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State Department Coverages Turns Foggy

If Condi Rice is such good TV, why do none of the networks want to cover the State Department?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will have a seat at the ABC News table at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner April 29, but ABC has given up its seat at the State Department.

Jonathan Karl, who had been covering the State Department, has moved to national security, principally covering the Pentagon. ABC has no plans to replace him at State.

At CNN, Andrea Koppel has switched from covering the State Department to Capitol Hill. She had been on the diplomatic beat since 1998. “The network has decided not to replace her,” says a CNN source. “It’s open as to how we will cover it.”

Says CNN bureau chief David Bohrman: “State as its own beat was not getting on the air every day. Though the secretary of State is a fascinating person, stories about her were falling into the White House coverage. “We can cover it without a full-time correspondent,” he says.

CNN producer Elise Labott takes a seat in the State Department press room every day, along with NBC’s Libby Leist, CBS’s Charlie Wolfson, and Teri Schultz of Fox News.

“No network has a correspondent who sits there any more on a full-time basis,” says a longtime diplomatic reporter. “It is a diminution of the seriousness in which the networks take the beat.”

Says the CNN source: “We were the last. The era is over, as far as TV goes.”

Bohrman says national-security correspondent David Ensor will be detailed to State at times; CNN International anchor Zain Verjee is moving to DC from Atlanta, and she sometimes will be detailed to State.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell covers the State Department and foreign affairs, but her beat has expanded far beyond Foggy Bottom.

Daily newspapers have not abandoned the beat. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has been on it for years, and the Post has added Robin Wright to its team. The New York Times, which assigns two reporters to the State Department, is in the process of changing its personnel there. Neil King covers State for the Wall Street Journal.

To be sure, a reporter no longer needs to be seated in the State Department briefing room to cover the department, but why does TV news think less of the beat?

Condi Rice can make for dashing footage in her travels, and getting on the plane is still a plum assignment. But diplomats talking diplomacy does not make for great TV.

“The State Department is not great at working the media,” says a TV reporter. “The briefings are dry. And diplomats are secretive by nature, more so than Pentagon officials.”

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