Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2003 / 8 Kislev, 5764
Colombian grace under pressure; Lord of the Screwups; more
NEW YORK When it comes to flying in the face of danger, Baghdad George can learn a thing or two from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
President Bush earned plaudits for his super-secret Thanksgiving Day visit with U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But the 51-year-old Uribe recently choppered deep into guerrilla territory as bullets and mortars whizzed through the air.
National Geographic Utlimate Explorer host Lisa Ling told me Tuesday that she had scheduled a late-August interview with the Colombian president, to take place after his noontime speech to thousands of peasants in the northern shantytown of Granada.
"This is a town that has been controlled by the guerrillas for the last 10 years there are no police whatsoever," said Ling, who reports on the U.S.-sponsored war against Colombian narco-terrorism for Sunday's installment of "National Geographic Ultimate Explorer" on MSNBC. "President Uribe travels in a fully-armed Blackhawk helicopter," she went on, "and we waited for him in the town square with about 2,000 people and around 250 troops for security.
"Finally we heard his Blackhawk whirring overhead, and then suddenly Boom! Boom! Boom! coming from the nearby mountains. And then the sound of machine-gun fire coming from overhead. Basically, the guerrillas seemed to be firing small mortars at the helicopter, and the helicopter was firing back toward the mountains."
Producer-cameraman Dominic Cunningham Reid captured the ordinarily ladylike Ling cowering and mouthing a profane Anglo-Saxonism before they all took refuge in a concrete structure.
"The crowd pretty much dispersed along with the troops. I said to Dominic, 'There's no way he's going to land now,'" Ling recounted. "But 30 minutes later, he got out of the helicopter and was striding through the cheering crowd in his white pancho and his giant white hat, with no body armor."
Later that night, Ling interviewed the English-speaking president for four hours in his high-walled compound in Medellin, where they did shots of aguadiente, a traditional Colombian liqueur.
Did Ling manage to stay sober?
"Let's put it this way," she answered. "I have a very low tolerance for alcohol."
LORD OF THE SCREWUPS: I hear that New Line Cinema is out for blood over Monday's catastrophic Washington screening of its Christmas blockbuster, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." I'm told that the first full-dress battle scene, more than a hour into the three-hour and 15-minute epic, was run upside down for some 30 critics at the Loew's Georgetown. "At first I thought, wow, that's a totally cool camera-angle, from the perspective of someone who was felled in the battle," one witness told me Tuesday. Baltimore Sun movie critic Michael Sragow said: "It was the first massing of forces, and you got these elephant creatures coming on screen upside down. Obviously it was about the worst way to see a movie." Worse still, the influential audience had to wait 45 minutes while the projectionist rethreaded the film, only to restart it after a huge gap in the action. In due course an upside-down Frodo appeared, and the screening was halted again for another 45 minutes. "Obviously we're upset as anyone would be, and we're in discussions with Loew's," a chagrined New Line spokeswoman told me. "We want to know if Gollum was in the projection booth."
OSAMA BEEN LOITERING?: I'm told that the journalistic high-priests of Time Inc. convened behind closed doors Tuesday to weigh the issues of the day, and editorial director John Huey asked a panel of distinguished editors: "What is the one interview that you wish you could get?" Time managing editor Jim Kelly didn't miss a beat. "Well, it's a tossup between the two men that nobody has seen Saddam Hussein and Dick Cheney." Knowing laughter all around.
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© 2003, Creators Syndicate