are plusher and wider and recline more. But, on the other hand, if you get a first-class seat, you have to listen to Sam Donaldson for 18 hours.

So fortunately for me, I was given a seat upstairs on the 747, which was business class but was also a Sam-Free Zone.

When we landed in Xi'an, a city famous for the thousands of life-size terra cotta warriors unearthed in a tomb here, we were all more than a little bleary-eyed and ready for sleep.

But as we pulled up to the hotel, we saw that the employees had formed two lines, a gantlet, through which we would have to pass.

And I figured that is why we had to wear the big, colorful press credentials: So everyone in China would know who we were and could line up to beat us like gongs.

But as we got off the bus, the employees bursts into vigorous applause, which continued as we passed between them.

Why are you clapping? I asked one.

"You are reporters," she answered. "We are honored to have you here."

And that's when I knew we weren't in America anymore.

6/26/98: Perks and the press 6/23/98: There's a good reason
Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.