The Slatest

Can We Just Say That Covering This Debate Is a Total Scam?

Monitors at the sound board display the debate logo during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

HEMPSTEAD, New York—I’m told this is a tradition with the Commission on Presidential Debates, but damned if there isn’t something altogether right in the fact that the first debate of our Trumpish election season is by all appearances a total scam.

A workspace in the media filing center at Hofstra University costs $75. It is not a luxury workspace. It is a folding chair with some table space.

To purchase access to the Internet, you have two options. A hard ethernet connection costs $325. A Wi-Fi connection, which can service five individual devices, costs a more modest $200. Most reporters have no access to the actual debate hall but can watch the debates … on television, like everyone else. There are many televisions in the filing center, in addition to the main draw of the “spin room,” a political journalism term referring to the celebrated space where surrogates come to lie to reporters after the debate.

A lot of reporters will have brought their own personal Wi-Fi dongles—Mi-Fis, personal hotspots, etc.— to events like these. But around 3:45 this afternoon, a funny announcement came over the loudspeakers saying use of wireless routers, Mi-Fis, mobile phone hotspots, and the like were “strictly prohibited.” Users were told to turn off all such devices and purchase Wi-Fi from Hofstra University debate organizers.

I asked a tech manager on the scene if what I’d just heard was true. He said it was. But how would it be enforced? He said that Cisco would work to block the signals of all such devices. (It’s unclear how effective this is. One reporter in the building was connected to a Mi-Fi device and said it was just slower than usual.) The tech manager asked me if I knew how to get around this, though, which got me hoping he was going to give me some sort of inside dirt. Instead the workarounds he suggested were … buying either the $200 Wi-Fi or $325 ethernet. Your intrepid Slate reporter, of course, had already resigned himself to $275 in total charges earlier in the day.

There is a lovely free food and beer tent outside the filing center, though, sponsored by Belgian-owned corporation Anheuser-Busch.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.