Fort Hood officials said 99 reporters from 41 local, national and international media agencies passed through the East Gate on Tuesday to cover the trial of accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan.
The journalists transformed the sizzling parking lot between Club Hood and the Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center into a sea of satellite trucks and television cables as the long-delayed trial began its first day of testimony.
Heidi Zhou Castro, a correspondent for Al Jazeera America, said nearly all of the satellite trucks in Central Texas had been rented out for the trial.
“This story is the leading story right now all over the world,” Castro said.
“Almost every freelancer and producer in Dallas and Austin are booked right now because they are all here for this trial.”
Although the media center at Club Hood swarmed with journalists all day, only 12 reporters were allowed inside the courtroom.
Others observed the proceedings from the proxy courtroom, where III Corps streamed live video of the trial.
Manny Fernandez, Houston bureau chief for the New York Times, was one of the 12 journalists given a seat Tuesday at the historic trial.
Fernandez traveled to Fort Hood more than a dozen times since he began covering the story in July 2011, he said.
Covering a court-martial poses challenges for reporters that civilian trials do not, including relatively no access to military documents or records important to the case, Fernandez said.
“You have to be on post in order to find out what happened,” Fernandez said.
Like many other reporters here for the trial, Fernandez chose to stay overnight in Killeen.
Killeen has received unfavorable reviews from reporters in the past. One reporter described the city as a “scruffy town of tattoo parlors and auto-body shops, Chinese food and pawn shops,” in 2004.
This time around, the city has made an effort to welcome the visitors and make a better impression.
John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, helped create media-kit guides to city restaurants and hotels, which were distributed to the visiting reporters.
On Tuesday, Crutchfield handed out free coffee and breakfast tacos to journalists in the predawn hours of press registration.
“Some communities, when they deal with events like this, they get fearful of the media,” Crutchfield said.
“We have taken the opposite approach, by reaching out to help them tell our story.”
Martin Kaste, a correspondent for National Public Radio, flew in from Seattle for the trial. “Texas is famous for expansive personalities and expansive behavior and you see that right away when you get here,” he said. “The folks seemed really nice.”