Yesterday, ThinkProgress attended a roundtable with members of the Arab media at the Middle East Institute. Discussing the differences between covering the Bush and Obama administrations, Nadia Bilbassy, White House correspondent for the Dubai-based satellite TV network MBC, complained that she has not been called on once in these first eight months of the Obama presidency. The foreign press are “treated like a fifth-class citizen in the briefing room,” she said.
Later in the discussion, ThinkProgress asked about the reporters’ experiences working with the American journalists covering the White House (a.k.a. “The Village”) and about their knowledge of Arab and Middle East issues. They are “the most arrogant, obnoxious group of people,” Bilbassy charged, adding, “They don’t know jack-squat” about the Middle East. The MBC journalist continued:
BILBASSY: I found that I think they really think that if you make it to cover the White House then you must be bigger than God, therefore, you know, you have to be treated as such.
So for them the foreign media is invisible. … So I think they’re opportunistic, rude, as I said, really self-centered. … I find them, not even on like a — people again, the people at the State Department, it’s a different story altogether. But what I’m talking to now are the people in the White House that occupy the first two, three rows, with exception to two or three people you know. I’m talking about all the networks and all the organizations. So I find the relationship is a bit strange.
Bilbassy then said that many of the American journalists covering the White House ignore her and other foreign journalists unless they suddenly become useful:
BILBASSY: Normally they ignore you. You can go to the White House all the time, it’s not just like, I saw you before I would say like, “Hi,” not even “Hi,” not even a smile, nothing. […]
They’re interested in you, like, […] if you know something and they don’t know who you are, you become important for example, …[y]ou know during the Bush administration, when I have interviews with Bush, then all of the sudden [they] come up and goes like, “Oh can we have the transcript before it goes on air?” or “Can we, you know, what did the President say?” Then the next day they forget who you are. So I think it’s really more opportunistic.
“I think they must have been tortured as kids,” Bilbassy concluded. Either that, she said, or “something happened to them as adults. That can’t be normal behavior, honestly.”