VIENNA, Austria. Journalists in the United States jealously guard their sense of independence. In order to avoid even the appearance of bias, we’ve invented all kinds of rules silly rules for ourselves.
One of these cardinal rules is never eat the free food. When going out for a meal or even a coffee we pay for everyone at the table or at least for ourselves. We are not a guest, we are a professional doing a job.
When we return with restaurant receipts, the business-side isn’t happy, each expense is met with a withering look from accounting, but it is one principle that even the bean counters in the age of cost-cutting have learned to accept.
In Austria, the rules don’t seem nearly as rigid. One Austrian ex-journalist told me, Austrian journalists live from free meal to free meal.
Covering the Salzburg 2014 Olympic Bid, it was like Christmas came early. While the press was given very little access to the International Olympic Committee inspectors, they never went hungry or thirsty.
The thinking, I believe, is that journalists cannot ask the hard questions when their mouths are crammed with speckkndel.
I felt like a Puritan questioning the gifts lavished from bath salts to a miniature sachertorte to the press corps. The South Korean journalists, whose own country is competing with Austria for the 2014 Winter Games, didnt seem to mind as they brandished their Salzburg 2014 backpacks and hats we had all received as part of our Welcome Packages.
Things turned surreal when a South Korean television reporter wearing a Salzburg 2014 baseball cap almost went live on his country’s national television to deliver a report. Fortunately, his quick-thinking producer yanked the cap off his head before he had a chance to humiliate himself in front of a television audience of millions.
Im not going to pretend that I was above it all. Ill admit it, and so long to my professional reputation in the United States, that I ate my sachertorte, I gave the bathsalts to a girl and I gorged myself on speckkndel with the rest of them. Truth be told, I even have a blue Salzburg 2014 baseball cap as a souvenir that Ill give to a family member back home.
Because of my own weakness, and the quality of the Austrian cooking, I broke down and yes, I ate the free food.