National Press Club

This week in Club history: Speaking to the Club – remotely

August 8, 2018 | By Gil Klein | gilbert.klein@me.com

Iranian President on a TV screen behind head table guests (l to R) National Press Club President Jerry Zremski; Kaveh Afrashiabi, a Bentley College professor; Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune; Donna Leinwand of USA Today; Hiroki Sugita of the Kyoda News Agency; Ken Mellgren of the Associated Press and Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders.

Iranian President on a TV screen behind head table guests (l to R) National Press Club President Jerry Zremski; Kaveh Afrashiabi, a Bentley College professor; Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune; Donna Leinwand of USA Today; Hiroki Sugita of the Kyoda News Agency; Ken Mellgren of the Associated Press and Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders.

While thousands of people have spoken at National Press Club luncheons, only one so far has appeared in a two-way electronic connection that allowed him to appear in the ballroom without actually being there.

The U.S. government would not allow Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Washington. His views on eradicating Israel, his support for terrorists throughout the Middle East and his threat to create nuclear weapons made him anathema to Americans. Many inside and out of the government warned that war with Iran could be inevitable.

That made him news.

For three months in 2007, Club President Jerry Zremski of the Buffalo News negotiated with the Iranian government and worked with the Club’s new Broadcast Operations Center to arrange for a teleconference. He visited the Iranian ambassador in New York. Would Amadinejad speak to the Club and take questions by VideoLink?

Everything came together just four days before the Sept. 24 event. Never before had the Club hosted a luncheon with the head of a country that did not have diplomatic relations with the United States, Zremski said.

To explain why, Zremski issued a press release saying, “Here at the National Press Club, it’s our job to facilitate the news – to help bring newsmakers and journalists together. That’s exactly what we are doing.”

Two large video screens awaited the Iranian president. About 20 TV cameras lined the back and sides of the ballroom.

About 10 minutes behind schedule, Ahmadinejad popped up on the screens from a U.N. studio in New York. He launched a rambling speech with long quotations from the Koran.
He dodged Zremski’s questions about floggings and imprisonment of students, journalists and women. “People in Iran are very joyous, happy people,” he said. “They are free in expressing what they think.”

If Americans wondered whether the Iranian president was a little weird, the luncheon removed all doubt. It was, as the Washington Post headlined the next day, “Mahmoud Aahmadinejad’s Unreality Show.”

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 110-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.