The Great Garibaldi Press Mess

 

French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to the press aboard the aircraft carrier Garibaldi with the island of Ventotene in the background. Monday, August 22, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara.

French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to the press aboard the aircraft carrier Garibaldi with the island of Ventotene in the background. Monday, August 22, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara.

Dear Blog Readers,

On Monday I spent 15 hours on the Italian Aircraft Carrier Garibaldi covering a summit between Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande. The three leaders visited the Italian Island of Venotene and then arrived on the Garibaldi by helicopter for a press conference.

The summit was an attempt by the three leaders to give Europe a symbolic boost following Brexit but it was a bit of a press mess.

Here’s my behind the scenes experience with a frustrated press corps trying to cover the event.   About 150 journalists, camerapersons, producers, and photographers showed up at the Pisacane Pier on the Bay of Naples at 10:30 sharp Monday morning to get our accreditation and go through security checks. We were loaded down with computers, tripods, liveUs, cameras, cables etc. By about 11am we were climbing up an exterior staircase onto the Garibaldi excited about taking part in a interesting and visual news story.

The Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi in port waiting for journalists to board before heading towards Ventotene. Photo by Trisha Thomas. Monday, August 22, 2016

The Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi in port waiting for journalists to board before heading towards Ventotene. Photo by Trisha Thomas. Monday, August 22, 2016

The Garibaldi is an aircraft carrier that is the lead ship on Operation Sophia, an EU operatoin targeting human traffickers smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean.

We were ushered into a large hangar in the belly of the Garibaldi where dozens of tables had been set up with power supply. We were immediately given the password for two wifi accounts, and then the ship left port.

We were just a few minutes into the trip when I realized the Wifi was not working and I began to get agitated. A British team from SKY UK was sitting at my table and they began to panic too. In 2016 journalists can’t survive without wifi, we start losing our marbles. The last story I was on where the Wifi did not work at a location was when Pope Francis landed in Havana, Cuba in September 2015.   The Wifi at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana did not work, but it did work at the press center. But back to the Garibaldi…

Wifi became a 15-hour obsession for all of us as we paced the carrier.

A little more on the rest of the trip though….

The hundreds of sailors aboard the Garibaldi bent over backwards to make our trip successful. They escorted us around the ship and happily gave us information.

At lunchtime they served us a fantastic meal with various pasta dishes including pasta with eggplant, pasta with tomato sauce, and lasagna. There was beef straccetti with arugula and plum tomatoes, roasted salmon, pizza, focaccia, rice with vegetables, fried zucchini, potatoes, carrots, grilled eggplant, and honeydew melon, watermelon and peaches for dessert.

A huge spread for the press lunch on board the aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Photo by Trisha Thomas. August 22, 2016

A huge spread for the press lunch on board the aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Photo by Trisha Thomas. August 22, 2016

For many of us who have been on US aircraft carriers, the luncheon was a far cry from what you get aboard a US ship – hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese mostly. (See blog post “The Tailhook and the Elegant Dinner Party“)

Interestingly, the Italians were also very relaxed about smoking and security. Mostly they let us wander certain areas of the ship and smokers were allowed to smoke on one lower deck.

From past experience on aircraft carriers, I know that working on one involves lots of climbing up and down ladders. When we arrived at the pier in the morning I was surprised to see many of my female colleagues in pretty dresses, and summer sandals. One Italian was even in spike heels and a white tailleur. I have no idea how she got around, it was hard enough for me in my pants and sneakers going up and down. At one point I was coming off the flight deck on an exterior staircase carrying the tripod and I got a little dizzy looking way down below at the waves. Of course, I just had to stop and take a photo.

Heading down the ladder-stairs on the exterior of the aircraft carrier Garibaldi as we head for Ventotene. Carrying a tripod makes me less balanced and seeing the water way below was a little unnerving. Photo by Trisha Thomas August 22, 2016

Heading down the ladder-stairs on the exterior of the aircraft carrier Garibaldi as we head for Ventotene. Carrying a tripod makes me less balanced and seeing the water way below was a little unnerving. Photo by Trisha Thomas August 22, 2016

By the end of the 15-hour trip, according to my cell phone, I had walked a total of 7,7 kilometers and gone up and down 13 flights. Phew, no wonder I was wiped out.

So why were the three leaders going all the way to Ventotene for this summit? Here is a little background from my TV story:

In 1941 Italian anti-fascist intellectuals Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi wrote what is known as the “Ventotene Manifesto” in which they laid out their vision of a “free and united Europe” with the elimination of national, sovereign states. At the time of the writing, the two men were being held prisoner on the island under the Mussolini government and Hitler reigned in Germany. The prisoners took for granted the defeat of Nazism and Fascism and envisioned a future of a peaceful, unified Europe.

But as Renzi, Merkel and Hollande took off in a helicopter from Naples to fly to the island, they were discussing a Europe far from the continent once envisioned by the Italian prisoners. The June 23 Brexit vote has left the dream of a European Union in shatters, a massive influx of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia has created tensions and prompted the closing of borders and the resurgence of nationalist movements, and a steep rise in terror attacks has plagued the continent leaving Europe disoriented and flagging.

The three leaders wanted to launch a new strategy for the future of Europe with a series of proposals from foreign policy to defense and economic questions that they will bring to the table on September 16th at the EU summit in Bratislava, Slovenia on September 16.

But while the three leaders were making their way in the helicopter to Ventotene in the helicopter, the 150 journalists on board were becoming increasing frenetic without a properly functioning Wifi.

After about 4 hours on board we neared Ventotene and the crew brought us on the flight deck to get a few shots. We all scrambled about frantically, filming, photographing, tweeting, posting as we took advantage of cell phone lines working on deck. That brief Wifi respite did not last long as we were once again hustled into the hangar so they could set up for the leaders’ arrival.

Journalist frantically on their phones in a brief moment on deck where wifi and phones worked. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 22, 2016

Journalist frantically on their phones in a brief moment on deck where wifi and phones worked. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 22, 2016

Sitting beside me at the table in the hangar, the SKY UK team was getting steadily more aggravated. “These Italians are like the keystone cops,” their cameraman muttered. “It is a PR disaster,” the correspondent declared, “there’s no better way to ensure that every report on this summit is going to be skewed.” And as if to reinforce this, he periodically turned to me and said something like, “well you are based in Italy, Renzi is flagging in the polls, right?” and “this mission that the Garibaldi is involved in to stop human smugglers is obviously going badly given all the migrants that continue to come, right?”

I was getting a bit fed up with all their grumbling and whining, but the bottom line was they were right – the wifi wasn’t working and I was in the same boat.

One of the many women sailors on the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 23, 2016

One of the many women sailors on the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Photo by Trisha Thomas, August 23, 2016

Speaking of the boat, I noticed there were lots of women sailors on board. I happened to bump into the Commander while I was getting an espresso and he told me that 27-percent of the crew are women. He said they even hold some of the most physical jobs including Boatswain.

But back to the grumbling in the hangar….

One thing that Italians always score high on is aesthetics. On this particular story the Renzi government could not have chosen a more picturesque backdrop. By the time the helicopter with Renzi, Merkel and Hollande landed on the deck, we were all seated in elegant, crème-colored director chairs facing three transparent podiums, flags from Germany, Italy and France perfectly framed the leaders with Ventotene behind. A sailboat conveniently passed by behind them as Hollande was speaking.

French President Francois Hollande speaks to press aboard the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi. August 22, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara

French President Francois Hollande speaks to press aboard the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi. August 22, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara

The content of the press conference was rather minimum. The leaders each made a statement and each took one question – one from a German, one from a French journalist and one from an Italian—before they headed off for their meeting.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaking to the press aboard the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi. August 22, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaking to the press aboard the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi. August 22, 2016. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gianfranco Stara

Renzi declared that Europe is the “biggest opportunity for the next generation”. French President Francois Hollande said, “Europe must be a political power in service of peace,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “Faced with Islamist terrorism…. we need to do more for our internal and external security. Cooperation in the field of defence can be strengthened…Exchange and cooperation among the  intelligence services must be intensified.”

Angela Merkel speaking to reporters aboard the aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. August 22, 2016

Angela Merkel speaking to reporters aboard the aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. August 22, 2016

It was short and sweet.

Then the three leaders headed off and we were left on deck frantically editing and filing. The Prime Minister’s press office said we would have one hour before the ship would start moving and we would lose our Wifi. I pulled out my computer and dragged three director’s chairs around me. I madly edited, trying to sort out the best shots, soundbites and get the translation from French, German and Italian into English. I barely managed to transmit my story before we were kicked off the flight deck.

By the way, while we were filing, the leaders were having their working dinner. The Prime Minister’s press office told me that the leaders were in a room off the flight deck enjoying a menu that included Trofie all’Orata e Basilico (a short pasta with bream fish and basil), Salmon with Herbs, and fruit with pineapple mousse).

We were promised that we could return to the flight deck to work some more later, but it turned out that was too dangerous once we had departed. So back to the hangar and back to the non-functioning wifi. Leave it to say that the press conference ended at 7pm and I was unable to send my final edit until the ship sailed past the island of Ischia at midnight. Shortly after midnight, they announced that it would take us another two hours to return to shore. So the crabby, discontented press corps returned to the hangar and snoozed in our seats as the Garibaldi chugged its way back to Naples arriving at 2am.

 

Sunset over Ventotene. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. August 22, 2016

Sunset over Ventotene. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. August 22, 2016

NOTE: NO TIME TIME TO FINISH OFF THIS POST PROPERLY AS THERE HAS BEEN A BIG EARTHQUAKE IN ITALY AND I HAVE TO COVER

 

20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Alys Blakeway
    2016/08/24

    Most entertaining! Somehow the cliched statements you were offered demonstrate at best indifference to, and at worst contempt for, the press and therefore the people. An attitude which is certainly reflected by the Italian people’s attitude to their politicians.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Thanks Alys for your comment. I think basically the story was just one big photo-op. The politicians had nothing new to say because they had not even had a chance to talk except in the helicopter on the way out from the Naples’ airport. They were supposedly having a “working dinner” but I cannot imagine how much they got done. It was a symbolic event more than anything else. That said, I am in favor of anything that would give Europe a boost right now. Europe needs all the help it can get these days.

      Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      I just realized you have a blog about hill towns in Le Marche. I just got back from 5 days of covering hills towns in the region destroyed by the earthquake. I hope you and those you know are ok.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Alan
    2016/08/24

    ‘Teknoloji!’ as Turks often mutter. Funny thing is Trisha that here I am in my wooden cabin in the mountains, off grid, water from a spring and yet I have a near 4G signal with the internet. Admittedly, it is a mobile link so there’s a limit to the number of Gigabytes in a month. As for the ‘leaders’ of the EU, I’m surprised the rats haven’t already left the ship – or perhaps they have!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Alan — great to hear from you. I have been absent from the blogsphere for a bit both in terms of blogging and reading other blogs so I need to catch up on your adventures. Sounds like you have got things all figured out up in your little wooden cabin that is off-grid!

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2016/08/24

    Wonderful piece, Trisha – the top picture is breath-taking, it looks like they are all standing on the water, and all the shots with the ocean are fine pix. The story, uncovered here, renews my grief about the Brexit vote, and my hope, apparently vain, that somehow the Brits will reverse that vote in a year or so. I still believe there must be Brits working on this behind the scenes. Yet, the damage is real, damage to everyone. And it is a hard blow in the midst of our own,achingly long campaign season. How I envy the British, who switched PMs in 48 hours! Trump is still blasting Clinton and acting like a fool himself, and Clinton cannot shake her perception problems with her emails and the Clinton Foundation. I think there is no real issue in either of these, but the perception increases suspicion of her. The debates are scary to contemplate. Since Trump knows nothing, he will likely be on the attack over fanciful things. Lately he has been questioning Clinton’s health, while of course, refusing to release his own medical records. And Clinton, in debates, tends to get wonkish, which doesn’t endear her to anyone. You should cover the debates for the Italians.I doubt debates would work in Italy, the participants would be too busy posing as bella figura to let any unvarnished truth out.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Hi Nancy, I just got back from 5 days covering the Italian earthquake and have missed out on all the latest in the US elections. It is all very discouraging. I was just talking to my father on the phone about the media coverage of candidates today. He was saying most Americans didn’t even know Franklin Delano Roosevelt used a wheelchair. It it is impossible for any candidate to be under the spotlight/magnifying glass of modern media and come up smelling like a rose. I wish this presidential election was over. The campaign in 2008 made me so proud of my country, this one has been dreadful.

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Roger Widness
    2016/08/24

    Thanks for this glimpse of your time behind the scenes with Europe’s struggling politicians (and you reporters struggling to report on them). Your blog stories on reporting are a pleasure to read!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Thank you Roger, you summed it up perfectly — struggling politicians and struggling journalists!

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Joan Schmelzle
    2016/08/25

    Praying for the earthquake victims I heard about today. And I know you will do a fine job covering this sadness. And you did a fine job with this important meeting. I do love to read about your experiences as a journalist as it’s a part I missed of a profession I have loved.
    A presto,
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Thank you Joan for your support. I just got back from the earthquake zone after five days there and am feeling a mix of exhaustion and emotion as the adrenalin fades. The hardest thing about being a journalists these days is that when you are on a story everyone seems to know more than you do. This week I was often in a small villages covering terrible destruction and tragedies but I had no idea of the bigger picture and there was so much pressure on us to get every story, every image that had popped up on facebook or twitter. It is truly frustrating. More on that in the next post though.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Kay
    2016/08/25

    First and foremost I am glad you and your family are safe from this horrible earthquake. Please take care in the coming days and my thoughts and prayers with those in the Umbria region (my favorite place in the world).

    Thanks for the wonderful insight into the colorful world of international journalism! Snarky Brits made me laugh! The Garibaldi looked magnificent – Italian sailors – woo hoo! You must have had a great view, aside from that overlooking the bow of the ship. I feel like these three are facing such insurmountable issues and no matter what they do, there will always be criticism. I am not a huge Hollande fan, but I must admit he has led well during this past year of incredible tragedy that France has faced. As for Renzi, well, anything is better than Berlusconi!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Hi Kay —
      Thanks for your comment. I just got back from the earthquake zone and am still reeling from the experience. It was heart-wrenching. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to start working on a blog post on that.
      Yes, the views were not bad on the Garibaldi. As far as the snarky Brits were concerned, when I was covering the earthquake we had to sneak past a police block and hike up into the town of Sommati that had been completely destroyed. We managed to hitch a ride from a resident of a nearby town in his tiny Fiat. When we arrived at Sommati I saw the snarky British crew just walking in. I had to rush ahead of them to film the town and get to the house of the British family that died beneath the rubble. It was terrible seeing that home. But more on that in the next post.
      Oh, and, I really should not say this, but in addition to Italian sailors, this week I saw some really good-looking and courageous Italian firefighters risking their lives to get people out from under the rubble. As my teenage daughters would say “just saying…”

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Kay
        2016/08/29

        I have been reading your articles on the earthquake on the AP app and you and your colleagues have done superb work in your coverage. The story about the two sisters uncovered in a lifesaving embrace was heart wrenching. What saddened me and angered me were the reports of the corruption involved in the construction projects relative to the retrofitting of buildings that collapsed (especially schools) and reconstruction of buildings damaged in previous earthquakes that were supposed to be retrofitted upon reconstruction but had collapsed in this earthquake proving that shortcuts were used and building standards were not maintained. Such a travesty!

        (Hunky Italian firemen…..mmmmmm….just sayin’ )

        Reply
        • Trisha Thomas
          Trisha Thomas
          2016/08/29

          It is just scandalous that some of these buildings are in use. Take the example of the school in Amatrice that was specifically built with restored with funds to make buildings anti-sismic after the earthquake in Aquila. It collapsed to the ground. Luckily no one was in it. One of the most gut-wrenching stories I ever covered was the earthquake in San Giuliano is 2002 that left 27 children dead — the entire first-grade class– when their school collapsed on top of them. Lot of fishy business behind all of this. The Camorra is very involved in cement and construction. It would be logical to build homes in earthquake prone areas out of wood but no one gets funds to do that. Worth an investigative report that I hope someone is already working on.

          Reply
  7. Avatar
    Lega Medcalf
    2016/08/27

    Trisha,
    Thank you for taking us along on your adventure. I wish I could have been at that banquet. A very interesting post! Loved the picture of the female sailor.

    My heart goes out to the earthquake victims. Please let us know of a worthy organization to donate to.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/28

      Thank you Lega. I just got back from the earthquake zone and I will look into an organization to donate to and let you know.

      Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2016/08/29

      This is from Italy Magazine
      The Italian Postal Service has activated, in partnership with the Italian Red Cross, a dedicated bank account. Those living abroad can make donations to the following bank account: “Poste Italiane con Croce Rossa Italiana – Sisma del 24 agosto 2016″ – IBAN IT38R0760103000000000900050 – BIC/SWIFT BPPIITRRXXX. – See more at: http://www.italymagazine.com/news/aftermath-central-italys-earthquake#sthash.PtDNloCt.dpuf

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Kay
        2016/08/30

        Thanks for this information Trisha. I have already donated and am organizing a donation by the company I work for. Also, the accompanying article in Italy Magazine is well worth a read!

        Reply
        • Trisha Thomas
          Trisha Thomas
          2016/08/30

          I agree. The writers at Italy Magazine are good.

          Reply

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