Waiting for Weinstein

For journalists covering the sexual assault trial of the movie mogul, it’s meant long, tedious hours outside the courtroom

South entrance of NYC Criminal Courts Building / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

South entrance of NYC Criminal Courts Building / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

Since the Harvey Weinstein rape trial began six weeks ago, Casandra Gauthier, a producer for CBS News, has started each day before dawn, scrambling to get to the courthouse in Lower Manhattan before it opens at 8 a.m. so she can be guaranteed a spot in the courtroom. The routine hasn’t been easy. 

 “You’re thinking about what will keep you warm when you’re waiting in the morning,” she said on Tuesday. “You’re possibly fighting some nerves, you’re getting your caffeine up, and you’re thinking about what the day could hold.”

A makeshift studio across the street / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

A makeshift studio across the street / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

The jury began deliberating in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial on Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, after many twists and turns. Many people, including journalists, like Gauthier, who have been covering the case, have been closely monitoring the trial and the upcoming verdict. And one word summarizes a big part of their job: waiting.

Several TV network vehicles, including NBC’s, are parked near the Collect Pond Park, which faces the courthouse. The sidewalk in front of the courthouse is also lined with TV cameras, metal barriers, and lots of cables and wires. One network, Court TV, has even set up a mobile studio across the street. Broadcast correspondents are rehearsing stand-up in front of the camera. Inside, the hallway outside the court room on the 15th floor, the scene is similarly crowded. 

Journalists outside the courtroom were all finding ways to kill time on Tuesday afternoon. Some sat on the floor to take a nap, others played games on their phones or caught up on emails, or chatted with each other—unless someone walked out of the courtroom. Then, they would all snap to attention. Photographers, for example, immediately greeted Donna Rotunno, Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, with a lot of flashing cameras when she walked past them and then again, when she returned later.

“This is a waiting game for the most part,” said Maurice Dortch, a videographer for the Court TV, who arrived at the court in the afternoon to take his colleague’s shift. “It’s definitely tiring,” he said.

Journalists are waiting outside the courtroom during the Weinstein trial / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

Journalists are waiting outside the courtroom during the Weinstein trial / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

Dortch says he is used to the longtime wait, since he covers trials a lot. “We kinda become immune to it. We know what to expect, especially with a trial like this. It’s gonna be a lot of waiting because there’s a lot of details,” he said. “But the waiting, you know, it can wear on you and [you] get kind of restless.”

The stake-out could be nerve-wracking sometimes too due to its unpredictable nature, and the difficulty of communication between people inside and outside the courtroom. “I don’t know what’s going on inside the courtroom, and my reporter doesn’t have a phone on. So he can’t tell me when people are coming out,” Metsch said.

Dortch also had to keep a close eye on who was coming in and out of the courthouse and the elevator, including the court police. “If they are moving around a lot, it normally means something’s coming up,” he said. “You don’t want to become too lax and distracted because the verdict can come down any moment.”

Abigail Metsch, a 22-year old intern for NY1, sat on the floor eating a snack behind the fenced-off press area on the 15th floor.  She said she got here before nine on Tuesday morning, and was waiting to switch in with the reporter who was in the courtroom whenever it was necessary.

“Every time he needs to make a call or something, then I go in and take notes for him. So pretty much, [I] do this all day, every day for the whole trial,” said Metsch, who added she’s been doing this since the Harvey Weinstein trial began on January 6. Typically, she has to get to the court before the trial starts in the morning and wait till it ends every single day. Metsch says she usually does homework or watches a movie, while she waits.

“It’s not very fun. It’s mostly just like, sit around and wait and then something happens and you have to scramble and you know, make your calls or go do a live shot. And then you wait for another few hours, and then something happens and then you wait for another few hours. So it’s pretty boring and I just sit on the floor out here,” said Metsch.  

However, for people who were actually inside the courtroom, it was a different experience.

“I’m very busy. I never stop on,” said Christine Cornell, a sketch artist for the court. “I’m preparing myself for a verdict, because who knows?” Inside the courtroom, she was working on a wide shot of the courtroom in case a verdict came. 

Cornell has sat in the courtroom every day since the beginning of the trial. She wakes up at 5 a.m. every day and commutes to the courthouse before the doors open. The experience, she said, has been grueling. “I could feel I was sort of wearing myself out,” she said. 

But Shawn Matthews, an associate producer for CBS News, didn’t seem to mind. He was in good spirits. Maybe it’s because this is the first time that he’s covering a trial. “It’s like watching a movie play out, and you get the front row seat,” he said.

He pays attention to what’s being said and says he watches the jury carefully. After all, they are the key players in this waiting game. Everyone is at their mercy. “There was a moment that I caught the judge actually sitting down with his head in his hand, appearing to be like, Oh, here we go, we play the waiting game. And usually he’s the one that’s kind of keeping the show going and moving it forward. So even now, he’s at the mercy of the jurors, as we all are,” Matthews recalled.

The Sidewalk outside the courthouse is lined with TV cameras, metal barriers and wires / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

The Sidewalk outside the courthouse is lined with TV cameras, metal barriers and wires / Photo by Caroline Chen for NY City Lens

At around 4:26 p.m. Tuesday, court police started clearing the hallway outside the courtroom to make sure people all stayed behind the fence. One of the working press areas closest to the courtroom was packed with reporters. Words had been spread that there was no verdict, and everyone was waiting for Weinstein to leave for the day. 

Several photographers began testing their equipment and got on a stool or a ladder to try to get a better view. Nerves are tense.  One photographer seemed to get into the picture of the video camera behind him. The videographer asked him to step down from the stool; he refused. The two started arguing.

“This is pool camera for TV!” the videographer shouted.

The photographer eventually got back to the ground, but the videographer also adjusted the tripod and lifted his camera to a higher position.

The tension didn’t wane until a dozen of people came out of the courtroom, including Weinstein, his defense team, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi, and Gloria Allred, the attorney representing three victims in the case. Everyone in the press area refocused and got down to their business, recording the moment when these people were leaving for the day. 

The day was over. But the trial wasn’t.

Wednesday morning, at 9:30, it would all begin again.

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