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Long Day on the Lewinsky Stakeout

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Grainy shot of Lewinsky in garage
Hours-long media stakeouts may net nothing better than this grainy long-distance shot of Lewinsky heading to meet her lawyer in January. (AFP)


By Michael Colton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 1998; Page C01

Monica Lewinsky, we are told with an invitation to pity, lives a cloistered existence, rarely leaving her mother's Watergate apartment. She starts books and magazines but doesn't finish them. She never sees friends, unless you count her lawyers.

But what about Tom Mote? A freelance television cameraman, he rarely leaves the confines of his car. He goes to work at 5:30 most mornings and may not leave until 10 at night. He seldom sees his wife, who's recovering from surgery. He relies on a steady diet of caffeine and paperbacks to stay awake. Working outside in temperatures that dipped into the twenties this week, he bundles in sweaters, turtlenecks, ski pants and a North Face Gore-Tex jacket. He's frequently taunted by passersby when he hoists his $50,000 camera.

All this for Monica, and a quick glimpse for Fox News Channel – or whatever network is paying him that day.

Seven weeks into the Lewinsky scandal, much of the media furor has died down. The aggressive tabloid photographers have gone. When the story was hot and pictures were scarce, prices soared into five figures. Now the demand has dried up and supply has leveled off, sending prices down.

Yet dozens of network news camera crews – from NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox – continue to circle the city: outside the Cosmos Club, where Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg stays; outside independent counsel Kenneth Starr's office and home; outside the office of Lewinsky's other lawyer, Nathaniel Speights, and, of course, outside the Watergate.

They spend tedious hours, sleeping, reading and waiting. (Mote read 457 pages of a novel on his most boring day.) Then, on a moment's notice, they rise for a few seconds of frenetic activity. "It's a definite rush, no doubt about it," says Elliot Klayman, a freelance cameraman.

The biggest stakeout in town is at the federal courthouse, aka Subpoena Central. Cameras are expected there – that's real news, where stuff is happening. No one expects news to occur outside the Watergate, but television demands a constant supply of images – something has to run with all those words to illustrate the story.

Recently, some of the players in the Starr investigation have complained about the media's constant presence. Vernon Jordan, after appearing before the grand jury, asked reporters to give his neighbors a "respite" from the stakeout at his home. Last week, Ginsburg exploded at camera crews after claiming they tailgated him and used crude language to describe Lewinsky. "These guys were risking my life," he said later. "It was more than awful, it was dangerous."

The network crews, though, are quick to defend their profession, and to distinguish themselves from the paparazzi that have been cast in a negative light since Princess Diana's death.

"I have great empathy for all these individuals whose privacy is disrupted," Mote says. "However, this is my job, and I try to be civilized and unobtrusive. I don't chase cars or run lights or chase people down the street. No pictures are worth getting hurt for, or hurting someone else." He does admit, though, that certain aggressive colleagues create a "monkey-see, monkey-do situation, and I won't say I haven't been caught up in it."

A typical day for the Lewinsky pack is long, harsh and frustrating. They're not paid to think about why they need to get these shots; they're hired guns, paid to think about how. And despite their efforts, they know it's unlikely their footage will even make it onto the evening's broadcast. After all, how many different limo shots can one network run?

Wednesday, March 11 – 5:35 a.m. The Watergate, New Hampshire Avenue and F Street.

An hour before sunrise, Mote is the first on the scene and claims the choicest parking spot: directly opposite the parking garage's back entrance. Slowly, other crews arrive until they number around a dozen. They sit silently in the dark.

With all the network news staffs in Washington in use, most of these crews are freelancers. Some, like Mote, are solo "shooters," or cameramen; others have audio technicians, and some have producers to take charge and bark questions at Ginsburg and Lewinsky. Some crews also have "couriers" to drive so the shooter can jump out at a moment's notice.

Mote, 45, is in a no-parking zone but doesn't anticipate any problems. "The police have cut us some slack, for which we're greatly appreciative," he says. His Ford Expedition is stocked with Coke, Marlboro Lights and Jeffery Deaver's novel "The Bone Collector."

With parking spaces secure, the crews begin the waiting game. Since it's highly unlikely that Lewinsky would leave so early, most crews, like the NBC freelancers in the Isuzu Trooper in front of Mote, lean back on pillows to catch up on sleep. The engines are running and the heaters are on.

Lewinsky almost always travels in Ginsburg's Lincoln Town Car, so there's little urgency: Other network crews are watching the Cosmos Club and will radio if the limo makes a move. Even though the crews at the Watergate get plenty of advance notice, there is always mystery. "We never know where he's going, but we know where he's leaving from," says Mote.

6:20 a.m. The sky is brightening. Two other Fox News freelancers, Rodney Minor and Nikki Palmer, have double-parked on the New Hampshire Avenue side of the Watergate, by the front entrance to the parking garage. As far as stakeouts go, this is pretty cushy. The crews can stay in their cars, and the Cup'A Cup'A coffeehouse next to the garage offers food, drink and, most important, bathrooms. Much better than standing outside the courthouse in the bitter cold for 12 hours.

Twelve hours, of course, means overtime. This season is big business for freelancers. "I know a guy who just bought a new truck, and we say Monica bought it for him," says Klayman. On the other hand, overtime can take a toll. Tonight, Klayman will be lucky if he sees his two kids for a half-hour.

7:30 a.m. Cup'A Cup'A opens, and half the crews enter for coffee. They linger inside, or go back to the cars for more napping or to read the paper. They wait for their radios to crackle. Waiting for work. Waiting for Monica.

Someone gets a call: Ginsburg has left the Cosmos Club. Shooters line up by the front garage entrance, reacting to the others' reactions. After about 10 minutes, everyone heads back to their cars – it's a false alarm. "Chase" crews, who are following the limo, report that Ginsburg went directly to Speights's office at 15th and K streets.

10:05 a.m. Time passes slowly. Carl Leibowitz, a CNN intern, arrives, overdressed in a jacket, tie and overcoat. Everyone else is in jeans, sneakers and fleece. He wanders around for about 10 minutes, peering into various cars, before locating his crew.

In the CBS van, freelance courier James Canty plays Tetris on a Nintendo Gameboy; shooter Peter Schloemer listens to National Public Radio. "It gets pretty warped in the car all day," says Canty, a local musician. "You do anything to survive. You want to try to keep yourself sharp. Sometimes you work a 15-hour day and nothing happens. You feel like so much money's being put into it – and nothing happens."

A van pulls up to deliver lunch, a perk of the job. All the crews get lunch, usually from City Lights of China or Childe Harold in Dupont Circle.

11:47 a.m. After several monotonous hours, there is a burst of action: A producer hears that the limo has left Speights's office. Everyone gets out of their cars in unison. The limo arrives, turns the corner and goes into the back entrance. The crews gather – and wait. Mote puts down his camera to smoke a cigarette. Canty positions his van so he can tail the limo. ABC producer Susan Baumel is on her cell phone, figuring out which ABC crew will chase the limo.

Suddenly, everything happens – fast.

"Heads up!"

"She's in it!"

"She's in the car!"

"Monica!" yells Baumel, hoping to get a reaction. No luck. All the shooters get is a a flash of pale white skin, red lips and carefully sculpted hair. And she's gone.

12:10 p.m., 15th and K streets.

Several crews follow the limo here and capture Lewinsky walking into the building. Canty and Schloemer missed her at the Watergate, but get a good shot here. Cars double-park on 15th Street. Minor and Palmer arrive in their Chevy Lumina. The gang's all here.

"Your car, boo?" asks Betty Scippio, a D.C. parking officer who has a friendly relationship with the crews.

"It's broken," says Minor with a smile. Scippio makes him move it, so Palmer drives around the block and returns to the same position.

A few minutes later, Omar, Ginsburg's limo driver, arrives with the familiar H 60-642 Virginia license plate. The shooters take their positions. A random guy leaves the building, sees the cameras and says, "No comment," much to his own delight.

1:30 p.m. More crews show up, along with Agence France-Presse and Time magazine still photographers. There are two other exits to the building, but the crews congregate on 15th Street by the limo, which Omar has started up. Gawkers lean out of windows. Shooters line up, boom mikes are hoisted. Minor is positioned directly in front of the passenger door so Lewinsky will have to turn and face him when she gets in.

But she doesn't. Instead, Ginsburg walks out of the building alone. A CNN producer shouts, "Where's Monica?" As Ginsburg moves toward the car, the line of cameramen envelops him, though never blocking his path. "Since he has gone off on the media, we respected him and gave him his space," Minor says later.

A deflating rumor sweeps the press corps – someone says a second limo has stealthily picked up Monica in the back alley while everyone was watching Ginsburg out front.

2:15 p.m. Everyone's hanging out in a state of uncertainty. Producers learn than Ginsburg has gone to the Hay-Adams Hotel, and no one knows where Monica is. Palmer rests in the car. Canty plays Tetris. Several crews suffer the wind in the back alley. Carl the intern gets a Coke at a Chinese restaurant.

3:22 p.m. An ABC crew gets word that Ginsburg is returning. "He's making a right from L onto 15th!" someone yells. The Time photographer runs from the back alley to the front, but misses his shot at Ginsburg. After parking the car, Omar the limo driver goes into Alex's Deli for a snack.

A passerby mutters to the gathered crews: "Get some real news." This is pretty tame for them – they've been called scum, parasites, wolves and sickos, and told they should be thrown in prison or the Potomac. Dominic DeSantis, a freelance ABC cameraman, says that at Starr's office, there are two cars – a Volvo and a Saab – who always aim for them when they leave the garage. In the same building, some lawyers once threw ice cubes out the window at him.

He doesn't take it personally. "I'm a humanist," says DeSantis, who recently returned from a much different assignment, a story about diamond mining in South Africa. "I don't believe it's us versus them. Also, I bet they go home at night and watch this stuff."

4:37 p.m. A security guard locks the building's 15th Street doors. Most of the crews move to the back alley, and a few stake out the K Street exit. "Monica, Monica, where art thou, Monica?" whispers Klayman.

6:30 p.m. Omar finally drives the limo into the alley and down to the garage. Everyone quickly shifts into gear. It's cold and late; one more shot, and they'll get "goodnighted" – sent home. They kneel down to peer into the garage.

"There they are! Roll!"


She's here! The phantom limo rumor was apparently untrue. The crews move to the side to let the limo pass, and shoot Lewinsky chatting with Ginsburg in the back seat. Some chase crews follow, but Minor's day is over.

"That was worth it," he said proudly. He and the other crews congratulate one another.

Palmer, Minor's audio tech, is ready to leave. "I have one word to say: Woo-hoo!" she beams.

6:50 p.m. The Watergate

Mote has been here, virtually motionless, since Lewinsky left seven hours ago. Now she's back, and he's ready. Luckily, there's a car in front of the limo that slows it down, allowing plenty of time for a shot.

The shooters surround the side of the car, but they've advanced onto Watergate property. A parking attendant moves in between the limo and the shooters, and the camera lights illuminate his face. "Move back," he tells them. He's apologetic.

"I'm just doing my job."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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