A Reporter's Notebook
Your inside scoop to the South Florida Jewish community

Spinning in the Spin Room


Regardless of the outcome on Nov. 6, this will be one election I won’t soon forget.

Notwithstanding the drama of the ‘neck-and-neck’ race to the White House, the highlight of the 2012 presidential race, for me, was being one of the hundreds of journalists from around the world who were gathered in the “Spin Room’ during and after the third presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney in Boca Raton.

Admittedly, I was a bit miffed at first that I wasn’t to be among the higher echelon of journalists allowed into the Lynn University auditorium to actually observe the debate in person – ala Anderson Cooper or Brian Williams.

However, as it turned out, I had the best seat in the house as the ‘Spin Room’ was where all the action (and fun) took place.

I arrived about 5 p.m. to pick up my press credentials on the Lynn University campus and catch one of the several designated ‘shuttle’ buses to the site of the debate. Oh great, I thought … I have 4 long hours to kill before the debate begins – and then I have to watch it on a monitor!

Little did I know!

It began with a feast of food and drink – and I do mean drink! Since Anheuser-Busch was sponsoring the event, the complimentary beer never stopped flowing. Nor did the food. The fare included a delicious Caribbean soup (of undetermined ingredients) for starters. Next was a scrumptious Caribbean chicken salad, served inside half an edible pineapple, split length wise and packed with other goodies. That was followed by a delectable, individual round cheesecake – topped with Key Lime sauce and some sweet red stuff (?).

The food never ran out, same with the coffee, soft drinks, water … and beer.

You could chow down outside in the Anheuser-Busch tent (where many journalists were seated watching the baseball game while they imbued, or you could bring your food into the Spin Room. I chose to do the latter.

However, there was no place to sit. At least 400, ‘early bird’ international journalists who had gotten there at 2 p.m., were seated at their laptops in a special section in the center of the school gymnasium that doubled as the Spin Room. But if you hadn’t forked over upwards of $450 to $1,000 or more for a reserved seat and hookup – you were out of luck. (That included me.)

But, ever resourceful, I attached myself to a spot in the corner of the ‘Obama Spin Stage,’ which wasn’t in use yet and empty of staff. And even though I had to shuffle around a bit when the Obama people starting setting up shop, I wasn’t disturbed all that much – and even stretched out, occasionally.

Meanwhile, all the major and local TV stations, C-SPAN and wire services had their own ‘cubicle’ and bordered the Spin Room like the ropes circling a boxing ring. As it happened, my perch on the Obama Stage was right next door to the FOX News cubicle, and during the long, long evening, I got pretty chummy with my neighbors.

In fact, I actually watched the debate from the FOX News monitor – right behind Megyn Kelly. Moreover, the next day, many of my friends and associates called to say they kept seeing me on FOX, hobnobbing with the on-camera talent, wearing my bright blue Jewish Journal cap. (Anyone for an autograph? I’m available!)

But it was until after the debate that the ‘Spin Room’ really started spinning. Out from behind a black curtain separating the FOX News cubicle from where I sat on the Obama stage (which never became active, except by people with sore feet, like me), came an army of people who filed out in single fashion carrying dozens of ‘Red’ or ‘Blue’ thick sticks with the names of VIPs on them – which were then hoisted high into the air to announce the whereabouts of a VIP and summon the press. On the heels of the pole-bearers, followed VIPS such as: John McCain; John Kerry; Robert Gibbs, Obama for America Deputy Campaign Manager; Marco Rubio (who stepped on my toe, by the way); David Axelrod; Charlie Crist, etc., etc., etc. Anybody who was anyone in the political arena had a pole, and marched behind it as the blue or red pole traveled around the ‘Spin Room,’ surrounded by a mob of journalists with TV cameras and boom microphones who shouted questions.

Even though the incredible scene unfolding before me was more exciting and entertaining viewed from my perch, I had no choice but to dive in (or push in, is more like it), as that’s why I was there in the first place.

By 12:30 a.m., I had about all the political banter and hobnobbing I could take and called it a night. To tell you the truth, even if Obama, himself, had walked into the room in the flesh (which neither he nor Romney ever did), I don’t think I could have summoned the energy to smile, or muster a ‘high-five.’

After nearly 8 hours of non-stop running around and excitement – I was pooped!

All and all, it was a night to remember. And I always will remember it – even if, in my old age, I forget who was running for president that year.


Bad case of electionitis

The symptoms include acute nausea, dizziness, head-to-toe body-itching and sudden anger – followed by an irresistible urge to throw something at the TV screen.

It’s called electionitis … and thousands of Americans throughout the country are currently suffering the unavoidable malady. The only cure is bed rest, plenty of water (preferably, something a bit stiffer) and turning off the TV – at least until November 7.

Hang in there. This too will pass.

Other than the die-hard History Channel, or National Geographic devotee, the rest of us TV watchers have been barraged with non-stop, way-too-negative political ads that make every candidate out to be just short of Jack the Ripper.

If we really believed all that stuff we hear, why would we want any of them as leaders? And judging by the ‘Johnny-one-note’ TV news coverage, absolutely nothing else is happening in the world besides the upcoming elections – and, of course, Libya, the events of which are still a mystery.

If that wasn’t enough, we then had back-to-back ‘debates,’ followed by non-stop debate coverage interpreting what went on, as if the general public is too stupid to figure it out ourselves.

Well, the good news is it’s almost over. Just 18 days down the road and your electionitis will clear up.

Hang in there – and try not to throw that shoe at the TV.


Destitution derby

I don’t know about you, but I’m one happy camper now that both political conventions have, thankfully, come and gone.

While I can’t say I tuned in for every moment, I saw enough of both to convince me that this country desperately needs a viable third political party – and one that truly looks out for the ordinary, overburdened citizen.

What I came away with from the two ‘media events’ is that this country not only lacks real statesman leadership, but that the electorate values hype and entertainment over substance. It’s not who will make the best president, but who comes across as the ‘hippest” or who reads the teleprompter better.

Other ‘highlights’ included a somewhat sad and rambling address by one of my favorite film heroes – Clint Eastwood. (However, while the pundits fell over themselves dishing dirt on “Dirty Harry,” they all seemed to forget that this movie icon is 82 years old and delivered his address ad lib, something no one else had the cojones to do.

Then we had the Democrats trotting out their cast of staple ‘celebrities’ – a worn-out Bill Clinton (a president that was impeached, lest we forget); ‘ghost-of-Christmas past,’ Caroline Kennedy, and the truly heroic Gabrielle Gifford, who could barely walk across the stage (shame on them). I’m surprised the Democrats didn’t dig up Teddy Kennedy and prop up the corpse as background scenery.

But the most laughable element of both conventions was what one astute pundit labeled the “destitution derby.”

First we heard Anne Romney describe the sad tale of how hard it was for the young, newly-married couple, as they struggled and sacrificed to raise 5 boys while Mitt climbed the ladder of success. (This is a scenario I have trouble picturing.)

But it was when Michelle Obama described Barack’s “digging in the dumpster for furniture” that I really fell off my chair.

Do these people really think we buy this B.S.? I mean, I haven’t heard such political hard luck stories since the one about Old Abe ‘splitting rails’ for a living.

Apparently, just about everyone running for office was one step away from the poor house! But the truth is that a huge portion of Americans are a lot closer to the poor house than these politicians know, or even care about.

Instead of hearing more broken promises, or how great the American people are, I’d like to know what we can really count on, and how one of them is actually going to lead us out desperation.

Now that’s something I’d tune in for.


Violence begets violence

If there’s anyone left who doesn’t believe we live in a very violent society, I don’t what else will convince them.

Once again, some ‘Looney Tunes’ wacko went berserk – and instead of blowing out his own twisted brains – instead, massacred innocent people just sitting in a movie house.

Chillingly, the sicko who recently shot 12 people dead in Aurora, Co., including a 6-year-old little girl who was out with her daddy, and injured more than 50 others, did his dirty deed just a dozen, or so, miles from Littleton, where two other mentally deranged young adults massacred 13 at Columbine High School in 1999.

What’s going on in Colorado? It’s hardly the same “Rocky Mountain ‘High,’” immortalized by John Denver. I lived in Denver from 1975 to 1984, and while just about everybody but me owned a gun, most violence, that I can recall anyway, was restricted to barroom brawls, and jealous lovers.

But as my college-student son reminds me: “That was back in the olden days!”

He could be right. In just 25 years, I have witnessed much change in American society – and a lot of it has not been for the better. Back then, cable TV was in its infancy, so there wasn’t much to influence kids yet. In fact, I remember when MTV first came on – very innocent by today’s standards. Those were the days when “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Rocky” were the big blockbusters. Not much there in the way of violence, other than Jack Nicholson’s frontal lobotomy or Rocky’s punched out face. And the only computer game available was “Pong,” which wouldn’t hold the attention of today’s teens for a nano-second.

The point is, we have become the most violent society in the civilized world. American daily life is saturated with graphic, bloody and gory, constant violence. Whether it’s movies, TV, video games – or even 24-hour news coverage – violence has become as natural to us as the air we breathe.

We seem immune to the sight of bloody bodies lying dead in the street, or to the terrible violent acts we see on the news – be it gang violence – or even at a neighborhood movie theater.

Sadly, perpetrators of violence become instant celebrities, and the jerks who “star” on those battling, screaming reality shows have become people we admire and try to emulate.

Viciousness and vulgarity are the twin ‘buzz’ words today. And what about guns? Well, guns have been around for quite some time – not so for the abundance of wackos we seem to be producing these days.

While I’d love to see every gun disappear, I’m not naïve enough to believe the criminal element will be turning their weapons over anytime soon, if ever.

So, what to do? Should I actively join the campaign for gun control (in the misguided belief that will end violence?), I ask myself. But now denied an ‘equalizer,’ what happens if I come face to face with some low-life intent on doing me harm – or who’s on a mission to massacre as many people as he can?

I don’t know. Then again – maybe the outcome would have ended differently at that movie theater in Aurora if someone else would have had a gun.


Telling it like it is

As a longtime journalist and avid ‘news junkie,’ I waited with anxious anticipation for the premier of HBO’s new series, “Newsroom,” which airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

After three installments, I can’t say I’m disappointed. Time will tell if I remain a fan.

The premise revolves around a popular cable TV news show that is committed to doing something new – something that has become as rare as a TV roof antenna – present an honest-to-goodness, non-agenda or politically biased news report.

Wow! Today that’s almost an oxy-moron.

While I can personally testify that journalists, at least the many journalists I have known, have always had a ‘liberal’ bent, their individual convictions didn’t color the way they presented the news – at least, not deliberately or so obviously.

Back then, we usually had the typical news director who kept us honest … a two-fisted drinker who chained smoked and didn’t put up with any bull…t!

But today it’s a different ‘newsroom.’ For openers, female newscasters overwhelmingly come in various shades of blonde, have high-pitched, squeaky voices, show lots of skin, and wear tight bright outfits that were once prevalent on the dark streets of 8th Avenue.

The usual male newscaster – an ‘8 by 10 glossy’ with perfect teeth and coiffed hair – isn’t much different.

I have my doubts Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley would get a job today.

But the plastic appearance of most newscasters is a minor point compared to the plastic news content of the typical news show. First you get three minutes of news (if you’re lucky), then four minutes of commercials, followed by a quartet of talking head “panelists” who drown out each other with shouting till you have no idea what they’re saying. I give up!

“I’m mad as hell – and I’m not going to take it anymore,” to shamelessly quote a famous fictional newsman. And thanks, to the growing demise of newspapers, I now get my news online.

Here’s hoping HBO’s “Newsroom” will bring back a yearning for a once- proud, American institution that couldn’t be topped.