Campaign reporters and their crippling caffeine addiction

Dylan Stableford
March 6, 2012

It's no secret that journalists, like fatigued doctors, lawyers and overnight construction workers, consume a lot of caffeine.

But political reporters—particularly in an election year—seem to guzzle more than most.

And with no GOP candidate having locked up the race for certain this Super Tuesday--Mitt Romney looks to be close, but he's squandered that position before--the pile of empty Starbucks cups and Diet Coke cans cluttering hotel rooms and rental cars will no doubt grow infinitely bigger.

"When I landed in Iowa, I raced to Target and bought a 24-pack of Coke Zero that I slowly drained all week," Dave Weigel, political columnist for Slate, told Yahoo News. "After a while I was doing so just to reduce the din of cans clanking in the trunk."

And Weigel of course didn't limit his caffeine intake to Coke. "If there was free coffee at an event, I drank it," he said. "I repeated this in every state except Nevada, though I downgraded to 18-can packs."

[ SEE RELATED SLIDESHOW: Candidates and coffee ]

To cater to his need for a quick fix, Chuck Todd, NBC News' political director and chief White House correspondent, recently installed in his D.C. office a Keurig. The single-cup serving machine brews coffee pods in under a minute. "It's close to having an actual coffee I.V.," Todd told Yahoo News. "I'm up to four to five grande size cups a day, usually three by 10 a.m." Thanks to the Keurig, he estimates his coffee consumption is now reaching close to a gallon a day.

On the trail, Todd--who calls himself a "Dunkin'" guy--drinks the more ubiquitous Starbucks, "but frankly I'll drink any rot gut at any Courtyard, Embassy Suites, or the like." (His only request: a pack of Sugar in the Raw to cut the taste of day old coffee sitting around road hotel lobbies.)

But not every political correspondent is aware of how much caffeine is too much. On most days Anjeanette Damon, political reporter for the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, guzzles two 12 oz. cups in addition to a morning latte. On really stressful days, she ramps it up to three or four 12 oz. cups. "Is that a lot?" she asks.

Actually, as political news hounds go, it's not. According to an informal survey of political reporters conducted by Yahoo News, a daily four-cup intake seems to be pretty much the norm. By contrast, the average American consumes about half that, or 280 milligrams of caffeine per day, the equivalent of about two and a half cups, according to data from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"I've resigned myself to the slow descent into obesity and caffeine addiction," McKay Coppins, reporter at Buzzfeed said. The non-coffee drinker averages about five Diet Cokes a day, preferring that to Diet Pepsi, since Coke has more caffeine.

And some aren't happy about ingesting so much cola. ABC News' Shushannah Walshe tried to get off Diet Coke for good when she was on the trail, but, it didn't work. "I swore off soda a long time ago, so I hate that I drink it," she said, "but I feel like it's necessary."

Many reporters can't seem to live without it. And as deadlines approach, people become even less choosy, opting for any caffeine available in the vicinity. In fact, politics and coffee are so intertwined, the National Coffee Association invited James Carville and Mary Matalin to keynote the National Coffee Association Centennial Convention next month in New Orleans.

Still, many do have favorite rituals. Some opt for mixing caffeinated beverages to shake things up, while others, like Politico's Dylan Byers, take their coffee iced—three of them, daily, in his case. Fox News' Carl Cameron, whose Red Bull intake is legendary on the trail, has a large coffee with a shot of espresso followed by no fewer than three Red Bulls.

"When we are pulling all nighters I have been known to lose count after eight," Cameron said. "There are many mornings when we hit the convenience store for supplies and I buy three 4-paks and find myself flat out by the 6 p.m. show."

With all that caffeine coursing through their veins, some traveling press members attempt to work off the excess energy by hitting the gym, even though diet and exercise routines are hard to come by since on-the-road schedules are always changing. Wolf Blitzer, CNN's political anchor, is on the healthier end of the politico scale--he has one Venti skim latte every morning, and runs five miles a day for a natural energy boost.

And he's not alone--at least in his good intentions. "I try to get in 30 minutes on the treadmill, even at 11 p.m. if I have to," said Blitzer's colleague, Peter Hamby, CNN's political reporter. "It's a necessity." And Cameron, all jacked up on Red Bulls, often opts for a game of hoops. "I have an app that helps me find courts with pickup games on the road," he said.

"Coffee all morning, drive all day, whiskey all night," Yahoo News reporter Chris Moody said, evoking what sounded like a personal mantra. "Repeat daily for optimum health."

Another reporter from a major network, who did not want to be identified, snapped when we asked via email about her caffeine consumption habits. "Whenever I have time," she wrote. "Today I've had no time for coffee or food. And it's noon." Someone get that woman a cup of Joe, and fast.

Of course, part of the campaign caffeine epidemic was born out of necessity, given the voracious schedule these journalists keep. From following candidates who criss-cross the country to reporting on vote counting that drags into the wee hours of the night, press folks are forced to operate on very little sleep. "The days of consistent eight-hour nights are long gone," said Michael Falcone, ABC News' deputy political director.

"Last week I averaged four hours," Damon said. "Been catching up this week, getting about six."

Todd from CNN adds that five hours is a luxury for him.

And obviously, little sleep usually means more caffeine to get by. But, in all the people we polled, we did manage to find one trail reporter who doesn't have a caffeine addiction.

"Zero," NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander, the yin to Chuck Todd's caffeinated yang, told Yahoo News. "I can say with great certainty that I am the black sheep in the campaign coverage community. But, it's my first campaign, so we'll see how long it lasts."

Read more coverage of Super Tuesday 2012 at Yahoo News.

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Slideshow: Candidates and coffee
The best, worst and weirdest swag of the 2012 campaign
Why it matters who wins Ohio in November but not on Super Tuesday: Introducing Jeff Greenfield's new column

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