The Latest From Our Man in the Media Mosh Pit

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According to AOL, it's 58 degrees outside the Wash U. Athletic Center. According to my numbed fingers, it's 28 inside the media filing center. After last week's soporific event, I'd think this was a tactic to keep us all awake. But we don't need any tricks tonight; the room is buzzing for most of the night.

The Gore people have their first Reality Check, a follow-up paper titled "Bush on the Patients' Bill of Rights," to us before he's finished speaking on the first question. The Gore team is ubiquitous, all these people in red hats passing out papers every few minutes. The Bushies are slower, but more thorough, issuing multi-page rebuttals.

Whatever happened to the common good? It's all about me, me, me. What are you going to do about me, the middle-class taxpayer? What are you going to for me, the pill-popping senior who doesn't know how I'm going to pay for it? Me, me, me — it'd be great to see a candidate drop the pretense and just wade into the crowd writing checks.

Bush's "forget the journalists" line gets a rise out of the press room. Some 30 minutes later, just in case we've forgot, the Gore Reality Check says simply, in 24-point type: "Bush: 'Forget the Journalists.'" Sounds like a good campaign slogan for Bush/Cheney to me.

Bush loses big, at least to this crowd of reporters, on the affirmative action exchange. Not sure how this played to the country as a whole, but in the filing center it came across as Bush getting caught in his own rhetoric and finally having to ask Lehrer to move on and get him out of the nettles.

This much we've learned: Jim Lehrer is no Regis. W.'s laugh sounds even rougher when it comes over 40-odd loudspeakers in a room of 1,600 reporters. And how can a man married to a teacher possibly use the term "paperwork filler-outer"?

W. comes across better on the death penalty tonight — he seems serious, sober and not at all bloodthirsty — but by this time most of the reporters aren't listening; they're busy filing, exchanging "what-did-you-thinks" and getting ready to be spun. So busy that they almost miss Bush's big finish, the "If you're going to vote for my opponent, please only vote once" line, which gets the biggest laugh of the night.

In the last five minutes, as Bush finishes his answer to the "why should we trust that you guys will do what you promise after elected," the spinners and their sign holders come walking in, looking like some sort of federally funded picket line. Time to cross it.