The Supreme Court was a bloody media battlefield Thursday: Journalists scrambling to get the health-care ruling out first, then scrapping over who got credit for moving the story first (a 10:07 a.m. story or a 10:08 a.m. tweet?), and then gloating over who got it wrong.
But for three other chroniclers of the day — the courtroom sketch artists — it was a more collegial affair. Art Lien knows that he filed at 11:38 a.m. — “not bad considering [the justices] weren’t done until 11” — while Dana Verkouteren shipped around noon. For William Hennessy, it was noon, “or a little after noon.” Whatever.
“It’s probably best to be good rather than first,” said Hennessy, a freelancer who sketches for ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox.
No big rivalry here. “We’re pretty good friends,” said Lien, currently on contract with NBC. “We go to each other’s birthday parties.”
Big Supreme Court rulings provide unique challenges for these three, who’ve each sketched D.C.-area courtrooms for about 30 years. Though there’s less visual drama than at criminal trials, there’s still a lot to take in.
“There’s nine people sitting there, there’s all that architecture, they’re tiny — sitting so far away!” said Verkouteren, who draws for the Associated Press.
Both Lien and Hennessy arrived early for some pre-sketching. “It’s easy in that you know exactly how much time you have,” said Lien. Before the justices took their seats, “I did the columns, I lightly penciled in where the justices would be, then the foreground as the journalists came in.” Not Verkouteren, who started fresh with a blank page. “I didn’t didn’t want the drawing to predict the way I saw it.”
Favorite justice to draw? “I think Scalia’s pretty fun,” said Hennessy. “He’s pretty animated.”
“Whoever is easy to draw,” said Verkouteren. “Whoever is closer. Kagan and Alito — they’re pretty far away.”
Hennessy had braced for the unexpected — perhaps an outburst from the audience? It didn’t happen, but he did move quickly to sketch retired Justice John Paul Stevens when he walked into the room. He didn’t finish the sketch — because none of his clients asked for it — but he was ready. “You gotta be prepared,” he said. “The minute you get lax, something happens.”
Read also: Early reports on health-care decision overturned one mandate: Accuracy, 6/29/12
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