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The spin room - oily engine of the political meat grinder

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The crush of reporters and cameramen presses in like a rabid rush-hour crowd at the Times Square subway station. There is no mercy.

"Can you get a shot?" asks a TV reporter toward the back of the pack.

"This is totally impossible," a voice replies.

Somewhere under a dozen or more boom mikes, hand-held minicams, and tape recorders, Howard Dean, Democratic candidate for president and red meat for the evening news, has begun to answer questions. The spin room of Tuesday night's presidential post-debate was in full, salivating session.

The spin room. It's a concept so integral to modern presidential politics that a friendly debate organizer outside the press room directs traffic. "Spin? That building," she instructs, pointing toward a sign marked - yes - "Spin Center Media Entrance."

I had no idea. But then, I'm the guy who nearly 30 years ago took a wrong turn on what I thought would be a career in political journalism and never found my way back. And so it is with the quickened stepof a political junkie and reporting novice that I enter the high-ceilinged University of New Hampshire spin room to watch the candidates and press mix it up.

A few minutes later, however, my sense of marvel has morphed into musings about one of journalism's more memorable "leads," or first paragraphs, about a different American institution.

"I've often wondered what goes into a hot dog," wrote author William Zinsser. "Now I know and I wish I didn't."

His words resonate. Close up, what some refer to as the "pageantry of American politics" seems sweatier and slicker, a cross between a rugby scrum and a barnstorming sales pitch, with each candidate and handler trying to stay "on message," and each reporter manipulating that message, pushing to get the right sound bite on the evening news or to flesh out that story "angle" for tomorrow's paper.


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