Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Reporting on the Reporters...from outside in the hallway

Well, I thought I was invited, lol! I know I should get caught up on my trial notes, ~so I don't get farther and farther behind again~ but this whole day just made me go, Ah-hummmmmm with it's twists and turns, so I thought I would write about this morning first, and then get caught up on the daily notes.

It was during the morning break on July 31st, that one of the court liaison officers came over to the group of accredited reporters I sit with and discussed with them the logistics of the press attending the jury visit to "The Castle." Next Tuesday, August 7th, there would be a meeting will all the press, at 8:30 am in courtroom 105 next door. I didn't know if I would be allowed to go to this or not. It wasn't clear at the time, if this was only open to accredited press, or if I would be able to attend and just write about what was decided. It was clear that this meeting would be to outline what the procedures would be in place for the press, and that the press would probably have to choose a pool reporter.

When we found out on Thursday that court would be dark on Tuesday due to some unexpected issue, the press was also told that the meeting was moved from 8:30 am to 9:30 am. Monday afternoon, when I got to court, first thing that happened to me was, the AP reporter came up to me and asked if I would support her being the person chosen to be the pool reporter for the jury visit. She's done this for a long time, and she's often been the reporter that is chosen for jury viewings. The first thing I said in reply was, "I'm not a part of the accredited press. What I say doesn't count." I was flattered that she had asked for my support, but at the same time I was puzzled by it. Everyone in the room knows I am not a member of the accredited press. It is not a secret. All the reporters know this. All the court liaison staff know it. Why would Linda be lobbying for my support? It didn't make any sense to me. Linda replies with something to the effect of, (and I paraphrase on this here) "You can give your opinion; show your support." And I reply, "Sure." I really didn't know how this whole pool reporter selection thing worked. From the way Linda presented it to me, I thought the reporters in the room had already talked amongst themselves, and this was a done deal, and choosing Linda was just a formality. I also thought with Linda approaching me, that I would be able to attend this meeting.

During one of the times where the Judge has the jury step out of the courtroom, the Judge goes over some of the rules that have already been decided upon regarding the jury visit. "A single indivdual from the press will be present. There will not be a photographer, or cameras since this is a private residence. The press gets to choose who the representative will be." Roger Rosen stands up and says that the Defense would like the individual from the press to be the AP reporter. And when that happened, my whole opinion on the issue changed. This does not look good. The defense making the recommendation to the press who they should send? In that instant, I felt that Linda should recuse herself from being in contention. Because in my opinion, no matter if Linda was unanimously chosen, it would still appear as if the defense team influenced the press. At least to me, that's how it would look. It's been widely recognized on every crime form/message board I've ever read for the past four years, that the AP reporter's reporting is obviously biased towards the defense side of the case. This is not a new opinion I've developed since attending this trial. I've felt this way for a long time. When I was covering the Robert Blake trial, I read as many of the reporters that I could and back then I often wondered if Linda and I were watching the same trial. Don't get me wrong. I have a ton of admiration for Linda. She is a world famous reporter, and is highly respected among her peers. And, you will not find one of her colleagues who will go on the record and publicly say she is pro defense. I also have to note that I've often seen Linda in very warm conversations with virtually every member of the defense team on this case.

Later in the afternoon session, one of the court liaison officers who was sitting in the back row whispered my name to get my attention. She wanted to hand some notice to the reporters in our little group, about the meeting on Tuesday. She didn't hand me three copies, she handed me four. That made me believe that one copy was for me, further cementing in my mind that I would be able to attend this briefing. Although the paper that I was handed stated at the top that it was a "Media Advisory" and not for publication or broadcast, there was no mention on the announcement that this meeting was limited to accredited press. So, I planned on attending to see who would be selected.

Later, there was a flurry of whispers and conversations among several of the reporter's in the back row. Evidently, Peter Y. Hong had sent out a global email to all the other reporters, (from my understanding) with much the same concern that I had. That Roger Rosen had indicated in open court, who "the defense's" request for the selected pool reporter should be. The message was passed up to the reporter's in the second row. I did not get to see exactly what Peter wrote. It was just conveyed to me in general terms that a vote should be taken; that there was a concern that the press was just rubber stamping the defense's request.

Out in the hallway after court, the reporter's gather and this topic is discussed. The impression I got in listening to the conversation was, that Linda was not happy with Peter's email, and was requesting a vote of some kind right then. Several reporters politely told Linda that not everyone was here. There were on-air reporters in the media room that deserved the courtesy of being included in a vote, even the type of vote that was to be held. I opened my mouth and said something to the effect that the reporter's need to all have a voice as to who gets selected. I must have unintentionally talked over someone, because Carolyn Kellogg grabbed my arm right then, and motioned to me to be quiet. I immediately shut up. That afternoon, nothing was resolved.

Tuesday morning, I get to the 9th floor around 8:45 am. Dominick is already there, but he is by himself. The hallway is empty. I give him a big wave. His driver came early, and he has been at the courthouse since 8:00 am! We discuss the upcoming decision. The next to arrive is the AP reporter. She is wearing one of her suits that I just love. It's a dark olive green pantsuit, and I compliment her on it. Right afterwards, Ciaran arrives, then Peter. A reporter from ABC whom I've never seen before arrives. It's a little past 9:00 am, and Linda wants to know where everyone is, and wants to get this thing going. Someone mentions that Ciaran went to law school. Did I hear that correctly? Not only does Ciaran have a journalism degree, he also went to law school. This same person congratulates Ciaran on his new assignment. (When I get home, I email Ciaran and ask him, "Did I over hear correctly? You went to law school? And you also got a promotion?" He emails me back that yes, he did go to law school in Boston, in addition to his journalism degree from Northwestern University. And yes, City News has been so pleased with his coverage of the Spector trial that they are reassigning him to the Federal Courts Beat.) The reporters discuss Anthony Pellacano, and the topic is Dominick's story about him. Dominick hired Pelacano long before he became a household name. It was Pelacano who talked Dominick out of trying to hire a hit man to kill John Sweeney. Sweeney was the man who murdered his daughter, Dominique, and only served a minuscule sentence for the crime. This story is not a secret. Dominick openly talks about this in his book Justice.

Steven Mikulan arrives, and I notice he's wearing this striking color of teal shirt with his leather suit jacket. It's a great look on him. One of the reporter's ask about Linda Kenney Baden, and what's the prognosis. The AP reporter says that she has a walking form of viral pneumonia, that can turn into MS. One of the reporters gets a puzzled expression on their face and says, "Wait a minute, how can a viral infection cause a neurological disease?" I speak up and say, "Because they've probably found a link between people who get this, and later go onto develop MS. It makes them more susceptible, more at risk for the MS disease." So, that explains to me, Spector's comments in court, mentioning that Ms. Baden might have MS, when he was asking Fidler for a delay becasue Baden was sick. Finally Alan Parachini, head of the court's liaison's office, comes to open the courtroom and we pile in. The courtroom is a mirror image of Courtroom 106, except there are very long blue cushions on the benches, and one of the reporters complans that 106 doesn't have any. I mention that back in Feburary, 106 did, but they were of a lighter blue color. Steven Mikulan says, "It's like a parallel universe!" That comment immediately makes me think of Alice in Wonderland. The reporter's notice the interesting knick knacks on the desk of the Judge's clerk. I also notice up on the wall a sign that says "Maximum Occupancy 80," but I don't remember seeing a similar sign in Fidler's courtroom. Someone in the room had just watched the 1969 movie Easy Rider, a movie Phil Spector appeared in. I make a mental note to possibly rent it this weekend. Michael Christensen and another Court TV reporter that I've often seen but I don't know her name enter the room. Alan passes out to everyone a map of the streets with an overhead photo of the house, and markings on the map as to which streets would be blocked off, and where the staging area would be.

More reporters I've never seen before arrive. Two reporters are talking about where they are planing to set up to cover the morning shows. These must be cameramen. That's just a guess. I ask Michael Christensen where Harriet is, and moments later, she enters the room. Right after Harriet arrives, Alan comes over to me and asks which news organization I'm with. Hello Alan. You already know I'm not with an accredited news organization. Did that somehow slip your mind? I tell him that I'm a blogger on the Internet. Alan then tells me that this meeting is only for accredited press, to vote on the pool reporter. I leave the room. I never thought that I would get to vote; I just thought I could cover the decision. Out in the hallway, I see the rest of Alan's staff. I don't understand. Why is the other blogger getting to stay? Alan asks me who is the other blogger, and I describe Carolyn Kellogg, and just hope she's not pissed at me later. Carolyn then comes out of the courtroom. She tried to plead our case, to say we are there to find out about the logistics of the staging. We find out we will get to be with the rest of the media, but we don't get to vote. And I'm thinking, OF COURSE we don't get to vote! No one ever led me to believe I did. Alan comes back out a minute later to ask us to bear with them until the voting is over. This leads me and Carolyn to believe that we will be let back into the room after the voting is over.

Out in the hallway in our forced exile, I finally getting a chance to talk to Carolyn and we discuss the case. I find she has a very sharp mind, and I'm intrigued by her opinions and take on the testimony that' she's observed. I won't write about her opinions, because I didn't ask her if I could. Carolyn says she is going to try to get the LAist blog accredited with the court. She says she doesn't mind jumping through the journalistic hoops to get that for the next person who comes along. It's then that she reminds me that, like on her interview on LAist as "Guest Day Editor," at the end of the week she will be returning to Pensylvania to go back to school to work on her masters in Fine Arts. Her new title will be "Editor at Large," reporting from the field.

Time in the hallway goes very slow now. I want to go to get a Vitamin Water on the 13th floor, but I don't want to leave. I want to hear how they voted and I might miss that. Besides, no one from the liaison's office has come out to tell us that the voting is over and we can go in to hear about the logistics of the staging area, and what the procedures will be for the press regarding the reading of the verdict. What is taking so long? Carolyn says, "Are they giving speeches?" We talk about the AP reporter and whether or not her reporting is biased. Carolyn is firm. She doesn't believe that Linda's reporting is biased, and says evidently the AP doesn't either. That was an issue we disagreed on. We also talk about the reasons as to why we were not allowed into this meeting. I mention that Carolyn has way more journalistic credibility than I do, but she counter's with that I've been at the trial longer.

The hallway is virtually empty. There are three interesting characters sitting on benches across the hall from us. Two of them are black men, and one I think is a witness for the trial going on in courtroom 108. They are sitting on the same bench and chatting intimately, like they know each other. Another white gentleman is on the next bench over beside them and he's wearing a suit and carrying a shoulder bag valise. I make a guess that the white gentleman is possibly the attorney of one of the black men, possibly the witness, but I just can't be sure. I ask them what type of trial is across the hall that they are waiting for. I tell them, I don't need to know specifics, just what type of trial. "Mayhem case," the suited gentleman responds. Carolyn apologizes, and says she needs to get caught up on reading a book that she is under a deadline to review.

It's almost dead silence in the hallway now, except for the conversations going on across from us. We chat a bit with the two black gentleman, and talk in general terms about Spector, Blake and the OJ case. Not long after that, the hallway at the other end livens up a little bit as jurors from other courtrooms are let out on break, but our end is still virtually silent and empty. A reporter exits courtroom 105 pretty quickly, but it's clear that he's just trying to reach the men's restroom at the other end. When he comes back and passes us, we ask for news but he says that nothing has been decided yet. I see some jurors at the other end walk the hallway with sort of a slow shuffle, reminiscent of Spector, trying to find an empty stone bench to park themselves on. Some open books, others read the paper, and others sit listlessly staring off into space.

Carolyn gets up to peek into the door. She says that Alan is there speaking. It's 9:45 am. Another woman leaves the room but she heads directly to the womens restroom. We wonder why we were kicked from the room for the decision, or at least from even reporting on it. Was it the judge just crossing every "T" and dotting every 'i?' Could it be because of the defense team, or Rosen, because I called him a "moron" in one of my blog entries? Is this some type of retaliation for my opinion of him? And, if it is, why is Rosen reading me to begin with? It's not like I have any type of influential reporting here. I don't have a gazillion readers. And since I already know that the defense is reading my blog, what does that say about Rosen? Could it be someone from the accredited press didn't want the bloggers there? Carolyn said that she saw Alan in the elevator bay on the first floor when she arrived, and he never gave her any impression that she wasn't going to be allowed in the room. She also tells me that she's known Alan for a long time.

Finally after what seems like an eternity, Dominick emerges and says, "They keep saying the same thing over and over." He's heard enough, and is heading back to his hotel. He at least informs us that the AP reporter has been chosen as the pool reporter. Carolyn and I still wait. Why hasn't anyone come out to at least let us go in to hear about the logistics? A bit later, when everyone emerges, Carolyn goes up to Alan to talk to him to see if she can find out some answers. After she speaks to him, she heads off down the hallway and just shakes her head at me when she passes. I don't know if she actually got some sort of explaination or not. Out in the hallway, a few of the reporters talk, and I get to hear a little bit about the high drama that occurred inside the meeting. I'm quite perplexed, and I have very mixed feelings about how everything played out. Steven tells me that in the original motion, there was a request for six media representatives to observe the jury visit, with one representative being from the Internet. That initial request was rejected. As I walk back to my car, I seriously consider not going to the media staging area on Thursday at all. I almost don't feel right about even going now, even though Alan did say that Carolyn and I could be at the media staging area. I make a mental note to ask Dominick what he thinks about it, tomorrow.

Update Wednesday, August 8th, 6:13 am
Special thanks to houdinisback and Lynn Gweeny of Court TV forums who did searches on the internet last night and this morning, looking for reported evidence of a link between viral pneumonia and MS. From this link that Lynn Gweeny found, aparently there isn't one.

MONDAY, Jan. 10, 2000 (HealthSCOUT) -- Now there may be one less thing to worry about, especially if you're unlucky enough to get pneumonia this nasty flu season. Rebutting earlier research, a new study finds that a common cause of pneumonia doesn't promote multiple sclerosis.

Doctors from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee made headlines at a neurology meeting last year by saying that chlamydia pneumoniae, a common bacterium that causes respiratory infections such as walking pneumonia, might also cause multiple sclerosis.

Makes me wonder who Linda was talking to about Ms. Baden's illness. And, according to Harriet Ryan on the Court TV Blog, two reporters were chosen, but she doesn't mention who the two reporters are.

Update: August 8th 8:24 pm
When I got to court, I heard that Peter Y. Hong had been added to go along with Linda. I thought that was fantastic. That was decided Tuesday afternoon. Remember, there was high drama in that press only meeting yesterday. Then, when I congratulated Peter at the afternoon break, that's when I heard that he had been rejected, because Spector was not happy with the LA Times reporting. Talk about manipulation. When I got home this evening and read the Court TV boards, I heard that Peter had been reinstated to go. Who knows, something might change by the time I get there tomorrow lol!