City itself not caught in media wonderland

10/30/2003 8:00 AM

11/19/2007 1:50 PM

In the morning shadows of the Stanislaus County Courthouse, the rose garden provided great cover.

Eldon Day peered through his binoculars, staring into the electronic media morass coagulated on 11th Street.

The 62-year-old Newman resident hoped to get a look at Geraldo Rivera or any of the other television celebrities he thought might be in town for Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing Wednesday.

"(Catherine) Crier from Court TV was here yesterday," he said.

Yet other than Day and a couple of Modesto Junior College students who snuck in to hobnob on media row, it was business as usual downtown on the first day of what could be a weeklong preliminary hearing.

And as they learned, there's really nothing interesting about being on the outside looking in.

This is Modesto -- not Los Angeles, where hundreds of people swarmed around the L.A. County Courthouse to stargaze at every proceeding during the O.J. Simpson trial.

This is Modesto, where working class folks aren't nearly as enamored with the national media as the national media is with itself.

This is Modesto, dealing with its third national story in the past five years.

Consequently, the opening day of the Scott Peterson hearing didn't cause nearly the problems authorities feared when they briefly considered shutting down a portion of I Street.

There are some simple reasons for this:

  • If you didn't already have a pass to get into the courtroom, there was little reason to be there. Only a few seats are available to the general public. The rest go to the families of Laci and Scott Peterson and the media.
  • With the number of media trucks the police anticipated, there was no better day to avoid going downtown unless you absolutely needed to be there. There were fewer people on the courthouse lawn Wednesday morning than on most other days.
  • Those who visited the civil court offices dealt with their business and didn't linger, as some often do.
  • The police did a commendable job of preparing for the media onslaught, using the future home of the Gallo Arts Center as a TV truck lot.
  • The Modesto Convention and Visitors Bureau set up a booth inside the media area on 11th, offering free coffee, doughnuts and sodas to the media. Kevin Shand said the bureau's intention is to convince the visiting media to do positive "sidebar" stories about Modesto while they're here.
  • But the wooing doesn't sit well with Michael O'Leary, who owns one of the hot dog carts near the courthouse.

    "They're giving away food. They're killing our business," O'Leary said. "This is my daughter's job, how she pays her bills and saves for college. I want to thank (the bureau) for taking money out of my pocket today."

    The wildfires in Southern California have drawn away some network resources. The media crowd here Wednesday, one TV type said, was consistent with what it had been during other steps of Peterson's legal process. Without the fires, it would have been larger. So leaving I Street unobstructed -- at least for the prelim -- is the right call.

    The only sizable vehicle parked along I Street was a pickup towing the Police Department's command center trailer.

    So the scene outside the courthouse Wednesday could be described, for the most part, as sedate or just plain boring. There were few stargazers, few citizens there to watch a spectacle that didn't materialize, at least on this first day of the hearings.

    The real buzz, intrigue and drama are in the courtroom.

    And that's where they belong.

    Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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