Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Three Stooges In Nairobi

When I was little I looked forward to Saturday mornings to watch Three Stooges reruns on tv  – not so much because they were particularly funny or amusing, but because I was fascinated by the unthought-out antics the three concocted and how things ended up.  It was – for a six year old – mind expanding to see how illogic and stupidity can lead to ridiculous and often disruptive circumstances.

That introduction brings me to the US Trade Representative’s press office run by three contemporary Stooges – assistant USTR for public affairs Matt McAlvanah (Moe), his underling Trevor Kincaid (Curley) and press secretary Andrew Bates (Larry).  And don’t leave out USTR’s head Stooge – US Trade Representative Michael Froman – who reminds me of Shemp Howard, the “fourth Stooge,” who is often cast as an extremely near-sighted bumbling idiot who can’t see past the end of his nose.

Since the beginning of the current USTR’s term two-and-a-half years ago, USTR’s Three Stooges have thrived on attacking Washington Trade Daily almost continuously –

Here’s some of the episodes over those years – all worth a blog of their own –


●        A year ago WTD had an exclusive story from Geneva that the United States and India had reached a deal on the crucial Trade Facilitation Agreement – which was immediately denied by USTR.  Of course, we were correct.  But according to USTR, we were not because a compromise was not final until it was publicly announced by President Obama.  (Huh?)
Deputy USTR Michael Punke immediately went to work in Geneva, sending urgent e-mails from the US mission to the other missions at the WTO saying WTD was wrong and we would retract the story right away.  (Huh?)
Then the follow-up by the Stooges’ office.  We were taken off USTR’s press list and all ties with WTD were cut off – even to the extent that we did not receive ordinary press releases or announcements of public meetings.  Added to that – and what I really can’t dismiss – was charges from Stooge Curley (Kincaid) that our reporting was “un-American.”  (Huh?)


●       The same Stooge (Kincaid)  – who apparently now is USTR’s liaison with WTD – took aim at WTD’s reporting on USTR’s “sacred” TransPacific Partnership negotiations for reporting both sides of the issue, particularly Congressional views.
Of course, according to USTR, WTD knows nothing about trade or reporting.  Of particular note is an incident that involved one of the many Capitol Hill press conferences with members opposed to TPP.  It was led by TPP critic Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) – a 25-year veteran of Congress.
Well, according to USTR, Rep. DeLauro also “knows nothing about trade” and only parrots what she is told by Public Citizen.  (Huh?).

●        Another circumstance – gone unreported until now – was a small brief press conference outside of USTR Froman’s office at the Winder Building with visiting European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström.  Of course WTD was not invited – even though Inside US Trade, Politico Trade, Bloomberg BNA and other “invited guests” were.
Well, WTD got into the building anyway and attended the stand-up press conference.  Overheard was Moe (USTR’s McAlvanah) saying to his European Commission counterpart that we were not supposed to be there.  (Huh?)


●        All along over the past two years WTD has received numerous e-mails from USTR calling our reporting inaccurate and wrong.  We regularly requested corrections or clarifications from USTR.  No responses ever emanated.
After a string of such electronic harassments, I finally had it.  The final straw was reached with a series of e-mails complaining – as ususal – about our reporting.  In this case, we were accused of siding with India and not following the Stooges’ spin.  
We did not respond to the emails – but we collected them – until Curley emailed Mary, my wife and partner in WTD, late one evening asking her to talk to me about my biased reporting and that I was ignoring USTR’s communications.
Mary told me about the email and I responded to Curley, saying — “You’re a f***king nut.”


●       The latest and most nonsensical escapade – again launched by Curley – came two week ago during the WTO Nairobi ministerial conference.  

For further entertainment by the misadventures of USTR’s Stooges follow the verbatim emails below.

(Scene Setting – It was the eve of the World Trade Organization’s 10th anniversary Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.  USTR was contacted several times in advance that WTD would be there and would appreciate being included in any briefings or press conferences.  The response – NONE.
Then a series of mishaps started off with charges by Curley that our Geneva correspondent – Ravi Kanth – participated in an “invite-only” telephone briefing on the upcoming meeting.  In the first email Curley expressed extreme disgust with WTD for its unethical behavior.
(Huh?)  What briefing?  Knew nothing of it and Ravi did not participate.

First e-mail from WTD’s Ravi Kanth to USTR Curley –

Hi Trevor,

I will be in Nairobi from Saturday and request you to include me in all background and other events so to report for WTD.

Appreciate it very much if you could confirm .




Second email from Ravi Kanth to Curley –

-----Original Message-----
From: RaviKanth Devarakonda <>
To: TKincaid <>
Cc: Washington Trade Daily <>; Jim Berger - Washington Trade Daily <>
Sent: Sat, Dec 12, 2015 8:35 am
Subject: Wish to attend your briefings in Nairobi

Hello Trevor, 

I wish to request you to include me in background and other briefings during the WTO's ministerial meeting in Nairobi. I have already reached Nairobi and look forward to your assistance so to report for WTD during the next seven days.

Awaiting for your response.

best regards

Ravi Kanth



I just landed from Brussels. I understand you were on a call that was invite only. This level of ethical disregard is troubling. I know Andrew explained this very clearly on the call but I wanted to make sure there was no ambiguity over the ground rules. 

The entire call was deep background.  Our definition is below and link is provided where it is available online.

Also, it was made clear the information from the call is embargoed until 12:01a ET Sunday. 

Jim and Mary, I am including you to make sure in the editing process that these rules are respected. Also, I wanted to express my level of disappointment in behavior that I consider lacks journalistic integrity. 

Thank you

NOTE:  On Deep Background
The source cannot be quoted or identified in any manner, not even as "an unnamed source." The information is usually couched in such phrases as "it is understood that" or "it has been learned." The information may be used to help present the story or to gain a better understanding of the subject, but the knowledge is that of the reporter, not the source.- 


Trevor Kincaid
Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative
Office of Public Affairs
Executive Office of the President

RESPONSE FROM WTD (almost immediately from WTD in Washington)


  I'm not aware of this situation, so I'm a little confused. Was this a press call that we were supposed to be excluded from participating in?
Thanks in advance for clearing this up


Email from WTD in Washington to Ravi Kanth in Nairobi

On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 4:33 PM, Washington Trade Daily <> wrote:

Froman had an article in the Financial Times, which we reported on in the around the globe section today.    USTR told us you were on a phone conference call that you were not invited to -- I think on Saturday or Sunday.  That is what I was referring to.  Were you on that call?   Was it a press call?  What was said -- anything?

That's all.


E-mail response from Ravi Kanth to WTD in Washington

Jim: I have no clue because I don't know what he said. but will check and get back.


email from WTD to Ravi –

On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 4:51 PM, Washington Trade Daily <> wrote:
Hi Ravi, 
  I've copied below the email that we got from Trevor, which I assume you received as well. I emailed Trevor asking for more information about whether this was a press call that you were not invited to be on, but never heard anything back from him. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?

Email from Ravi Kanth to WTD from Nairobi


I don't know what Trevor was talking about because I have not spoken to him or attended any call by the USTR. My wife was furious that I didn't complain about what he is referring to because I never spoke to this guy, nor attended any call.  Please, ask him.  He is telling a lie. I'm very angry. Please check with him.


Email from Ravi in Nairobi to WTD in Washington 

Dear Mary,

I saw a message from the US spokespersons office about their Geneva visit and sent the following email which I had marked it to Jim.

Hello Trevor, 

I wish to request you to include me in background and other briefings during the WTO's ministerial meeting in Nairobi. I have already reached Nairobi and look forward to your assistance so to report for WTD during the next seven days.

Awaiting for your response.

best regards

Ravi Kanth

After that he sent that nasty email and I reported without raising any murmur. I just checked with the Inside Trade guy who says he was not invited.  You can ask him  [Curley] what he is referring to when I did not participate any of his briefings.  Tell him that I responded to their email about who would be there is Nairobi. 




Thanks Trevor.

I just saw it and the rules are fine with me. 

Look forward to your assistance.




email from WTD to Ravi Kanth in Nairobi


On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 3:07 PM, Washington Trade Daily <> wrote:
You can ignore USTR completely and use your other sources.  They won't be in contact or answer any questions from you.  That is their standard operating procedure with us.

I will be checking the wires from this end from Nairobi.   What did USTR say at that secret phone briefing anyway.  (we asked the press guy if it was a press call.   He did not respond.  I assume Froman outlined what was in his Financial Times article.

Unless things improve there tremendously with the press people I will be in direct contact with Froman once he returns to Washington.   Froman and myself have a good relationship.

Email from WTD to Ravi in Nairobi – 

On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 5:21 AM, Washington Trade Daily <> wrote:

 Just checking to see if we have a connection or if there are any problems -- or if Punke has killed you yet.


email from Ravi Kanth to WTD in Washington 

From: Ravi Kanth Devarakonda <>
To: Washington Trade Daily <>
Sent: Mon, Dec 14, 2015 8:39 am
Subject: Re: Nairobi

No I have not heard anything from Punke yet.
Also, none from Kincaid and will navigate carefully.


WTD’s e-mail to Ravi Kanth in Nairobi

Ravi:  Just wanted you to see this from USTR

UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE               Washington, D.C. 20508          202-395-3230

USTR Press Office Week Ahead
December 11, 2015 – December 18, 2015

Friday, December 11
From December 11-19, Ambassador Vetter will travel to Kenya for the WTO Ministerial Meeting.
Nairobi, Kenya
Open press opportunities
For media inquiries, please contact Trevor Kincaid at

Tuesday, December 15
From December 15-19, Ambassador Froman and Ambassador Punke will travel to Kenya for the WTO Ministerial Meeting.
Nairobi, Kenya
Open press opportunities
For media inquiries, please contact Trevor Kincaid at

Hi Ravi.  I see that the climate is the same in Nairobi as in Geneva and Washington.    I hope you don't expect to get on a ustr call.   Are they doing one every day?   Let me know.    There is an eight hour difference.  It is 7:40 am here.  We'll do an issue tonight.


December 18  Email from Ravi Kanth to WTD  –

Jim:  By the way, Kincaid called Politico and the Inside US trade guys for a background briefing, but not me.



 by Jim Berger   WTD

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