World leaders at the Group of Eight summit on Sea Island this week will produce a thick stack of initiatives, action plans and communiques solving most every problem devised by God or man, from stolen passports to methane gas waste. But surely none of these initiatives is as innovative as the G-8's bold new action plan to stop rumormongering.
The Bush administration, as host of the summit this year, had cards printed up for the thousands of security personnel keeping the summiteers safe from terrorists and street demonstrators. Titled "G-8 Media Guidance," the cards instruct: "If you are approached by a reporter during the G-8 summit, you should (1) Notify your chain of command and/or (2) Call the Joint Information Center." If that does not prove sufficient, the card lists a "Rumor Control" line under "Other important numbers."
The number puts callers through to the G-8 public affairs office, where an employee of the U.S. government is on call, ready to quash any rumor that comes her way. "We haven't had any today," she reported when a caller inquired Tuesday about the latest rumors. "That's a blessing, I guess."
The office has already knocked down two rumors this week. On Sunday, word spread that there was a meningitis outbreak in the convention center here where reporters work. "There was no meningitis," the rumor-control specialist said, citing a mistaken diagnosis. On Monday, there was a rumor that United Parcel Service uniforms were being sold on eBay and could be used to breach security at the summit. "Not true," rumor control reports.
'D-Day in Reverse'
No man is an island, but the world leaders assembled here come pretty close. President Bush and his counterparts are huddled on Sea Island, protected from the rest of the world by an armada of gunboats, thousands of armed police officers and an array of antiaircraft batteries, among other things. The leaders are 85 miles from Savannah -- the nearest city of any size -- where journalists, low-level members of delegations and demonstrators assemble. Access to the leaders is zealously restricted: Only one reporter from the U.S. media is allowed on Sea Island each day, and those wishing to see the airport arrivals of world leaders had to secure a place in a number of color-coded "pools," including mint green (Canada), deep purple (Japan) and aqua (Germany). No, Jacques Chirac was not assigned the "yellow" pool.
It is, perhaps, an unfortunate image for the leaders, who are here to extol the virtues of democracy and freedom. Indeed, many of the same leaders were in Normandy on Sunday, celebrating history's most famous liberation of a heavily fortified beach -- leading one irreverent member of Bush's traveling press corps to describe the Sea Island summit as "D-Day in reverse."
But this state of siege has become the standard for summitry in the age of terrorism and anti-globalization demonstrations. The previous two G-8 meetings, in France and Canada, were held in the mountains.
Feeding Them Doughnuts
For the hordes in Savannah awaiting word from Sea Island, the G-8 has provided such diversions as a high-tech weather globe, rides on an electric-powered car and, best of all, a Krispy Kreme doughnut-manufacturing facility on a trailer, which has been churning out 1,200 of the fattening treats per hour, all week long. Talk about a mobile biological weapons lab.
Even the Bush administration has joined in this smorgasbord, parting with its tight-lipped ways and offering interviews with 19 senior administration officials to anybody who asks. Interviews with some of the luminaries on the list, such as White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have proved elusive. But others, such as John R. Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, have gamely sat for hours as a procession of reporters from around the world file in for 20-minute interviews -- the G-8 equivalent of a carnival dunking booth. Asked midday on Tuesday how many interviews he had done so far, Bolton estimated: "A million."
Turkish Side Trip?
The administration has had some setbacks as it rolled out its Middle East peace initiative this week among regional leaders on Sea Island. Egypt and Saudi Arabia declined the invitations. But, in an important boost for the American proposal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of democratic Turkey, was on hand for the rollout. A vote of confidence for the U.S. initiative? Actually, a Turkish official explained, the prime minister's son graduates from Harvard this week, so Erdogan was already in the neighborhood.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.