Reporter’s Notebook: #DemDebate
The Spin Room is a contact sport
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Have you ever gotten pushed around or hit with an elbow during the wee hours of Black Friday at your local shopping mall? Remember that feeling of hysteric masses, pushing and shoving, to get their hands on the hottest deals first?
Now imagine that elbow was a TV camera, and the shopper stampede a frantic press scrum that had grown men fretting for their bodily safety.
Welcome to the presidential debate spin room, where reporting is more like an NFL summer training camp drill.
— Danny Freeman (@DannyEFreeman) October 14, 2015
During the Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas on Tuesday, the press was crammed into a filing room while the party loyals, donors and local activists watched the action unfold in the debate hall.
Only after CNN’s Anderson Cooper delivered the closing statement to his hailed two-hour interrogation of the five presidential hopefuls were the sheer forces of the press unleashed on the night’s protagonists. While the print reporters were putting the final touches on their dispatches, and Twitter feeds started cooling off just a tad, TV crews geared up.
Now, in the spin room, it was their turn, overtime, with the ratings championship on the line. A whole array of campaign and party officials as well as the candidates themselves were waiting to give their five cents on the night’s performances. They had ample opportunity.
Of course, for a man like Jim Webb, who has seen his share of war, what’s a few cameras? After all, he let the debate audience know what he does with his enemies in combat. But for a pacifist-leaning 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, the inexorable camera-and-mike-swinging portion of the presidential press corps may have been his most angst-inducing foe of the night, trumping even Hillary’s rare but pointed oratorical stabs on stage a few minutes earlier.
There were different shades of madness, however. Webb managed to get into the room first and was immediately swarmed. Once Bernie Sanders came to spin, reporters and camera crews could literally “Feel the Bern” – that’s how closely they beleaguered the Vermont senator.
And then there was Lincoln Chafee. After his dreadful debate performance, he almost had to ask reporters to ask questions a few minutes in. Chloe Nguyen of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps smelled an opening and stepped up to the plate.
Also among the power lineup of debate spinners was Debbie Wassermann Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. When she made rounds in the room before the debate, she sported a navy blue hat with a rather clear message: “America is already great.” (cc: The Donald Trump)
Hillary Clinton, by the way, was the only member of the candidate quintet not to show up and address reporters at all. Instead she let some of her campaign surrogates take a victory lap.
But as the Washington punditry and national reporters (including this one) quickly hailed Clinton as the night’s big winner after her forceful and combative performance on stage, another question came up.
Who put the spin on whom?