Waiting for Martha

  E-mail Rick!

Oct. 4, 2004, 11:26 p.m.

So here we sit, on the free side of the gate to FPC Alderson, the Federal Prison Camp where Martha Stewart will spend the next five months of her life.  As far as I can tell, my crew and I had the honor of doing the first network live shot outside Martha’s new home.  CNN and MSNBC have crews on scene, in case Stewart shows up early, but their correspondents and satellite trucks weren’t here Monday morning when we arrived (CNN’s showed up Monday afternoon, the rest will probably arrive tomorrow.) Our first live was at 11 a.m.  We had a couple shots bumped by some steam at Mount St. Helens, but we made Studio B, Cavuto, and FOX Report, and expect to be here all week, or until Stewart is safely ensconced in her campus-like home, nestled in the Greenbriar Valley of the Appalachain Mountains.

My producer, Anne Woolsey, actually got here Friday night, and staked out the entrance all weekend, just in case.  Tough duty, especially when she found out Martha was in the Bahamas at a wedding.

The media crowd is surprisingly small so far.  A couple local print photographers, one or two scribes, and the three cable net crews.  Most of us have lawn chairs perched on the side of the short stretch of road between the gate and the corner, where we ate lunch Monday afternoon.  The ladies from the local Subway sandwich shop delivered.

Clearly, though, things are gonna get a lot crazier around here.  CNN hired a huge flatbed tractor trailer that got dropped off in a dirt field adjacent to the road and gate.  Apparently their correspondents will set up on top of the flatbed. Hopefully we can hang on to our spot on the street, just a few feet from the entrance. The competition also hired a giant forklift that parked next to the trailer, a cherry picker with a platform that’ll provide a good aerial view. Meanwhile, the Verizon phone man arrived. He’s in his bucket up on the pole on the corner, installing phone lines for all of us so we can hardwire our trucks with phone lines. Cells don’t work here too well.  In fact, they don’t work at all unless you stand in one spot right next to the pole. I have no idea why that is.

Alderson is a town of about a thousand residents, which coincidentally is about the same number of inmates inside Alderson. It's usually pretty quiet here. One local told me there hasn’t been this much activity at the gate since Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme escaped from the facility back in 1987. If Martha wants to leave early, she can probably walk right out. There are no bars on the window and no barbed-wire fences. The gates aren’t even closed, although the prison posted guards at the entrance and put up signs to keep people out. You used to be able to drive right up to the warden’s house, I’m told, but now they’re going to try and keep the curious as far away as possible. It won't be long before the tabloids send people into the woods with long lenses, I'm sure. There'll probably be a sporadic media presence here until March, when Martha checks out and finishes her sentence with five months of house arrest at her estate in Bedford, New York.

But that's a story for another day.  For us, the waiting continues.  Ms. Stewart has to check in by 2 p.m. Friday, but if there were a betting pool on her arrival time, the smart money is on early Wednesday afternoon...

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's reports!]

Thanks for your fantastic reports, both from Iraq and in the States for the hurricanes. We watched you in New Orleans, and had it not been for the curfew, would have drove down to meet you at the Lakefront or in the Quarter!  Thanks for the job you do and the way you do it!

— Wil (Jefferson, LA)

I have admired your reporting since the war, and all the way to the hurricane. This grandma thinks you are a neat guy!

— Ellie (Goshen IN)

At least the coverage of the hurricane got you out of the laundry !!!!

S. Hipperson, Surrey. UK

In my opinion you did the best job of all of them in integrating with the Marines. I saw one piece where there was a mail call, and the Marines you were with interacted with you exactly as they did with one another. I was a rifle platoon commander in 1st Bn 8th Marines in 1964 to 1966, and understand how the glue works that makes Marines. It is not usual to absorb someone they way they did you. You must have shown to them that you were worthy. I salute you. 

Paul (Liverpool, NY)

You are such a wonderful reporter.  You remain calm, give concise information, and love of your job is evident.  I have a son that was driving one of those big 5 ton trucks the Marines have, to Baghdad.  I watched Fox News 24/7, hoping to catch a glimpse of him, and following you as you went there too.  Never did see him on the road, but I can tell you that I so much appreciated the fact that so many of you gave of your time, and some your lives, to cover the war.  I was scared too, but your being calm helped me.  Thanks so much.  And, if you don't mind, thank the camera guy for me.  Debbie