The third day of the two-week United Nations General Assembly took a strange twist on Thursday afternoon.
Shortly after 4 p.m., Zimbabwe's beleaguered president, Robert Mugabe, took the podium to deliver a rambling lecture blasting the United States and the European Union for their ever-growing economic, political, and military sanctions on his impoverished nation.
In addition to the numerous allegations of human rights abuses leveled against the Zimbabwe leader comes the charge that he tried to fix, then subsequently steal, the recent presidential elections.
Once called the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe now often is described as the "basket case" of that continent, after 28 years of Mugabe rule. U.N. reports put the annual inflation rate at more than 5,000 percent, one of the world’s worst.
So, the man ABC News had labeled "the butcher of Africa" was the man of the afternoon at U.N. headquarters. He even overshadowed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Bill Gates, who also were visiting the United Nations.
As Mugabe left the marble-encrusted podium, he and his entourage brushed past waiting reporters and well-wishers.
"He has an important interview," an aide explained.
As he dashed through the adjoining conference building into the 38-story Secretariat tower, he eventually landed smack in the middle of the world body's press center.
The president flashed past more journalists on his way to the interview.
Where was he headed?
To the studio of "the news leader” CNN?
To the home of "fair and balanced” Fox News?
To BBC World TV?
Not even close.
The president and father of modern-day Zimbabwe was headed to conduct his wide-ranging important interview with: iCastNews.com.
Who? What? Is iCast like an iPod, an iPhone?
None of the above. Rather, iCastNews.com is the brainchild of S.J. Casella, a New York entrepreneur who started the nascent operation just over two years ago.
Casella intended to create a "new media" operation at the U.N.
Unlike the U.N.'s Internet site, iCastNews.com was designed to give many of the smaller member states an outlet for their views without traversing the U.N.'s bureaucracy for access to UNTV or the U.N. Web site.
Before long, UNTV and the U.N. Web site were working to get rid of their new competitor. The U.N.'s Department of Public Information (DPI) eventually issued iCastNews.com an eviction notice in October 2007.
"I had less than three weeks to live," Casella lamented.
But instead of succumbing to U.N. pressure, Casella hired an attorney, who persuaded the U.N. to back off.
However, life at the U.N. and Casella’s one-man (sometimes two-man) operation has been a series of 20-hour days pleading with notables to come to his studio instead of the giants (CNN and BBC) nearby.
Sometimes he succeeded, as when he landed a session with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
Most of the time, though, it has been an exercise of David vs. multiple Goliaths.
Until Thursday, when U.N. security officers guarding the entrance to the iCast studio sent reporters from CNN, Fox, BBC, Al-Jazeera and Reuters scrambling as they dashed behind Mugabe.
Reporters pleaded: What is he saying? What is he talking about?
Only those logged onto iCastNews.com knew.
As Mugabe left the 45-minute interview, more than 60 journalists and countless TV crews confronted him.
"Why are you doing this to us?" barked CNN's Richard Roth.
Reuters bureau chief Patrick Worsnip had a tell-tale frown.
The president did stop, but for just a few minutes to deliver some brief comments, but no more.
Later, Casella, the so-called U.N. gadfly, paraded around the U.N. press center like a cat who ate a canary.
The cat will not divulge how he landed the "big get."
"Who's next? Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?" one reporter said.
Casella replied: "Watch my Web site."
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