political spinning into Iowa wastebaskets
Iowa Presidential Politics.com
DES MOINES—Reporters from the Associated Press thinks it’s
irrelevant, The Des Moines Register says it is nuts and the Chicago
Tribune calls it goofy.
So, why the spin?
Walk into any media room during a staged
event for the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls this political
and you’ll see
it: staffers for the candidates’ campaigns running around
in frenzied circles just to distribute sheets of paper aimed at
improving their candidate’s image in newspaper articles the
So was the scene at the second-to-last Democratic
presidential debate in Des Moines the week before Thanksgiving.
Political reporters left the debate hauling almost 50 sheets of
paper they didn’t arrive with – and those were the
ones who actually looked at the notes these spinners were hurling
at them for two straight hours.
"I feel bad for the poor trees that are sacrificed for those
goofy statements," said Rick Pearson, a Tribune’s staff
writer covering the campaign in Iowa. "It’s their performance
on stage that matters."
While Pearson is among the few to
take the statements home with him, he said they only come in handy
for future, in-depth stories
about the campaign.
Most of the reporters say they do their
best to ignore the stacks of paper. The New York Times reporter,
Nagourney, is known
for the sign perched in front of his laptop reading, "No Paper."
"They are a waste of space on my desk," said Tom Beaumont,
The Register’s political reporter. "If the background
material were that important, the campaign would have alerted us
to it with a phone call to make sure we had it—the paper
is just annoying noise."
At last month’s debate, reporters
were inundated with paper from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, former
Vermont Gov. Howard
Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt every few minutes. The reporters
know the drill: Dean slams Gephardt about money cut from healthcare,
Gephardt points out Kerry’s ethanol flop and Kerry says, "Dean
should get his facts right."
"No reporter here takes what is written at face value," said
Washington AP reporter Ron Fournier. "It’s all attacks – at
best, one or two papers might jog your memory."
campaigns are under the impression that reporters value the spinners’ effort.
"Candidates make claims that don’t always match their
records so we want to ensure the media has those facts," said
Kerry spokeswoman Laura Capps. "It does make a difference
when the reporters write their stories."
spokesman Bill Burton said the spinners enable political reporters
need to make sure they have their facts straight.
"If you don’t make it clear, it’s just one person’s
word against another," he said.
Maybe it’s the noise,
or the fact that most reporters pre-write stories when covering
a debate-like event, but perhaps it’s
the shear volume of statements released by the campaigns.
line is that political reporters are not interested in the paper.
"It used to matter and people used to quote from the spin
Mark Halperin, who co-writes ABC’s "The Note." "With
technology, the campaigns can churn out too much paper. It’s
hard to look for the ones who are serious."
If the practice
of spinning is becoming more of a joke, perhaps retired Gen. Clark
staffers have had the right idea. At the Iowa
debate, his one and only release read, "On stage today were
a minister, four politicians, two television monitors and only
one leader—General Wesley Clark."
Sara Faiwell at email@example.com.