Washington has always been home to the nation’s most notorious stakeouts. Remember the winter of 1999, during the height of the Monica Lewinsky-President Clinton impeachment brouhaha, when the dark-haired intern was her own news beat?
That’s when journalists camped out in front of the Mayflower Hotel — temporary home to Lewinsky — for so long that the freezing pack actually became a part of the sightseeing circuit of tour buses, tacked on after the Lincoln Memorial.
Back then, the media had to bring “bags of quarters so when something happened, we could go run for a pay phone,” recalled veteran stakeout queen Debbie Pettit, a producer for NBC News. Pettit spent Wednesday morning in Washington running her vehicle’s heat, bundled in a winter coat and guzzling cups of Starbucks black coffee.
This time, she was staking out a grand Mount Pleasant Georgian Revival mansion where Paula Broadwell — biographer of David Petraeus — is said to be holed up. Revelations of Broadwell’s affair with her subject led Petraeus to resign as CIA director last week.
Pettit was joined by a group of peering photographers and television cameras in both the front and back entrances of the $2 million, seven-bedroom, 51 / 2-bath home in the 1800 block of Park Road NW, just a few blocks from Rock Creek Park. The cast included TMZ, “Inside Edition,” the New York Post and Daily News, ABC, several bloggers and a Washington Post photographer and reporter.
“These days, I have an iPad,” Pettit said, scrolling through the latest news on Broadwell. “Oh, this Web site says this is apparently her brother’s house and she’s crashing there. See, back in the Fawn Hall days, we would have to find a pay phone or use a walkie-talkie — yes, remember those things? — and call the newsroom to get breaking news updates. Life moves much faster now. ”
Actually . . .
There was a late-night seizure of boxes of material from Broadwell’s North Carolina home Monday, but not much was happening in Mount Pleasant, a sought-after, happy sort of neighborhood known for its leafy streets and great jogging areas.
On Tuesday, Politico’s Byron Tau tweeted, for instance, that “After an hour in the cold, I can report that Paula Broadwell eats food and wears sweaters.” She was photographed through a window, wearing a hot pink turtleneck and holding what looked like a glass of red wine.
Not much happened Wednesday morning either, although reporters manning the shift said they spotted Broadwell returning to the house about 6 a.m. after a run.
The most action Wednesday came when a group with Cultural Tourism DC’s Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail stopped by to peer at the house. The home, which is set up on a hill and shaded by half a dozen wide-brimmed trees, was previously owned by the Deanes, the neighborhood’s first black family. White neighbors in 1950 tried and failed to kick the family out.
Many of those who were sent to the stakeout were longtime pros in covering the capital’s lengthy list of political scandals. The veterans offered tips to young bloggers on the scene, advice that would work just as well for a hike through autumn woods: Make sure you have eagle eyes; bring water and snacks; wear warm clothes.
The young bloggers said they were more likely to need smartphone-friendly gloves and lots of car chargers to juice up their equipment.
Despite long, largely boring hours and difficulty in finding bathrooms, many of the old hands said they don’t mind the drudgery.
In the past, the press earned plenty of overtime staking out some of Washington’s newsworthy residents, including then-Mayor Marion Barry after he was nabbed in the winter of 1990 smoking crack with a lady friend in a downtown hotel. They racked up overtime in 1987, first by staking out Fawn Hall, the National Security Council secretary who shredded telephone records of her boss, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, and then hid some papers in her dress; and by shadowing then-presidential contender Gary Hart after the married former senator’s relationship with Donna Rice — not his wife — became public.
“I paid for my home’s down payment and part of my kid’s college with that OT,” said a television cameraman who asked not to be named so that he could speak candidly about the industry. “These days, the economy the way it is and the media losing money, we may have to cut back on this whole round-the-clock media stakeout biz.”
But maybe not anytime soon.
“The stakeout,” he said, “seems to still be alive and well in Washington.”