NPR Lets Daily Show Regular, WaPo's Milbank Knock GOP Presidential Field

On Wednesday's All Things Considered, NPR's Ari Shapiro let The Daily Show's John Oliver and The Washington Post's Dana Milbank cast aspersions on some of the declared 2012 Republican presidential candidates and their surrogates. Oliver mocked the talking points of a Ron Paul spokesman as "pointless" and "meaningless," while Milbank derided the candidacy of Herman Cain.

Host Melissa Block introduced Shapiro's report about the White House correspondent's first visit to a post-presidential debate spin room, and gave a hint of its overall mocking tone: "The spin room might be a good name for an amusement park ride or part of a fun house. That makes it a perfect fit for a presidential campaign, which can get a bit wacky even in these early days."

Shapiro picked up where Block left off: "The idea of a spin room somehow seems at odds with journalism. After all, spin is basically propaganda, distortion. A whole room devoted to the art suggests a place where reality is what you make of it." He then cited as his first example a statement from Newt Gingrich's daughter/adviser Kathy Lubbers:   

SHAPIRO: Case in point: a week before this debate, many of Newt Gingrich's top campaign staff quit as a group, taking a lot of his presidential momentum with them. Here's how that reality looked to Gingrich surrogate Kathy Lubbers in the spin room.

KATHY LUBBERS: Yeah, the campaign is in a perfect place, and I'll tell you why: because we are focused. We are all about Newt's campaign-

After doing some of his own lifting, the NPR correspondent turned to Oliver, who displayed his contempt for the spirit of civility less than a year ago by declaring that he would shoot football star Tim Tebow before Osama bin Laden. Instead of using such invective this time, he used some fake and mocking laughter as he threw his contemptuous labels at the Ron Paul surrogate. Shapiro himself also hinted at his own bias and that of his mainstream media colleagues in the room:

SHAPIRO: I went from one podium to another, sifting through heaps of pabulum, looking for grains of wisdom. In one corner, a surrogate for Congressman Ron Paul was being interviewed by John Oliver of 'The Daily Show.'

JOHN OLIVER, THE DAILY SHOW: Your lips are moving, but you're not saying anything.

SHAPIRO: Oliver said out loud what must've been going through many reporters' minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He clearly understood the issues of what caused this economic crisis, because of inflation, of the money supply and-

OLIVER: (laughs) It's just so pointless.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1 : Increased spending-

OLIVER: (laughs) It's so pointless-

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: And regulation-

OLIVER: (laughs) It's just so meaningless.

After consulting with failed Republican Kentucky Senate candidate Trey Grayson, the correspondent caught up with Milbank, who made little effort to hide his disdain for the former pizza magnate:

SHAPIRO: So for me, as a novice to these sorts of things, do you have any advice for how to glean the most from the spin room?

MILBANK: Well, there's the hierarchy. There's- if a candidate comes into the spin room, you've got to grab that. So, I'm looking now and seeing Herman Cain surrounded by more cameras than he's ever seen in his life.

SHAPIRO: Should I go listen to what he's saying? I mean, I've just been listening to him for two hours.

MILBANK: It is unlikely that the 'Hermanator' has anything left to say that he has not said already.

SHAPIRO: Following Milbank's lead, I decided not to dive into the Herman Cain scrum.

The full transcript of Ari Shapiro's report from Wednesday's All Things Considered:

MELISSA BLOCK: The spin room might be a good name for an amusement park ride or part of a fun house. That makes it a perfect fit for a presidential campaign, which can get a bit wacky even in these early days. This week in New Hampshire, many of the Republican candidates met on stage to debate, some for the first time.

It was also the first presidential debate for NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. Afterwards, candidates, journalists, and surrogates gathered in the famed spin room, and here's a page from Ari's reporter's notebook.

ARI SHAPIRO: The idea of a spin room somehow seems at odds with journalism. After all, spin is basically propaganda, distortion. A whole room devoted to the art suggests a place where reality is what you make of it. Case in point: a week before this debate, many of Newt Gingrich's top campaign staff quit as a group, taking a lot of his presidential momentum with them.

Here's how that reality looked to Gingrich surrogate Kathy Lubbers in the spin room.

KATHY LUBBERS: Yeah, the campaign is in a perfect place, and I'll tell you why: because we are focused. We are all about Newt's campaign-

SHAPIRO: I went from one podium to another, sifting through heaps of pabulum, looking for grains of wisdom. In one corner, a surrogate for Congressman Ron Paul was being interviewed by John Oliver of 'The Daily Show.'

JOHN OLIVER, THE DAILY SHOW: Your lips are moving, but you're not saying anything.

SHAPIRO: Oliver said out loud what must've been going through many reporters' minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He clearly understood the issues of what caused this economic crisis, because of inflation, of the money supply and-

OLIVER: (laughs) It's just so pointless.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1 : Increased spending-

OLIVER: (laughs) It's so pointless-

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: And regulation-

OLIVER: (laughs) It's just so meaningless.

SHAPIRO: I decided to seek guidance from an expert in the thick of the melee. Trey Grayson has served time in spin rooms, and now, he gets to observe it all as director of Harvard's Institute of Politics.

What am I supposed to get out of this moment exactly?

TREY GRAYSON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: They all won, right? You know, everybody telling you how great their candidates were.

SHAPIRO: In America, everybody is a winner.

GRAYSON: Yeah, they're all presidential candidates.

SHAPIRO: Not to be too earnest, but is there any actual value to this part of the show?

GRAYSON: You know, one thing that I thought was valuable is I keep looking at the big crowd around Michele Bachmann's folks, and I think that's telling that the more people crowding around certain candidates and continuing to show around the candidates, I think that's telling us as to what the folks in this room thought about performance.

SHAPIRO: So what does it mean that this one, solitary blonde kid standing with the Herman Cain sign is all alone?

GRAYSON: Probably not a good night for Herman Cain.

SHAPIRO: Eventually, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain showed up. I caught another long-time spin room veteran on the periphery.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: I am Dana Milbank with The Washington Post.

SHAPIRO: So for me, as a novice to these sorts of things, do you have any advice for how to glean the most from the spin room?

MILBANK: Well, there's the hierarchy. There's- if a candidate comes into the spin room, you've got to grab that. So, I'm looking now and seeing Herman Cain surrounded by more cameras than he's ever seen in his life.

SHAPIRO: Should I go listen to what he's saying? I mean, I've just been listening to him for two hours.

MILBANK: It is unlikely that the 'Hermanator' has anything left to say that he has not said already.

SHAPIRO: Following Milbank's lead, I decided not to dive into the Herman Cain scrum. Who knows, I could have just missed an interview with the next president of the United States. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center