The pre-debate sit & spin

Published October 5, 2004 11:04PM (EDT)

With the presidential debate not scheduled to start until 9 p.m. Eastern time, hundreds of reporters who would be well into the cocktail hour back home find themselves stuck in Cleveland, waiting to watch the show on TV just like everybody else. Time moves very slowly.

You can kill a lot of it just wading through security. Reporters won't get anywhere near the candidates -- the press will watch the debate in a gymnasium next to the debate hall -- but the Secret Service apparently considers the Tad Devines and Karl Roves of the world worthy of full bomb-sniffing-dog protection. We came through with Fox's Chris Wallace, who passed the time by talking with an acquaintance -- not us -- about last week's presidential debate. Wallace said he was surprised that Bush wasn't better prepared for charges that he "fucked up" Iraq; he said folks in the Bush-Cheney campaign had assured him that they'd spent time hurling "insults" at the president, just so he could practice reacting by not reacting.

Inside the gym, Cheney advisor Mary Matalin spent a chunk of her afternoon pre-spinning NBC's David Gregory. CNN's Jeff Greenfield hung for a few minutes with Ben Ginsberg, the Bush campaign lawyer who resigned in August when it was revealed that he was also advising the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Ginsberg is here to spin, but only unofficially, of course. Upstairs at the gym, in a makeshift bar and grill where Anheuser-Busch plied reporters with free food, free beer and commemorative mugs, Time's Joe Klein got triple-teamed by Kerry-Edwards spinners Joe Lockhart, David Ginsberg and Jennifer Palmieri.

Outside the food hall, Sean Hannity posed for photos with some fans. His partner, Alan Colmes, wandered around the gym with his sunglasses on. Their fair-and-balanced colleagues were a little more businesslike. Shepard Smith stomped around looking pissed off, as he seems to do a lot at these things. Maybe it's his makeup; for all the Drudge-speak about John Kerry's orangey glow, Mr. Smith has looked positively pumpkinesque of late. The same can't be said for his colleague Carl Cameron. Fox's No. 1 fiction writer looked tan, rested and ready as he noodled about his laptop Tuesday afternoon. His nails were perfect.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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