As It Happens·Q&A

Four Seasons Total Landscaping presser was 'chaotic, confusing and a bit surreal,' says reporter

Rudy Giuliani's press conference outside a landscaping business between a sex shop and a crematorium was a "very weird" event to cover, says reporter Oona Goodin-Smith.

Rudy Giuliani's event is 'putting northeast Philly on the map,' jokes Oona Goodin-Smith

Rudy Giuliani, U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, addresses the media with the Trump legal team at Four Seasons Landscaping company in Philadelphia on Saturday. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Rudy Giuliani's press conference outside a landscaping business between a sex shop and a crematorium was a "very weird" event to cover, says reporter Oona Goodin-Smith.

First, there was the unexpected location that left reporters scrambling Saturday from the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Philadelphia to Four Seasons Total Landscaping, 16 kilometres away in the city's northeast end.

Then there was timing. News networks began calling the U.S. presidential election for Democrat Joe Biden just as the press conference was getting underway, and a reporter broke the news to Giuliani — Donald Trump's lawyer — on camera. 

Goodin-Smith, a breaking news reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, was on the scene. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Just how different is Four Seasons Total Landscaping from the Four Seasons hotel?

The Four Seasons Hotel [is in] downtown Philadelphia, close to the action, where the votes are being counted. Four Seasons Total Landscaping is on the outside perimeter of the city in northeast Philadelphia on an industrial road. It's a landscaping company and it's across the street from a crematorium and right next to an adult bookstore. 

I mean, there was obviously some confusion because President Trump tweeted that this very important press conference was going to happen at the Four Seasons at 11:00. And then after that, a tweet saying it was that Four Seasons Total Landscaping. What happened with you and the other reporters as your effort to sort that out? 

The details of the booking and the phone conversation and how this came to be the Four Seasons Total Landscaping, I think, is still a question that everybody is interested in answering. 

The New York Times reported that it was always intended to be at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, or at least intended to be in northeast Philadelphia ... Philly is a very liberal city, and the northeast is a more Republican pocket.

A PBS reporter said that it was an intentional location and that it was close to an exit on I-95 and was secure. And that's actually what we were told when we went to Four Seasons Total Landscaping yesterday and talked with an employee. He said that his boss had gotten the call Saturday morning from Trump campaign staffers. He figured that they must have found the business on Google and were interested because it was a secure location behind a security fence. 

And, you know, it was. There was a chain link fence with barbed wire that kind of separated the parking lot from the main street.

The Webber family poses for a photo outside Four Seasons Landscaping yesterday. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

What was the scene when you got to Four Seasons Total Landscaping without knowing that this was really where it was supposed to be?

It was chaotic, confusing and a bit surreal, I would say. You know, the press gets there. And before we've been told to line up, we're sort of standing ... almost in the middle of the road with a group of probably 20 Trump supporters near the chain link fence, kind of confused if this is actually going to materialize. 

The press eventually lines up. We're called in to the back of the parking lot where we're told to stand in the dirt gravel parking lot behind, like, construction traffic cones while we wait for the press conference to begin. While that's happening, the election is actually called for Joe Biden. 

And at that moment, almost instantaneously really, someone from the Trump campaign ... comes out and says 15 minute warning until things begin, and cars begin coming down State Road and in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, honking their horns with Biden/Harris signs. 

People are shouting "Black Lives Matter" [and] "Biden-Harris." The Trump supporters are shouting, "Four more years," and then they begin to sing, God Bless America. 

And so the scene is kind of it's all surreal. It's kind of playing out before our eyes. 

You have ... in Philadelphia, journalists from around the world who are covering this. This is an extremely important moment. So they're all there waiting for this press conference and then this kind of circus atmosphere arrives. 

Yes, yes, yes, a circus is a good way to put it. That's actually the exact words of the employee at Fantasy Island next door. 

We talked to him the day after, but he was very frustrated that the press conference was taking up his parking spaces and parking lot. He said that Saturday morning was a peak time for business there, and he called the whole thing a circus.

He said, "That's a circus, but that's Trump. That doesn't surprise me."

Fantasy Island adult entertainment store, located half a block away from Four Seasons Landscaping. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

What did the foreign journalists make of this? I mean ... this is really kind of banal industrial area — the cinder block buildings and collision shops. And they're next to a porn bookstore. So what were they saying about the scene?

There's a lot of head shaking. There were people who packed up and left, particularly after the election was called. And I think that a lot of folks were wondering, you know, why? Why here? And what's going on? Even after the press conference ended. And I don't think those questions were answered.

But you all went out there because you were promised that they were going to reveal some of the evidence they had for fraudulent election in Pennsylvania. Right? That was the point. So as people were anticipating that, did you learn anything from Rudy Giuliani that could even begin to convince you that there might be something to it?

There wasn't any real evidence presented and there wasn't anything that we hadn't heard yet. 

OK, so in the middle of this, really, non-newser — because there was no news in it ... that was when somebody yelled out to Mr. Giuliani that the networks had called Joe Biden as the victor, right?

Yes. Yes. And his response, he threw open his arms and looked at the sky and said, "Wow. All the networks. All the networks. Networks don't get to decide the elections. Courts do."

What was your sense of his reaction?

I think it was par for the course about how he typically responds to things, right? But it obviously wasn't offering a lot of, well, credence to the results of the election and the democratic process. 

Why did you go back the next day to Four Seasons Total Landscaping?

Well, you know, you can't stay away from such a beautiful location.

But we returned to Four Seasons Total Landscaping to ... talk to the owners and sort of figure out what happened more with the press conference. We talked to an employee, like I mentioned, and we also talked to the worker at the bookstore next door. 

But we also found that there was a steady stream of people who were coming up to Four Seasons Total Landscaping, taking pictures with the signage and really wanting to visit Philadelphia's new landmark. 

And I mean, as I'm sure you know, hilarious memes and videos and TikToks. I mean, it's epic, isn't it?

It's pretty hilarious. 

But they're also going to be selling some merchandise from Four Seasons Total Landscaping, right?

They've really ... picked up on that quickly. They've got some T-shirts and stickers. I saw one for "Lawn and Order." Yeah, they're full steam ahead with the merchandise.

And now a tourist attraction out there in the middle of that industrial park.

Right. Putting northeast Philly on the map. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Mackenzie Cameron. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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