Right place, wrong time; right city, wrong hotel

I’ve always thought that the movie character Forrest Gump would make quite a good journalist. I’m not talking of his slow wits and poor speaking skills — although that wouldn’t necessarily rule out every hack I’ve ever met. I’m thinking more of his habit of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to catch the action.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  February 12, 2006

Right place, wrong time; right city, wrong hotel|~||~||~|I’ve always thought that the movie character Forrest Gump would make quite a good journalist. I’m not talking of his slow wits and poor speaking skills — although that wouldn’t necessarily rule out every hack I’ve ever met. I’m thinking more of his habit of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to catch the action. Those who are familiar with the movie may remember his pivotal role in the capture of the Watergate burglars. And in accidentally helping John Lennon write ‘Imagine’. Being in the right place at the right time to see dramatic events is something that would be useful for any journalist — even if sensible people would prefer to be far away. But events over the last few days suggest that I’m not Forrest Gump. I appeared to be permanently a few hours ahead of the action. So I found myself strolling through central Beirut, and practically past the front door of the pleasant offices of Team Y&R, Asda’a, Intermarkets and Mediaedge:cia, unaware that, as you will read on today’s front page, within a few hours they would be gutted in an attack on the Danish embassy in the same building. Thankfully, being the weekend, the staff were unhurt, albeit alarmed at how close to home the protests over the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed have now come. It’s a challenge that is already engulfing the PR community. As we also report this week, one agency — which is so far keeping its identity secret — is advising Danish food firm Arla about how to handle the boycott of its products in the Middle East. And the region’s media is walking on eggshells. Local newspaper editors who carry letters debating the topic have suffered personal abuse and even threats, magazines are making sure that every word on the subject is signed off by the management, and radio stations are warning their presenters about exactly what terminology they are allowed to use. It is a dangerous time to suffer even a slip of the tongue. Happily for me, by the time the situation got out of hand in Beirut, I was already on my way to missing the next drama, which was fortunately of a more positive aspect. Egypt has been hosting the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, and pretty much the entire country got caught up in the excitement as the host nation swept into the final. This time I was in the wrong place at the right time. The wrong place being Cairo’s Intercontinental in a bedroom next door to what sounded like 100 dedicated football fans, who started their party at about midnight on the night before the semi-final and were still going strong when I blearily left my room at 8am the following morning. There was an atmosphere of excitement within the Cairo agencies I visited on Tuesday, and it was also reflected, as we report today, in the vast advertising boost the tournament has given to the country. Yes, the atmosphere must have been electric. But, once again, it was right place, wrong time for me. As the 7pm kickoff came round, I was sitting on the runway in the slightly less interesting atmosphere of an Emirates plane. Regardless, the event has given a tantalising hint of the advertising frenzy to be expected in June when the Saudi Arabian team travels to Germany for the football world cup — particularly if they get through the group stage. And I’m glad to say that the trip did include one moment of being in precisely the right place at the right time. Until you’ve watched your sales colleague’s face as he discovers that his air ticket is for a full 24 hours later than he thought, and that the only flight of the night is full, you haven’t enjoyed every one of life’s rich pleasures. It’s a moment even Forrest Gump would find hard to top.||**||

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