Summit on the shore


I FOUND some comfort in Morley Safer's mistake the other night while introducing a "60 Minutes" segment: "President Clinton will host Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu this week during a summit in Washington."

He was wrong, of course. Washington will not serve as a backdrop to the Middle East peace talks that begin tomorrow; that honor belongs to the Eastern Shore's Wye Plantation.

Mr. Safer's writers (sorry Morley) evidently missed or ignored that detail, robbing the Eastern Shore of some rare diplomatic prestige. But maybe we here on the shore should just keep our mouths shut and let the error go by uncorrected. Too much attention in the international summit arena can be a bad thing. Just look at Dayton, Ohio.

Picking the nondescript Ohio city as the site for a Bosnian summit became a punch line almost from the moment it was announced. Simple, straight-talking, aw-shucks Dayton simply didn't mesh with the high brow balancing act that is a White House-brokered peace talk.

So a running sidebar to summit coverage emerged: The odd juxtapositon of the diplomatic elite working their magic amid all these Midwestern folks who probably didn't understand the whole Bosnian mess in the first place, and certainly weren't interested in it.

Which brings us back to the summit on the shore. I worry about the irresistible media urge to yokelize the Eastern Shore with cutesy feature pieces whipped up to give a news story color. Broadcasting live, reporters will tell of a place filled with people who are so God-fearing and decent they couldn't care less about the world events unfolding in their back yard.

"Folks here aren't too worried about NET-and-YAHOO, or whoever he is," the local will say, mouth half full. "They're more worried about when it's gonna rain next." This is the perfect quote for a summit color story, and the reporters will find it. They could find that quote on the streets of Paris if they had to. They just have to talk to enough people.

The shore doesn't need this. We are proud of our connection to land and water, and certainly enjoy the lack of pretense here. The frustration comes when big city reporters translate that into a backwater land of unsophisticates, where the scrapple is thick, the crabs are mean, and Israel and Palestine can just go ahead and solve their problems on their own.

We've dodged this bullet a couple of times before. Mr. Clinton traveled across the Bay Bridge during his first term to hunt ducks down in Dorchester County. This got some media attention, but without the tongue-in-cheek sidebars of a place where Bubba could feel comfortable.

Buddy, the first dog, also hails from the shore, a gift of a Talbot County couple who are friends of the Clintons. The press has yet to focus much attention on his roots over here. ("Buddy came from a simple home, just 90 minutes away but a virtual eternity from the intrigue and machinations of official Washington . . .")

So we'll brace ourselves for another Eastern Shore moment in the national spotlight, one we hope will shine bright with praise and admiration for the summit's graceful surroundings.

We can make a lip-smackin' muskrat stew, too, but best not to mention that. People might get the wrong idea.

Douglas Hanks III, a former newspaper reporter, directs media relations for Washington College in Chestertown.

Pub Date: 10/14/98


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