Eighteen hours after their fools’ errand of a flight landed in Havana, much of the Moscow-based press corps is still stranded continents away from the Snowden story they were chasing: sightseeing in the region, sniffing around the José Martí airport and wondering who exactly set them up.
Yesterday morning, several dozen reporters boarded a 12-hour, alcohol-less flight from Moscow to Havana on reports that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on the plane. When the flight took off without Snowden, most assumed he and a companion, Wikileaks’ Sarah Harrison, had simply bailed at the last minute — though some Russia-watchers suspect a higher force may have leaked false reports of Snowden's movements.
“I think there are not a few people at the very top who kind of enjoy poking America in the eye,” Vladimir Pozner, the host of a Russian political talk show, told the New York Times. “It might not seem funny to you, [but] it might seem very funny to a lot of top people, who are maybe congratulating each other, patting each other on the back and saying, ‘Didn’t we screw them?’ ”
The Times’ own reporters were not on the flight – neither were The Washington Post's – but others were not so lucky. Journalists from AP, Reuters and ABC, among other news organizations, landed in Havana around 7 p.m. local time Monday. According to ABC Moscow correspondent Kirit Radia, Cuban authorities then promptly asked some of them to leave, dispelling fears that visa requirements would keep the travelling reporters in the country for several days.
AP’s Max Seddon went on to Caracas, Venezuela, where he asked his Twitter followers to recommend good sightseeing. Anna Nemtsova, a Moscow correspondent for Newsweek and NBC News, told the AFP that she planned to stay in Havana a few days in case Snowden showed up.
“The search continues in the morning,” tweeted Finnish newspaper reporter Jussi Niemelainen, in Finnish, hours after observing that Snowden was not on the Havana-bound plane. But, he conceded, the in-flight movies were good, the temperature in Havana is a balmy 88 degrees and his hotel room overlooks the ocean. Not a bad deal, all together.
At least one news outlet was not dissuaded by yesterday’s caper. Early this morning, Radia tweeted that ABC had put another reporter on another flight from Moscow that Snowden could be taking. Again, he wasn’t on it.
At this rate, quipped AFP’s Maria Antonova, there won’t be any journalists left in the Moscow bureaus.