The story that emerged yesterday about this clip was that Washington Post reporter Carol Morello got booted from a State Department conference between John Kerry and Uzbek president Islam Karimov for asking a pointed question about human rights in Uzbekistan. Is that what happened here, though? Take a look for yourself, and pay close attention to the sequence of events:
Here’s the Post’s description of the video:
Washington Post correspondent Carol Morello is escorted out of the room where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, after she asked a question about the U.S. State Department’s critique of the Uzbek human rights record.
That makes it sound as though Morello got ejected for asking the question, and that she alone got escorted out of the room. It appears, though, that the State Department media team had already been shooing everyone out of the room when Morello turned around and tried to ask the question. The video comes from Reuters, which describes it somewhat differently:
Kerry made no explicit mention of human rights when reporters were allowed briefly into the room at the start of the talks. But he said he wanted to discuss with Karimov and Central Asian foreign ministers “the human dimension, the issues of individuals and their participation in society”.
As security men starting ushering reporters out of the room, one American reporter shouted a question to Karimov about the U.S. State Department’s own scathing critique of his human rights record. Karimov ignored the query. Kerry began responding but the reporter was pushed out of the room before he finished.
A later summary of the meeting by the State Department said the two men had talked about “respect for human rights and political freedoms” along with security and economic issues.
A senior U.S. official said only that Karimov “took on board that he would look into it” and that real progress would require persistent U.S. pressure.
From the sequence in the video, it appears that the reporters were already being escorted out of the room when Morello asked her question. Perhaps they were just brought in to report on the opening statements, or for photo ops only, but Morello didn’t get kicked out for asking a question about human rights or just asking a question in general.
Still, it’s a question worth asking, and it provides a hook for people to notice that Kerry didn’t exactly make human rights a centerpiece in the talks with the Central Asian republics. Karimov is a relic of the Soviet era, but the US has made it their business to stay on friendly terms with Karimov in order to maintain our position in Afghanistan. Barack Obama came to office pledging to reverse those kinds of cold calculations and make human rights the centerpiece of policy, but realpolitik has finally entered into the White House’s foreign-policy calculations. Karimov is every bit the despot that Bashar al-Assad is in Syria, only he’s a lot more effective at tamping down radical Islamist rebels. Kerry isn’t pushing for reform, and Karimov and his neighboring states aren’t offering any. So far, the US isn’t complaining either, which may mean we learned a lesson after all from the Arab Spring, Libya, and Syria.
Anyway, kudos to Morello for rebelling momentarily against the restrictions placed on reporters in these staged events, even if the Washington Post exaggerates the situation. Even without an answer, her question made its impact.