A Front Row Seat to History

TFK Kid Reporter Bridget Bernardo reports from the second presidential debate

Oct 23, 2012 | By TFK Kid Reporter Bridget Bernardo

Hofstra University was buzzing with excitement on October 16 as the campus hosted the second of three presidential debates between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Colleges host the debates, said Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, “because we believe the role of the Commission is to educate.”

All classes at the Long Island, New York, college were cancelled on debate day to allow students an opportunity to attend the many activities that were offered on campus. Near the student center, student groups registered people to vote. Americans must be 18 or older to vote, and in this election, which takes place November 6, many students will be voting for the first time. There was also an area called “Issues Alley” where young people spoke about issues important to them in this election, and radio stations broadcasted debates between students. Most of the attention, however, centered around MSNBC’s outdoor studio where students cheered loudly and held up signs in front of the television cameras. Finally, since only a few lucky students were allowed to attend the debate in person, the school hosted several “watch parties” around campus where students gathered to see the debate on TV.

Meet the Media

The atmosphere was all business inside the Media Filing Center. It was home base to about 3,000 journalists from around the world who came to Hofstra to cover the event. There were long tables with assigned seats for reporters to work on their stories and watch the debate on television monitors that lined the room. There was also a big open area where members of Congress and campaign workers came to be interviewed after the debate. This area is sometimes called “Spin Alley” because these individuals give their “spin” on how each candidate performed in the debate. Reporters are like bees to honey when they see these people, and they swarm around them hoping to ask questions for their stories.

In “Spin Alley,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told TFK that kids should care about the election because “we have an avalanche of debt facing America [and] if we keep spending money that we don’t have, it is going to be impossible for future generations to enjoy the benefits and the awesomeness of living in this country.” Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, said that the election is important for kids “because ultimately the outcome of this election is going to impact kids for decades and really for generations. It’s why I’m so involved in this campaign, because I have three young kids and I want to make sure that their future is as bright as possible.”

A Town Hall Debate

A few lucky ticket holders—including me—watched the debate from inside the Debate Hall, joining moderator Candy Crowley and the 82 uncommitted voters who submitted questions for the debate. Audience members were instructed to turn off their cell phones and not to text, e-mail or take photos during the debate. Clapping was also prohibited. Right before the debate, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

This format seemed to energize President Obama and Governor Romney. They argued with each other and aggressively made their case to those in the hall and the millions of voters watching on television. Jobs, debt, taxes, women in the workforce, healthcare, college loans and immigration laws were just a few of the issues discussed by candidates.

After the Debate

When the debate ended, I interviewed audience members outside the hall. Two students were overwhelmed and excited when they walked out. They had volunteered as ushers and ended up watching the debate from front-row seats. “It was one of the highlights of my whole life,” Lindsay McKinnon, 20, told me.

I agree. After a long, exciting day covering the debate, conducting interviews and having the most amazing night of my life, I jumped on the media bus and thought about everything I had just accomplished. At the start of the debate, Crowley said, “journalism is like having a front row seat to history.” She was absolutely correct.

Click here to watch my video report from the debate.