Richardson Meets with Jan. 9, 5:30 pm: "Let's get a sign out here that says welcome to the Axis of Evil," jokes a local TV reporter. "What do you think they're having for dinner," asks another.
"I dunno. Puppies?"
Laughs by some, stunned silence by others.
"Man, I shouldn't have said that. Oh, forget I said that. That's awful."
So begins a couple of long, cold days hanging out at the governor's mansion, waiting for scraps of information about what is going on inside as Gov. Bill Richardson and North Korean ambassador Han Song Ryol discuss the nuclear arms crisis.
Jan. 10, 8:30 am: Pyongyang announces withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and suggests North Korea might resume missile testing. At the governor's mansion, the media crowd has tripled in force to about 30, with half as many cameras at the ready. Producers from four Japanese networks are the only Asian media present. LA Times writer Lianne Hart arrives from the Houston bureau and immediately begins squeezing locals for info on what New York Times writers Michael Janofsky and Steven Weisman are up to. "Why hasn't anyone followed the cars to find out where the North Koreans are staying?" she asks conspiratorially.
Billy Sparks, Richardson's soft-spoken spokesman, comes out of hibernation to allow the media inside for a fast photo op. This reporter gets elbowed in the ribs by a cameraman on the right and, in turn, shoves the NPR guy to the left as the pack rushes inside. It's tense. Han and Richardson talk about altitude sickness as cameras flash around them. After more than a few "thanks guys, that's all" from Richardson, the reporters slowly leave.
3 pm: A discarded pizza box and rechargeable batteries are scattered near camera equipment on the mansion lawn. The banter outside vacillates from idle gossip--"I heard a reporter from Texas say that the governor's mansion looks like an abortion clinic"--to political talk. "Nothing is going to happen here. This is fodder for the debate," says Janofsky, the New York Times writer out of the Denver bureau. "We don't know what the North Koreans want and anyone who says they do is lying."
Japanese producer Satomi Furugaki of NHK-TV takes a different stance. "There may not be a direct impact, but it definitely raised the concern among Japanese people. We have a very nervous relationship with North Korea and the fact that there are so many US bases in Japan... Well, if there was a war it would impact us directly."
5 pm: The collegial atmosphere among reporters becomes cutthroat during preparations for an informal press conference outside. Thirteen cameras are arranged in a semi-circle and reporters fight for the best spot near a makeshift podium. CNN legend Bob Franken unapologetically steals a young reporter's spot near the podium, prompting the reporter to mutter: "Damn, I lost my spot," before repositioning himself. Richardson takes questions only from Franken and says talks will resume tomorrow. The sound byte is done and Franken turns to leave, immediately running into a low branch of a tree. He nonchalantly picks the bark out of his gleaming white hair as Richardson yells, "Franken, Franken!" They hug before the governor is whisked into an SUV for the 20-yard drive back to the mansion's front door. ("I've known him since his Congressional days," Franken later explains with a shrug.)
Jan. 11, 10:15 am: Richardson steps out with Han for a final press conference and says North Korea has "no intention of building nuclear weapons" despite the fact that there were calls for a holy war against the US yesterday. This, apparently, is just a negotiating tactic. The talks are over, the last statement made. Tired camera crews pack up their equipment and drive off into the distance, leaving the governor's mansion back in its normal state--a lone building overlooking the Santa Fe hills.