Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"How we caught Chris Christie"

NJ.com - "The plane truth: How we caught Chris Christie sunbathing on a closed beach"
By Andrew Mills

"In my 23 years as a photo journalist, I've been on enough stakeouts to know when I've been made, and Gov. Chris Christie looked right at me as I pointed the long-range lens at him from a small plane about a thousand feet above Island Beach State Park in Berkeley Township on Sunday.

I've successfully hunted fugitives out of the country. I've caught alleged criminals trying to sneak out back doors of their homes or into back doors of courthouses. I've nailed high school basketball coaches warehousing players in their apartments.

Most of the time, I get the shots and make a clean getaway.

But once in a while, when the eyes meet, you know the jig is up.

Then again, it wasn't difficult to find him. There Christie was, with family and friends, on a long and empty stretch of beach near the governor's shore residence, nobody else within a country mile. They were enjoying the beautiful summer day on a beach closed to the public by Christie because of a budget standoff.

In one photo, Christie looks me dead in the eye. He has to know what's happening. Why else would a plane make two passes over his private beach party when there's no one else around?

Did we know he would be sunbathing on a closed beach?

No, but we took a shot and it paid off.

Originally, NJ Advance Media had booked a plane for the Fourth of July. The plan was to fly along the Jersey Shore on the holiday and shoot the crowded beaches, juxtaposed with the empty stretches of sand that were off-limits because of the government shutdown, if it were still in effect.

Breathtaking - but exasperating - photos for our readers and New Jersey taxpayers.

But when Sunday's weather looked good, and the governor's schedule was open except for an afternoon press briefing in Trenton, I wondered, "What are the chances ...?"

I called the pilot.

"Let's take a shot," I said. "Worst-case scenario is we get some great aerial shots of the crowded and empty beaches and we try again on Tuesday."

The pilot was game.

When I arrived at Monmouth Executive Airport and spotted the governor's helicopter, I realized he was in the area. The chopper was parked at the airport, instead of outside the mansion, where it would draw more attention. Maybe Christie was trying to lay low.

But was he hanging out inside the governor's beach house or sitting on the beach?

The airport is about 20 miles from the residence, so it didn't take us long to find out. We made one pass along the barren beach, spotted Christie and his family, and I snapped a few shots.

I told the pilot, "Don't buzz him. Just pass slowly and I'll get him again."

We circled around for a second pass, and I aimed my camera again.

Christie, even though I'm certain he saw the camera, later denied he had been on the beach.

"I didn't get any sun," he told the media.

That wasn't true, and we had the irrefutable evidence.

We posted the photos on NJ.com, and they went viral Sunday night as the national media picked up the story. Christie soon became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter.

Christie spokesman Brian Murray, when confronted with the photos, tried to make a joke:

"He did not get any sun," Murray said. "He had a baseball hat on."

Well, that baseball cap might have protected him from the sun, but not from my lens. Or from his critics."

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