Inside Out – May 07

So would a Frontline Club and Forum work in the United States?  If so, where? In New York?  In Washington? That’s a question Vaughan and Pranvera Smith and many of us involved in the Frontline Club since its inception have asked ourselves.

Not that Vaughan and Pranvera don’t have enough on their plates in Paddington but the idea of starting up in New York and playing a role in provoking a trans-Atlantic journalistic and media debate was irresistible.

There was plenty of encouragement for a Frontline U.S., especially from the 10% of Club members who are U.S. based. They told us one of the things they sorely missed were evenings at the Club in Paddington. 

But even with all the goodwill from our repatriated members, what we needed was a reliable partner with deep journalistic roots in America.  We found one in the Overseas Press Club, a venerable institution now in its 68th year and best known for its prestigious awards for outstanding “foreign reporting.” 

That chemistry clicked and our first big event in NY was held on April 16th, a date made ignominiously memorable because of the massacre that morning of 32 students and faculty on the campus of Virginia Tech. It was also the day after the worst torrential rains in New York in more than a century.

Still, more than 150 journalists and media people flocked to McGraw Hill in mid-town Manhattan to watch Channel 4’s Jon Snow chair a rambunctious panel that included the Wall Street Journal’s Robert Pollock, the NY Times’s Roger Cohen, Documentary producer Jon Alpert (who just won an OPC award for his Baghdad ER), David Marash of Al Jazeera’s new English channel, Deborah Amos of National Public Radio, and David Loyn of the BBC. 

The topic  – “Talking to the Enemy” may not have lent itself to any hard and fast conclusions but it did serve as a springboard for clashing views on many journalistic issues.Was Jon Snow “talking to Iran and its Foreign Minister at a time in the stand off over the captured British sailors because British diplomacy had failed” or as Roger Cohen (who loathed the notion of journalists playing diplomats) suggested was Snow used by the Iranians for their own purposes?  Robert Pollock had no difficulties declaring enemies of the U.S. “his enemies” while Loyn, Amos, and Marash challenged Pollock’s ideas and the airing the views of sworn enemies.

One successful, well-attended event doesn’t guarantee that Frontline NY is a certainty, far from it.  We got a reality check the next morning  told what it would cost to buy and renovate a Paddington-quality building in what many feel is the place for us to be in NY–Hell’s Kitchen.  

But the Club’s extraordinary events programme and  news-pegged gatherings with lead journalists and critical thinkers did leave an impression. Aryeh Neier’s, the president of the Soros Foundations and Open Society Institute, noted that Frontline London had staged over 500 events in its 3 plus year when he introduced our NY event.

Anyone who wants to help make this happen in NY should contact us.  Knowing Vaughan Smith as I do, it’s not a matter of if but when.