Baghdad Journal: May 16, 2006

I have secrets. I attended a "background briefing" from a "U.S. official" today. That means I can tell you everything this person said, but I can't tell you who said it. It is a secret I will carry with me forever. No one will ever know it except the 20 other journalists who were there with me.

The briefing was about the formation -- or lack thereof -- of the new Iraqi government. Not surprisingly, this unnamed official had a less pessimistic view of the situation than some people. This official made the case that this is the first time that Sunnis have been at the negotiation table, and that is the primary reason things are taking longer.

The fact that they are at the table is a good thing, this official said, and if it means things will take longer then so be it. a fair point, I suppose. This official said the Cabinet would not be named tomorrow. One Iraqi official told us it would. Another Iraqi official told us it wouldn't. I think it is a secret.

While we are waiting for the government, we have been following the upfronts very very closely. The upfronts are when the networks roll out their lineups for the following season. Despite all of my hopes and dreams, ABC did not give me the slot I wanted for my half-hour variety show (my idea was for a combination of "Solid Gold" and "Masterpiece Theatre." I think the network believed the proposed name, "Solid Masterpiece" was too provocative).

But one astute reader suggested the upfronts would be a good time to discuss what Iraqis watch on television. The glib answer is "whatever they want." But it is basically true. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, satellite dishes have popped up everywhere. Street vendors sell them by the hundreds every day, and if you look at apartment buildings the dishes seem to grow like fungus all over.

So Iraqis are bringing in a huge array of programming on their dishes, mostly from other Middle Eastern countries. There are Iraqi stations that show news and shows of various kinds, including some comedies that lampoon politics here.

But mostly, whenever I look at an Iraqi television I see sports. Soccer mostly. Leagues that I have never seen or heard of. I think Iraqis would watch junior high soccer matches from Suriname if they could. One of the scariest moments I have had here was one night when I was awakened at 4 a.m. by more gunshots than I had ever, ever heard. I ran outside to see what was going on, and the Iraqi soccer team had just won a game against North Korea, and people were firing guns into the air to celebrate.

We have slightly different viewing habits in the bureau. ABC Baghdad Bureau Chief Bruno Roeber was glued -- and I mean glued -- to the television watching "Ladybugs," starring Rodney Dangerfield. When confronted with Dangerfield's somewhat off-putting actions, Bruno responded, "I love Rodney Dangerfield!"

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that Bruno feels he is being misrepresented in these journals, and that his true personality is not coming through. On background, a source familiar with Bruno's thinking says that he is a nice chap, with enormous generosity of spirit, and most of all, excellent hygiene. I am still trying to get a second source on this ... or not. (Attached is a photo of Bruno. What you can't see is his chest hair, which is freshly trimmed.)

Honestly, Bruno keeps everyone in the bureau safe, happy, and laughing ... which is of unimaginable value in a place like Baghdad.

There was a major development just after this journal went to air last night -- so big, in fact, that it almost required a West Coast update: Namely Doug Flutie retired. Godspeed Doug Flutie.

I interview Lionel Richie tonight (for an airdate still to be determined). This is really happening. Any suggested questions?

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