Joe Johns360 CorrespondentBefore the Debate
We had a great time preparing for last night's CNN/Congressional Black Caucus debate.
We got questions from all over, but mostly by e-mail. Then a handful of CNN editorial people got together in a conference room of our hotel to decide on the very best questions.
Sunday night the intensity revved up. We pretty much worked from mid-afternoon until 11pm -- had dinner brought in. Then the folks who had to be lucid on TV the next day went to bed. And the rest of the editorial staff stayed at it until about 4 am.
Monday morning, day of the debate, we were back at it -- selecting questions and debating the right way to say them. That went on until early afternoon. It's pretty intense stuff. Nobody said it, but I think the objective is to be clear, relevant, current, precise, provocative, and smart -- without crossing an invisible line that takes the focus off the candidates and puts it on the questioner.Debate Night
Suzanne Malveaux and I were situated on what we called "The Wedge," a little desk out in the middle of the audience.
You could kind of feel the tension building for this debate because the campaigns of Sens. Clinton and Obama, had been lobbing smoke bombs at each other for days. I don't know what Anderson would say -- he's been a participant in many a political debate -- but from my point of view, the single most important thing is listening despite distractions.
You really have to zero in on what the candidates are saying and you can't zone out. Even though, for example, people in the audience are trying to get your attention. There was a nice lady
sitting next to us who tapped me a couple times because she wanted to tell me something about what had just been said on the stage. I'm trying to hear what she's saying -- and I'm leaning over to listen. Then I think, "What am I doing? Sen. Obama's speaking and I'm not listening to him. This is not good."
There are always technical issues that can be distracting. Suzanne had problems with her IFB (earpiece) the first hour and we couldn't really talk because our microphones were open.
It was hard to get the message to the audio people in the control room -- though we quickly figured it out.
There was also concern about fatigue after the first hour, so to avoid that, Matt Hoye, one of the producers from the political unit, brought caffeine drinks that we stashed under the desk.
It got hotter in the room than expected. So, Matt brought me a terry cloth towel in case I started sweating.
The other thing that was interesting, is just how many times the candidates jumped right in and brought up issues that we'd discussed asking them about -- without any prompting.
How did it look to you?