You know the “spin room”: it’s the place where, at the conclusion of a debate, a horde of reporters and campaign employees/hangers-on gather en masse to chatter cheerfully about the ghastly horrors just witnessed by the rest of America. What is the point of these discussions? Some spin room participants—campaign surrogates, television talking heads—might tell you that they’re there to analyze the debate, to help the voters decipher who “won” and who “lost.” The journalists jostling with each other to shove recorders in the faces of those campaign surrogates might tell you that they’re reporting on the moods of each camp—and indeed the spin room, in theory, might have a certain utility, in the same way that sports beat writers are allowed to infiltrate locker rooms for postgame quotes so that fans can get a peek into what was going through the star quarterback’s mind when he threw that game-winning touchdown pass.
But the real reason the spin room exists is right there in the name: It’s a place where campaigns tell lies about their candidates knowing that reporters will pass them onto the public more or less unfettered—or, even better, as some sort of consensus of political observers in the know. Here is a particularly representative example of the latter, relayed by Politico’s Glenn Thrush a few days after the second debate:
Thrush presents this “spin” as that sort of general consensus, but no matter: it was a lie. Donald Trump, whose campaign was fatally injured after the first debate and then lit on fire on the eve of the second one, did not stop the bleeding in St. Louis. His poll numbers continued to get worse. He bled out. Stephen Miller, just one more barnacle on the Titanic, said in the post-debate spin room that Trump had scored “the greatest debate victory in the history of debates.” It was clear even at the time that such a statement was blatantly untrue, and yet it was nonetheless served up as “news.”
Spin as a political practice would exist whether there was a room to formalize it or not, though that doesn’t quite make the existence of the formal room less maddening. In any event, the “spin room” as we know it was popularized in the ‘90s, coinciding with the rise of 24-hour cable news, the channels of which now broadcast post-debate coverage directly from inside the spin room. This produces the act of news broadcasters and talking heads directly serving us the spin while at the same time pretending as if we are getting the real political dope. Watching the spin room is akin to a waiter spooning shit into your mouth while insisting that it’s chocolate mousse.
These problems are exacerbated in this specific campaign, which stars a historically unrepentant liar who is more or less attempting to permanently brainwash half the country before leaving the rest of us holding the bag. It’s no coincidence that Trump, like a moth to flame, has taken the unusual step of venturing into the spin room himself. After the first debate, Mark Leibovich, the New York Times Magazine’s professional chronicler of political absurdity, wrote about Trump wading through the morass, throwing lies (“All the online polls say I was the big winner”) at receptive cameras, in an article that adroitly deemed the spin room to be Trump’s “safe space.”
The creatures Trump has deputized to speak on his behalf when he unfortunately cannot be in front of the camera himself are even worse. After the second debate, Nigel Farrage—a disgraced British politician who has his own country to ruin—was dutifully quoted as comparing Trump to a “silverback gorilla” who had “dominated” Hillary Clinton. Rudy Giuliani was allowed to go on MSNBC—supposedly the good network—to filibuster about semen.
Like the debate itself, the St. Louis spin room seemed to be a forum for re-litigating sexual harassment allegations made against Bill Clinton, with some of his accusers—including Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick—present to be swarmed by the press. Omarosa Manigault, the one-time reality star who now acts as a prop for Trump, celebrated her candidate putting alleged abuse victims center stage, saying, “If you want to have an October surprise, Donald Trump will bring an October surprise.” These kinds of statements necessitated a quote from a Clinton flack assuring us that Clinton would not be phased by such stunts. Katrina Pierson was hanging around to talk about blowjobs. And on and on and on.
The best thing you could say about the spin room is that it’s a complete circus, a convenient encapsulation of why people from other countries openly guffaw at our electoral process. But even that would be giving it too much credit. The spin room is not a media function but a social one, a place people go to be seen and heard, where the minions of the grand political machine can remind themselves of their own importance. It is a Washington D.C. cocktail party minus the booze, but sold to the unsuspecting citizen as if it’s a necessary element of democracy. If it ceased to exist tomorrow it would already be too late.