1 November 2003

Kudos to Tony Jenkins and Ian Williams for reviving the U.N. Correspondents dinner. On 22 October, there was not a seat vacant at the enormous Delegates Dining Room. They were all taken -- paid for -- by members of the Security Council and other delegations. The U.N. Fund (Ted Turner's) took at least two with invited guests welcomed by chief New York U.N. representative Amir Dossal. The Wall Street Journal took a table; two of its reporters Alix Friedman and Steve Stecklow received prizes for covering U.N. stories like Food for Oil and Peacekeeping Operations respectively. Maggie Farley of the L.A. Times received the Golden Award for outstanding coverage of U.N. deliberations over Iraq (together with Robin Wright), and former N.Y. Times correspondent Barbara Crossette received a Picasso reproduction offered by a secret admirer. Although Betsy Pissik of the Washington Times did not put in an entry, she received a hug and a cake for her birthday. Tony Jenkins did the honours appropriately while the irrepressible and irreverent Ian Williams quipped in his British-Scottish accent to the amusement of most and the puzzlement of some. Actress Angelina Jolie, patiently greeting throngs of admirers, was the centre of attention as she received a reward from the gracious Nane Annan for her work with refugee children. Shashi Tharoor, clad in a Nehru outfit, toasted the accredited press which could not be broken down by sex or any other activity. He recounted how as a young man in India he spotted the first female foreign correspondent wearing a tee-shirt with "Press" printed on it, he proceeded to oblige right away. Later in life, of course, he geared his approach as required. Even the serious Richard Roth of CNN made a hint of a smile as he proclaimed that if Ms. Jolie was a goodwill ambassador, he is on goodwill hunting. Even the boring part was amusing. The longwinded Ruud Lubbers turned up by coincidence to introduce the charming actress; originally that part was scheduled for Kofi Annan. But as the Secretary General had to go the Donor's Conference in Madrid, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tried to monopolize the conversation with Ms. Annan and patronize Ms. Jolie. Originally, he was supposed to be in a hurry; we were told he had a plane to catch. Once he got hold of the microphone, however, he would not let go. The bore from Scheveningen somehow took the late Sergio Vieira de Mello under his wings and almost took credit for the marriage of Kofi and Nane Annan; "it was a UNHCR wedding," he declared. Under the guise of recounting a shared experience with Ms. Jolie, he reminded everyone of his stature as a former Prime Minister of the Netherlands. That was enough to drive those with institutional memory to remember the investigation in the massacre of Sebrenica during his tenure. But then he did leave to the airport and the correspondents regained their evening of fun, pun, and awards.