This afternoon on CNN’s “Inside Politics”, anchor Judy Woodruff said the following to Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman:

Let me ask you the same question I asked [Kerry aide] Tad Devine a little while ago. The polls shifting back and forth in these battleground states. Take a deep breath. No spin. Tell me, how does George Bush get to 270 next Tuesday?

Earth to Judy: Spinning is the only reason he’s there. Do you think Mehlman is on the show as a public service? That if you just ask him nicely, he’ll offer an honest assessment of the state of the race?

Of course not. Woodruff knows as well as anyone that he won’t comply with her request. But cable news hosts like Woodruff are increasingly in a bind: The campaigns’ spinning has become so blatant that reporters now know they need to indicate to viewers that they’re aware of it. That’s why those half-joking on-air pleas by anchors for their guests not to spin are becoming increasingly common.

The logical next step would be to conclude that, since they’re going to spin anyway, there’s little news value in asking campaign spokespeople for their take on the race. Accepting that fact would leave most cable news shows without much to put on the air every day. They’d have to cancel “Crossfire,” for starters. (Hey, we can dream.)

In the meantime, if Judy Woodruff is going to keep asking campaign aides for their take on the race, we wish she’d drop the pretense that she expects to get an honest answer.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.