Back in college, my Political Science professor used to grovel about how politics was the only academic field in which every average Joe thought their opinion was worth its weight in gold. He targeted MIT professor Noam Chomsky as an example. “He’s a linguist,” my professor would say. “Would you go to a dentist if you broke your ankle?” We students tended to disagree with this sentiment, arguing that a democratic society thrived on direct participation from the masses. It was while watching the recent post-debate coverage that made me think twice about my professor’s complaint. The old kook may have been right after all.
Post-debate news coverage may be the most confounding aspect of political reporting. The live broadcasts can sometimes go early into the next morning as any two-bit hack willing to appear on cable at some god-awful hour is treated like some sort of civic Nostradamus. The most egregious of the post-debate sins is the spin room. The appropriately named forum is host to a line-up of political consultants who congregate outside the debate hall, hounding the press for interviews. These political hit men peddle their client’s strengths by praising the night’s performance and berating their opponents. These esteemed political consultants are hired hands, paid by their respective campaigns to put the best face for the candidacy.
It’s not that these “consultants” should not be allowed to appear on the post-election coverage. They clearly have a right to their opinion; the problem is that they are treated as objective observers when they clearly have a conflict of interest. When Barack Obama campaign aid Robert Gibbs says Obama “looked strong and confident” during the past debate, or when the Clinton campaign explains how Hillary “really nailed” a question, they need to be challenged more. As spokespeople for the campaign they should be prepared to answer the tough questions: explain how their candidate will end the war in Iraq or provide universal health care without raising taxes. This should not be a forum for them to simply spout their campaign slogans and garner free publicity.