Inside the North Charleston Coliseum, an enthusiastic crowd of white Republicans cheer and jeer a dwindling lineup of white guys at CNN’s Thursday night debate, while inside the press room, a crowd of white journalists stare at a huge projection screen on which the debate is being broadcast. No one is bothered by the fact that the debate is taking place elsewhere in the building, perhaps only yards away. Out of the 200-plus journos, I count three black reporters, and they are all curiously sitting toward the back of the room. If this is what the Fourth Estate looks like in this country — nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — then the republic is doomed.

Before the debate proceedings begin, I feel a malaise hovering over the pack of reporters. Perhaps they are depressed because they realize that they are just as lily-white as the audience that they will later mock over cocktails following the debate. Perhaps it’s because they have given themselves over to the Realdoll charms of nearly lifelike simulation — they are at the debate but then again they are not. Perhaps it’s because they know that when the night has finally come to an end, they will return to yet another carbon-copy hotel room and carve out a few minutes to themselves watching SportsCenter or jerking off to internet porn. Make no mistake, once the debate begins, this depressed mass of hive-mind drones will try to act as if anything about any of this surprises them, and later their editors will ignore the fact their writers compose the bulk of their reports before the night’s show had even begun.

And believe you me, it is a show. Or so says the hype man that CNN sends out on the stage before the debate begins. He cracks jokes and instructs the crowd of crackers on how to behave: they need to turn off their cellphones and be respectful. He encourages them to clap their hands, even going as far as to mockingly chastise them for not pounding their paws loud enough. Even the event’s moderator, CNN’s John King, promises “two hours of boom,” an acknowledgment perhaps that what we are about to see is not democracy in action, but something more akin to a World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view or a smoke-machine-and-lasers Sunday service at a non-denominational mega-church.

The bombs go off during the first exchange when Newt Gingrich feigns outrage after King asks him about the It political story of the day: an allegation by Newt’s ex-wife that he asked her for an open marriage.

I for one don’t believe Gingrich’s conversion, and I’m baffled that any of my fellow South Carolinians do. I’d be willing to bet that Newt’s newfound devotion to Jesus has less to do with his willingness to abandon his philandering ways and everything to do with the fact that he’s a 68-year-old fat ass who nobody wants to fuck. Despite all of this, Gingrich is rising in the polls, and South Carolinians are climbing right on top.

Not that Mitt Romney is any better. If there are actually people out there who need to watch this donkey show in order to figure out who to vote for, then Romney’s days as the GOP frontrunner have likely come to an end. When John King asks the governor if he will release all of his tax returns like his father George Romney did, Mitt replies with a “maybe,” and the audience inside the arena boos. More telling, inside the press room there are gasps. Something unscripted has occurred. Something that was truly unexpected. My fellow journalists are only momentarily fazed. They quickly gather themselves and get back to penning their regularly scheduled reports in which they act as if they are providing a service to democracy by reciting conflicting poll numbers and quote-whoring the night’s catchphrases. ¡Ay, caramba! To the Batmobile, Robin. Pow, right in the kisser.

Once the debate is over, the lily-white horde of reporters comes face to face with the lily-white horde of campaign staffers and supporters, guys like our own Jack Hunter and former South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson. For some reason, the press corps still treats Dawson with respect despite the fact that he’s an asshole who was a member of an all-white country club in Columbia and who was the state campaign chair for Rick Perry, a racist dickhead who owns a house out in the boonies called Niggerhead Ranch.

And that more than anything symbolizes the GOP’s problem: they not only still allow bigots among their ranks, but they think one of them is fit to be chairman of the Republican Party or, even worse, the president of the United States.

Yes, they can trot out Tim Scott, and Tim Scott will shuck and jive like they ask. He’s good at that. And they can call Nikki Haley to the stage to dazzle the sideshow crowd like she’s an exotic beauty from the Orient who will give you a lap dance for a dollar. But the GOP is still a whites-only club.

I wish I could say the press corps was different, but I can’t.

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