Inside the Presidential Debate at Belmont
Covering a Presidential debate, or anything like it, involves a lot of sitting and waiting.
Members of the press started claiming their spaces in the media center nearly twelve-hours before the main event. The media workspaces were in the center of the tent with the booths housing the various television networks lining the walls. The layout worked well but was slightly annoying because no matter where I sat I was bound to show up on TV somewhere.
That fat guy in the red shirt on Fox News, that was me.The press credentials (the plastic thing that lets me go places you cannot) for the debate were pink and while pink is a great color for me, it makes for an ugly credential. The credential might not have been the prettiest thing around my neck but it did get me into the Anheuser-Busch Media Canteen. I'll let you guess what they give us in there.
The hours leading up to the debate were a whole lot of nothing with occasional spurts of excitement. I spent most of my time sitting in my assigned seat pretending to ignore the various media icons throughout the room. I did not run into any other gay press there so I am glad I was there to bring up all the random GLBT related questions that would have otherwise been unasked.
Things were pretty calm leading up to the debate, save for the occasional spat about which news channel the communal TVs should be turned to. There were probably 25-50 sets and they seem to be split evenly between Fox News and MSNBC. Sets tuned into CNN seemed to be a rare commodity. In fact, Reuters had three small screens of their own. They were tuned to MSNBC, a local station, and the Disney Channel for much of the day.
I was assigned seat C-15. My glamorous workspace consisted of a chair, a 3"x3" piece of table and a power outlet. I also had the privilege of sitting in between the conservative columnist for a Tennessee daily and the editorial team of the Belmont University newspaper. The Belmont kids were nice but I actually spent more time chatting with the columnist. Who knew East Tennessee conservatives could be so friendly?
The media tent was tapped into the main feed from the debate hall. This meant we were privy to the exciting pre-debate show. You did not miss much. The pre-show was mainly some self-love for Belmont and Tom Brokaw threatening to spank the audience if they made a peep, and then the show began.
Very few of the media had passes into the debate hall so most of us had to watch from the tent. In a lot of respects it wasn't that much different then watching at home with 1,000 of your close friends. It was interesting to watch the various note taking styles in action.
Some folks were constantly scribbling away throughout the entire debate while others would write brief notes at seemingly random intervals. I just Twittered irrelevant observations. Things started picking up again about ten minutes before the formal debate ended. Signs bearing the names of various surrogates walked through the door and a throng of cameras, reporters, and campaign staff gathered at the door waiting to pounce on the first poor sucker to enter Spin Alley.
Spin Alley is a fascinating creature. It is where some really smart people start shoving each other so they can be the first to be fed the finest lies east of the Mississippi. Actually, most of the shoving is about quickly getting a few sound bits so you can hurry and go home or to the bar. I was able to elbow my way into various huddles and ambush a few talking heads with questions about why LGBT Americans should vote for their gu
Even though I didn't get to visit the debate hall or even catch a glimpse of Barack Obama or John McCain I still feel like I was a part of a historic event. My arm, hair, or stomach is bound to appear on television screens around the world and I got a few answers to a question nobody else was asking.