Alumnus posts report from ground zero of debate
At 8pm on Sunday, October 8, approximately 63.6 million viewers nationwide tuned in to watch the second presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and Democratic nominee Hillary R. Clinton. Although I was one of those viewers, my situation was slightly different, because when I mustered the energy to drag myself off the soft couch in the back of the college newspaper office where I work, went to the nearby window and looked out, I laid eyes upon a few sights that most Americans did not. I saw snipers on the rooftops of the campus buildings, massive television sets that had been erected only days before and would be torn down only hours later, and finally, a mere two minute walk from my current location, I saw the red, white and blue decor of the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center. Inside, Clinton and Trump were disagreeing with, slinging mud at, and even threatening to jail each other, but for me, the debate itself was merely the expected, if not underwhelming end of my personal introduction to mass media.
This introduction began about a week before the debate itself, as crews from various media outlets set up shop around campus - CNN took over the main quad, Fox News procured a spot overlooking the central green, and MSNBC chose a view which showed some of the finer pieces of architecture at the university. As these construction crews mobbed campus, I was astounded at the sheer size of their undertaking. The stages that one sees on TV were erected, with the entire suite of complementary technology - in just a matter of days. Having started less than a week previously, most of the crews had completed their work by Friday, and when the Washington Post published the now-infamous video in which Mr. Trump appears to brag about sexually assaulting women, I watched coverage of the fallout on CNN, partially reported from Washington University in St. Louis.
Surreal as this was, I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed. The debate had been billed as the event of 2016 here, and as cool as it was to see CNN reporters give their take on a breaking news story from the grass where I had played intramural soccer only a few days earlier, it didn’t quite seem to be worth the security perimeter that had been set up, the cancellation of various other campus events, and the $5 million investment from the university itself. That would change on Sunday.
On the day of the debate, I was assigned to cover a designated protest zone for non-students on campus. I arrived around 3pm, and immediately understood why so many resources had been put toward hosting such a spectacle. There were not only swaths of passionate protesters in this zone, there was also a massive contingent of reporters from news channels, newspapers, and other media outlets. They were like natural homing beacons, always looking for the next story or happening, and interviewing anyone and everyone in their path. And I was one of them. I talked to supporters of Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton, and third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. I managed to snag an interview with an organizer of BRICK x BRICK, an organization which according to its website is dedicated to “[building] the 2016 women’s vote against Donald Trump and misogyny” by forming a “wall of women,” just before a television reporter spoke with her live on air. To chase leads was exhilarating, and by the time I left the protest zone, I was beyond excited.
If I was excited, I can only imagine what was going through the mind of my senior editor and friend Katie Marcus as she sat backstage at the debate, having snagged one of our three press passes. She sat with the likes of Nigel Farage, Kellyanne Conway, and any number of famous journalists; she texted me constantly, starstruck not only by the fact that she was surrounded by such influential people, but also by the fact that she was now one of them. The entire campus, and indeed the entire country, was gradually centering their attention on our very own athletic complex, and Katie was there, at the center of what could prove to be a defining moment in our nation’s history. This, of course, led to a massive sense of building excitement not only for her, but for the entire newsroom, and indeed this build did not dissipate until the candidates walked out onto the debate floor, refusing to shake hands.
The ensuing debate, though not without its cheery moments (thank you Ken Bone), was nasty, factually questionable, and favored insults and tirades over actual policy discussion. For Katie, myself, and everyone else on our campus, however, it represented the culmination of months of planning and preparation, and was among the most thrilling events of my life. When it was over at 10pm, we immediately came crashing back down to earth. My editor-in-chief quickly reminded everyone that we had approximately six hours to put out a newspaper, and everyone snapped into action, writing, editing, and designing. But such is the life of a journalist - never lingering on this story or that, but always forging ahead, on to the next scoop. This scoop just happened to be a great one, and not one I will soon forget.