Thurmont, Md. Here at the press filing center for the Camp David II Mideast peace talks, a TV reporter was lamenting to a White House press officer: "I've got to go on the air soon and I have nothing to report." The reaction of this news blackout enforcer: "Yesss!"
So much happening, so little to say. Scores of American reporters, as well as a clutch of foreign ones, have decamped to this rural hamlet an hour and a half north of Washington in the Catoctin Mountains to scrape for crumbs of news in the face of a conspiracy of silence among American, Israeli and Palestinian officials. Except for a carefully orchestrated and tightly controlled photo op on Day 1, all the reporters have been kept off the secluded grounds of Camp David. Most are eight miles away at the Thurmont Elementary School, where White House spokesman Joe Lockhart takes the podium once or twice a day to release no information of substance, except that everyone's working hard and peace is difficult. His most recent appearance included this Delphic pronouncement: "It means something to us, but I'm not going to get into what it means."
Some other scenes from the peace front:
*In lieu of news, they're releasing menus: We were told that on the first night, the summitteers dined on beef tenderloin, salmon with Thai curry, potatoes and beans. There were cashews available for breakfast the next day, a clear bow to mideast breakfast customs, and there's plenty of hummus.
*The sleeping arrangements: Clinton, like Carter before him at Camp David I, is staying at the four-bedroom Aspen cottage. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is in Dogwood, Arafat is in Birch, and the delegations all dine together in Laurel. The place is so spread out that some of the participants tool around in golf carts. One Aha! revelation: in 1978, Anwar Sadat stayed in Dogwood, and Menachem Begin was in Birch. Everyone's pondering the significance of this switcheroo.
*We're in the Navy now: Even though it's miles from the ocean, Camp David is run by the Navy. So it's guarded by Marines, very muscular-looking men in fatigues and very, very short haircuts. They run an extremely tight ship: before the small party of reporters and lensmen were admitted into the compound for a brief photo session with the three smiling leaders, the Marines sternly lectured them that under no circumstances were they to bring in alcohol (those press guys!) use cell phones (which, to the glee of the White House, don't work well up here anyway) or to take any pictures outside the designated photo op area. Anyone caught doing so or even raising their camera above their waist would be detained, removed from the grounds, and turned over to authorities "to be dealt with."
*No cameras, please: So tight is security within the "classified facility", as one Marine called it, that even White House aides on the grounds have had their personal cameras confiscated for the duration.
*Some work and some play: First daughter Chelsea joined the President for the opening day and met the leaders, and First Dog Buddy came along to keep him company, too. After the first night's dinner, father and daughter caught the last part of the All-Star Game.
*All play and no work: The small contingent of "pool" reporters posted at a National Park Service recreation center close by the Camp got a basketball to help pass the long dead hours. The main group back at the elementary school, having interviewed all the Thurmont townsfolk, have started to interview one another. Some, out of boredom or looking for ledes, have started to read the inspirational homilies that teachers have posted for their students in the halls and above the blackboards. A favorite: "Success comes in cans, not in cannots." Come to think of it....