Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be debating on Wednesday night, and as Michael Calderone tells us, an absolutely incredible 3,000 journalists will be trooping out to Denver to be there when it happens. They won't actually be in the hall, though. They'll be in a nearby gym, watching it on TV like everyone else. But after the debate ends, they'll decamp to the "spin room, where partisans will dispense utterly predictable remarks on what just happened. "Governor Romney hit it out of the park, while President Obama couldn't justify his failures," a Romney staffer will say. "President Obama hit it out of the park, while Mitt Romney only reinforced the doubts the American people have about him," an Obama staffer will say. "Ooo, that's fascinating—give me more of your interpretation of what I just saw, campaign staffer," no one in the world will say.
Calderone asks one relevant question—Should they bother? (Answer: No)—but I'd like to address another couple: Why do they do it in the first place, and why don't they stop?
The first answer, I think, is that sitting at home watching it on television doesn't feel like reporting, while getting on a plane, flying to the event, then sitting around watching it on television in the company of a bunch of other reporters does. It isn't really, but it feels that way. The second answer is that the presence of the spin room does in fact supply reporters with something they need: quotes. If you write for a newspaper and you have to produce a story about the debate and file it within an hour after the thing ends, you need quotes to fill it out. Even if those quotes are nothing more than the most transparently insincere bullshit a politician or operative can serve up—delivered in pairs, of course, because we're being objective—you just can't do without quotes. So the reporters go from one spinner to the next, jostling with their colleagues, shoving their voice recorders out until they grab enough quotes to complete their stories.
And yes, in the age of the Internet and social media it seems like an archaic practice for all these reporters to go all the way to the location of the debate for this, and to bother going into the spin room when they get there. But they aren't going to stop.