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An Open-and-Shut Forum

Angelina Jolie comes to Washington, on background.

1:30 PM, May 26, 2004 • By ERIN MONTGOMERY
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TUESDAY AFTERNOON, a little Hollywood glamour was bestowed upon Washington, when an Academy Award-winning actress spoke at the State Department. The drab Loy Henderson Auditorium suddenly became a whole lot prettier as the distinguished guest speaker walked into the room. She flashed her pouty smile at the expectant audience, flipped her long brown hair over her shoulder, and smoothed her sleek black dress suit over her aerobicized figure before sitting down next to the other members of the panel.

Male interns swooned and a twenty-something female wearing a State Department employee badge declared, "I love her!" All seemed pleased to get a chance to sneak out of their moldy government offices for a dose of celebrity sex appeal. The guest of honor was Angelina Jolie, goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. She spoke about an issue that is close to her heart--putting an end to human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Southeast Asia. Jolie has an adopted 3-year-old son from Cambodia. After her brief remarks, she introduced the documentary Trading Women, which was then shown to the audience.

The 56-minute film, narrated by Jolie, investigates the trading of girls and women from the hill tribes of Burma, Laos, and China into the Thai sex industry. It was broadcast on public television in the United States last year. According to an article posted on the State Department website, special showings of the film were scheduled to take place in London, Paris, and Washington "to further educate policymakers and the public about what many now recognize as slavery in the 21st century."

So how did Jolie do in front of her Washington audience? Was she vapid, shallow, overconfident? Or vibrant, brilliant, humbly well-informed? Sorry, but I can't tell you. William Keppler, chairman of the Secretary's Open Forum--which sponsors frequent discussions on foreign policy matters--informed the audience, before Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky could even give her opening remarks, that all remarks made by panel members would be off the record.

Which invites the question: Why were members of the press invited in the first place? Sure, it is enough to attend an event just for the sake of journalistic edification--to learn more about the serious issue of human trafficking and what legislators are doing about the problem. But why then, after passing through security, did I come to a counter with press badges splayed across it? I had picked up the obligatory guest badge, which indicates that visitors must be escorted at all times. But was I to obtain a press pass as well? I asked the woman behind the counter, who was half-asleep. She said she didn't know if I needed a press pass and went back to snoozing.

But the most confusing part of the visit occurred during the audience question-and-answer portion of the forum. A gentleman stood up and asked the panel, "What specific recommendations do you have for the media?" And what was the answer from Chairman William Keppler, who had precluded journalists from quoting Jolie and the other panel members? "Get the word out." He strongly urged that we talk to our family and friends about this under and inaccurately reported scourge upon human rights.



I wish I could tell you more, but, indeed, after placing a call with the State Department press relations office, I was told yet again that remarks made by panel members are to remain off the record. So much for the "Open" Forum.



Erin Montgomery is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.