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How the Ho-Hum Became the Hot

Media: Scandal du jour turned a nondescript office building into mandatory stakeout spot for reporters feeding on the Lewinsky frenzy.

June 05, 1998|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The media caravan follows breaking news like the old wagon trains followed reports of a gold rush, heading out where it is told everything is happening and setting up camp.

That's why just about everyone in Los Angeles is used to seeing images of a phalanx of photographers, reporters and camera operators gathered around crime scenes, courthouses and celebrity homes.

Even the most anonymous site can play temporary host to the media circus--including the corridors and courtyards of a nondescript Century City office building that happened to house a subject-of-the-moment's attorney.

Just ask the alternately bothered and amused residents of 10100 Santa Monica, the otherwise staid and nondescript law firm building on Santa Monica Boulevard where Monica Lewinsky's erstwhile lawyer makes his practice.

"I don't know anything about Mr. Ginsburg," one weary security guard said reflexively, giving the standard non-response as instructed by building management over the past few months. "That's all I have to say."

The media horde may have moved on to other pastures, now that medical malpractice attorney William Ginsburg is no longer representing the onetime White House intern, but the lessons about keeping reporters at bay live on here.

Other lawyers in the 26-floor building, which houses 65 companies and 1,700 people, learned to walk quickly during the story's heyday this winter as they passed the press gantlet on their way to and from work.

Ordered out of the small lobby area, reporters and camera people stationed themselves on a small walkway between the main employee garage and the building's side entrance, waiting for any snippet of information about the hottest sex scandal in the nation.

Trouble was, none of the people they encountered had any.

Not that many reporters weren't hopeful anyway.

"You were being eyed as you walked in," recalled one attorney who works in one of the building's other law firms. "They gave you this look like, 'I wonder if he has some information for us?' "

Eventually, building managers organized pool coverage, whereby one reporter and one camera crew would station themselves on the property and then supply their footage and quotes to everyone else.

It worked for the most part, although security guards occasionally found themselves reminding reporters of the rules and shooing away anyone but the day's designated scribes.

"We have great tenants in our building, and we wanted to make sure that neither they nor Mr. Ginsburg were negatively affected by the media attention," said property manager Brian Plymell.

It's not that there's anything new about attorneys with famous clients being in the public eye, said former defense attorney Terry Giles. (Giles, one of the early experts in publicity-savvy law, once called a news conference so reporters could witness his client reconciling with the woman who had accused him of rape.)

The difference now, Giles said, is the number of media outlets and the mushrooming public interest in judicial matters since the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

*

And that leads to the endless stakeouts in places that once would have seemed less than important--like an attorney's office.

"Some lawyers are taking to this like a fish to water, and some are still of the belief that it leads to ethical lapses," Giles said. "I don't think you can avoid it anymore.

"I don't know if anybody even knows what Monica Lewinsky's voice sounds like," he added, "but you know all about Ginsburg because [he was] the one speaking for her."

John Gatti, an entertainment attorney who works in the building and has had to deal with the media on behalf of well-known entertainment industry clients, watched the circus from outside the ring with amusement.

It reminded him of how profoundly different reporters are from lawyers.

"In what we do for a living, we have no time to sit around," Gatti said. "So it's interesting to watch someone whose job it is to sit around and wait for us to do something."

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