Madam Secretary: Um, Why Did You Visit Google?
The invitation looked interesting enough: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was bringing a guest, U.K. Foreign Minister David Miliband, to Silicon Valley to visit Bloom Energy in the morning and the Google headquarters on Amphitheater Parkway in the afternoon.
So The Station packed up laptop, camera, videocam, notebook and voice recorder and took the short drive down the Bayshore Freeway to Mountain View, Calif., to find out what this was all about.
Are the Brits planning to build their own search-engine company in Trafalgar Square? Is Google looking to buy Wales? Are Eric Schmidt or Vint Cerf bidding to become ambassador to the crown? Nobody seemed to know.
The event came and went, and we still don't know what it was about.
Rice and Miliband visited for an hour or so with Google employees inside the big auditorium in Building 40, then came out to meet our little gang of press people, who had been penned up in a small grassy area between two buildings for more than an hour. Once we were in the pen, they wouldn't let us out--not even to visit the restroom. We were sniffed by a dog to make sure we had no drugs or explosives, had our personal bags rifled through and scrutinized by a security guard and were stared at unblinkingly (for suspicious body language, perhaps?) by sober-faced law-enforcement officers for an hour. Strangely, there were no metal detectors.
We should have brought sunblock. All we could do was soak up some rays.
Finally, Rice and Miliband came out of the auditorium and walked over to the microphones at the edge of our grassy pen.
Miliband remarked that he was thankful that Secretary Rice rescued him from the chilliness of the United Kingdom for the warmth and sunshine of "Southern California."
"Northern California!" Rice corrected him. "Oh, sorry!" Miliband said. Scattered laughs.
Then the political reporters took over, asking questions about Iran and the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. A Stanford Daily reporter asked Rice if she wanted to return to Stanford when her term as Secretary of State is up, even if she might not be exactly welcomed back, due to her affiliation with the Bush administration. Rice--with occasional help from Miliband--answered them all dutifully.
Finally, a CNN reporter got a question in about the visit.
"We should have at least one technology question!" she said. "What's the purpose for visiting Google today?"
Rice handled that challenging one with aplomb. "We applaud Google and its employees for the innovation they bring to the IT industry, and we look forward to future innovation," she said.
Fifteen minutes into this hoo-haw, before The Station could get a question in, it was over. "Thank you, Madam Secretary," somebody said. And off they went to some other important meeting.
A waste of my time today? You be the judge. We're just glad we're not covering the Bush administration on a daily basis.