18 August 2011

DC: From the Inside Out

Posted by vanessaremmers under: Summer 2011 .

Yesterday was my first stakeout. When my boss told me that I was assigned to a stakeout in the Ohio Clock corridor of the Capitol Building, I shook my head enthusiastically, assented then immediately turned to a fellow intern to ask what a stakeout was. Definition: Political journalists from all over Washington stand in the hallways of the Capitol Building, and literally chase down Senators as they exit from their respective policy luncheons. My eyes must have become wide as the definition of stakeout was explained to me because I received a pat on the back and encouraging remarks that all will be fine as long as I follow the more experienced crowd of journalists.

The next day, I rode the elevator to Ohio Clock Corridor with three other journalists turning on their recorders. The smell of crab cakes flooded the elevator as we hit the second floor of the Capitol: it was seafood week in the world of political policy lunches.As the elevator doors opened, I became one in a sea of bustling pen and pads, press badges and pointed recorders. Capitol Security roped the media in with a long red rope until the desired politician exited his policy lunch and the reporter was allowed to literally chase him or her down to get their quote.

Those masters of the stakeout were not afraid to be aggressive. The most daring of them jumped into the “Senator Only” elevators, trapping the Senators into talking with them. This practice, while frowned upon, is still used by the most hard-lined or desperate reporters, depending on how you look at it. Within five minutes, I knew a scrambling bundle of black coats meant that I should push my way through such a crowd to get soundbites from the all-improtant politician in the center of the pack. One such pack contained Senator John McCain, expressing his opinion on the controversy surrounding the punishment of war criminals. Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) was the center of another pack, firing verbal insults on Congressional Democrats for their lack of rationale in the budget debates.

At one point, I found myself looking straight in the expecting eyes of Senator James Inofe (R-Ok), waiting for a question from me. I asked the first question that popped into my head: “Do you think the August 2nd deadline for a budget negotiation is a real deadline?” The short version of his answer was no.

I came away from my first stakeout reeling from the fact that I had asked a Senator an interview question like the rest of the stakeouters, feeling like I had just had my own Capitol-Hill version of Hollywood Walk of Fame. My supervisors were pleased with my off-the-cuff question, and even used it as a feature article. My first stakeout day will stand apart from my other days at Talk Radio News Service as the first that I felt I ran with the rest of the real journalistic pack.

One Comment so far...

njreck13 Says:

19 August 2011 at 9:23 am.

Senator Inhofe is a boss. Ran into him a bunch in the Russell building. Sounds like a sweet — if not dog-eat-dog– job. I always wondered about the swarms in that corridor. Can’t believe they violate the all-holy elevator policy. You kept it clean and got it done!

Summer Interns

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