By: Kelvin Childs
Many news photographers had waited seven months for this day. They had good positions,
clear weather and fine light. Monica stepped into full view. Then, the unexpected happened.
Monica S. Lewinsky’s 8:15 a.m., Aug. 6 arrival at the federal courthouse in Washington was the snap of a lifetime ? the moment a small army of photographers, camera operators and reporters had wanted since January.
“The cars pull up,” said a TV camera operator who did not wish to identify himself or his agency. “She gets out. I’ve got her perfectly. I see a hug. I see a shrug, a look of resignation, like, ‘Let’s do this.’ Then half of my picture goes black. It was such a jolt, so I look up and see what he was doing.”
“He” was George Hancock, a tourist from Bowling Green, Ky., waving a hand-lettered placard reading “GOOD LUCK MONICA.” As he moved to get Lewinsky’s attention, he walked in front of three dozen camera crews that had been staked out at the southeast corner since
“We’ve been waiting seven months for this one picture, and this clown screwed it up for all of us,” the TV camera operator said.
Hancock, however, soon found himself the target of angry howls to get out of the way. Minutes later, he became a momentary celebrity, posing for other reporters who needed a bit of folksy color for their reports.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” he said of blocking the camera crews. “I wanted Monica to see my sign. I wanted her to know that at least one person wishes her well.” Hancock said he and his family were passing through Washington on the way to Niagara Falls, N.Y. He said he would stay around “until she leaves or until I get hungry.”
Such was the morning at “Monica Beach,” the encampment of news media firepower lining Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Court House. More than 20 satellite trucks and 300 or so journalists of all stripes from around the world ? reporters, photographers, camera operators, producers, and sound and lighting technicians ? surrounded the building, with the largest focus on the east entrance.
Despite Hancock’s placard, some of the camera crews at the southeast corner got the footage they needed. They were backed up by others stationed directly across from the door and on the northeast corner. CNN even had a camera operator on a hydraulic “cherry picker” platform about five stories up.
Lewinsky came to testify before a federal grand jury investigating whether President Clinton committed obstruction of justice, perjury and subornation of perjury in efforts to conceal the existence and nature of their relationship.
But after she entered the building and went to the closed grand jury room, there wasn’t much for the media mob to do but wait for her to come out. So they waited, filed their reports, did stand ups, talked to each other . . . and did stories about the news media covering the news media.
Reporters Interviewing Reporters
Steve Centanni of the Fox News Channel introduced a report with, “Today, it’s not unusual for a reporter to be talking to a camera while a second camera watches them and a third camera watches the whole thing go on.” As he spoke, his words came to life.
Reporters following the case since January marveled at the size of the assembly. “It’s definitely more crowded that it was for Linda Tripp,” said Washington Post reporter Bill Miller.
Tripp instigated the grand jury investigation by turning over to special counsel Kenneth Starr tapes she had made of telephone conversations between herself and Lewinsky.
Spending months staked out at the courthouse has its compensations, said Juana Arias, a Washington Post photographer. “You get to know everybody here. It’s very social,” she said.
Others were less impressed at the spectacle. “There have been so many ups and downs on this roller coaster. It’s just another day,” said Terry Lemons of the Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which has followed Clinton’s political career since his days as the state’s attorney general. “As long as there isn’t some new piece of evidence, it’ll boil down to public opinion,” he said.
Some reporters were there for the first time, and were awed . . . or bored.
“I just got here this morning, and I’m kind of bemused by it all,” said Paul Waldie of the Toronto Globe and Mail, as he retrieved his camera from a courthouse security guard. Waldie tried to enter the grand jury room but was turned away.
“First time I’ve been out here at all,” said Roxanne Roberts, a Style section columnist for the Washington Post. “I’ve been avoiding it. The whole thing is so tawdry.”
“It’s got kind of an apocalyptic feel,” said Raja Mishra, from Knight Ridder. “Things are moving faster, the slope is getting steeper,” he said. “But I can still see some scenarios that can keep it going.”
‘Bigger Than Camp O.J.’
The scene also amused various tourists and passersby from nearby office buildings. “This is even bigger than Camp O.J.,” said a Department of Education employee who said he frequently visits California.
At the end of the day, the mob had grown, ringing the street. Protesters from a group called BASICS (Battling Against Sins In Corporate Society) held signs saying 225 reporters were present ? 225 reporters not covering examples of corporate greed, said sign carriers Monica Wilson and John Soverow.
When Lewinsky left the courthouse at 5:20 p.m., getting back into a dark Toyota Land Cruiser. It pulled away onto Third Street, past a large placard reading “WHO CARES?” held by Shack ND Pack, a DJ on station WPGC-95.5 FM.
“She smiled at me when she saw the sign,” he exulted. “She gave me a thumbs up.”
?(The well-meaning tourist who blocked the press corps’ lenses at a crucial moment) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site:http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 15,1998) [Caption]