With Eric Holder set to become the nominee for Attorney General of the United States, I have been thinking about my only meeting with him and how impressed I was.
I interviewed Holder back in November, 1996, when he was still U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C.
The topic for the interview was the potential release of John Hinckley, Jr., the disturbed young man who tried to assassinate President Reagan in 1981, and nearly succeeded. Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, now wanted to have unsupervised visits with his family and girlfriend off the premises of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in D.C., the mental institution in which he was incarcerated.
Hinckley and his lawyers argued he was well enough after twenty-five years to be out on the public streets. Eric Holder wisely disagreed and fought the release. Trying to kill a U.S. President is such an egregious act that under no circumstances should its perpetrator receive leniency, Holder argued.
The irony was that actress Jodie Foster was also in D.C. that week, filming the movie “Contact.” You may recall that Hinckley shot Reagan because Hinckley was obsessed with the young Jodie Foster. Foster had earned fame as the twelve- year-old prostitute in the movie “Taxi Driver.” In that movie, Robert De Niro tries to kill a Presidential candidate, out of his obsession for the character played by actress Cybil Shepherd.
I know this is getting complicated. Ultimately, Hinckley missed the mark on a couple of counts. He didn’t kill Reagan; and Jodie Foster would likely have no love interest in Hinckley, as she is a prominent Lesbian.
Just the fact that Foster was in town at this time was creepy. I asked Eric Holder if he had any contact with her, and he said he had not. He, too, found the irony of her presence at the time of Hinckley’s hearing to be a bit chilling! Anyway, Holder impressed me; and I left thinking, “This guy will be U.S. Attorney General someday.”
After we left his office, my cameraman and I headed to the very public movie set. Crews were set up at 14th and Constitution, right outside the U.S. Department of Commerce. This is where it gets strange. We began filming the street location and the Commerce building exterior, something perfectly legal as we were on public property. We needed no permission.
Well, out of nowhere came a screaming, ranting, profane woman, who - I am guessing - was in her mid to late 20's. “Stop your camera! Stop your camera right now. No one said you could shoot here,” she said. She got right in my face, interrogating me about what we were doing there. I told her that we were doing a Hinckley-Foster story, and she immediately ordered us to leave. We refused. “This is a public sidewalk on a public street,” I said. “It’s public property. Anyone can stand here all day.”
“No, it’s a movie set, and you don’t have permission to be on it,” she argued back. She threatened to get the police to arrest us; and then, finding out I was with Cox Broadcasting, she said “I’m with Time Warner. We have more lawyers than you, and we’re going to sue if you don’t leave.” To which I responded, “Cox Broadcasting has more money than Time-Warner (and we did), so sue away!” It was ugly. We were shouting at the top of our lungs.
Finally, a police officer came over to intercede. He properly told her that we had every legal right to shoot video all day (ironically) on Constitution Avenue. Yes, it was being used as a movie set, but cars and pedestrians and people with other business had to be allowed to pass through. He asked me if we had all the film we needed, and I said we did. So, in the interests of diplomacy, he asked us to wrap it up, which we did.
Halfway back to the car, I asked the photographer, “So I assume you were rolling the whole time and got the whole stand off? I bet the pictures are great!” To my horror, he said no. “You wanted me to roll on that?” he said, “Why?” I could have killed him right there.
Note to young journalists: When conflict erupts in the town square, shoot it because a) it’s great TV that documents what happened, b) it’s your legal right, and c)the tape can be used in your defense in court.
We never saw Jodie Foster and had not intended to. But we still got a great story; John Hinckley remained behind bars; my bosses were happy; and I successfully predicted Eric Holder would become U.S. Attorney General someday. Now, if he can overcome the pesky Senate questions that will come concerning the last-inning pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich by the outgoing President Clinton, Holder might just be confirmed.
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