15 December 2006

Is there a particular reason why we have to be told regularly, systematically and officially that Mr. Annan is hilariously funny? In an unprecedented practice of this outgoing Secretary General, official press releases are increasingly interjecting the word "laughter" after some of his sentences. An "unofficial transcript" transmitted officially through all official channels indicates what he had said in or out of somewhere regardless of its substance, meaning or message (some prefer "massage"!). That's fine. You know, transparency and all that. But then they keep telling us that there was laughter. An example was an "encounter" on 7 December, where the Secretary General is reported to have said: "I just came out of my last lunch with the Security Council. I can assure you the atmosphere was nothing like the last supper (laughter)." So now we have Jesus Christ and David Letterman wrapped into one diplomatic rock star. Lest we miss the point, Mr. Annan reportedly carries on: "There was lots of laughter, and some very serious discussions." Unfortunately we were not granted a glimpse into those "fifteen only" jokes, but we know that issues of the Middle East, Kosovo and Darfur come up -- none of them laughing matters.

Another officially funny example supposedly dealt with the pathetic case of that Green Mercedes from Geneva. With a female reporter as a prop on that question, Mr. Annan proposed giving her a ride, followed by the now obligatory "laughter."

We know for certain that in some of those cases, the reporters -- particularly those directly involved -- were not laughing. What we don't know is the purpose of repeatedly informing the public about "laughter" in the Secretary General's pronouncements.

Would they want to reflect a jovial atmosphere around catastrophic events in order to ease the pain? Would it be on advice by that private P.R. firm to show nonchalance in the face of disappointments? Would one wish to turn a brave face while the heart is saddened at the prospect of farewell? Would it be a helpful hint that a joke was being made so as not to confuse it with an otherwise historical proclamation?

Or is someone just laughing all the way to the bank?