Has The Beltway Created A Twitter Media Playhouse?

Dana Milbank said something very telling, for a change, to Howard Kurtz: MILBANK: Exactly, that's when it should be done. The other thing that I think was going on here -- I was out there in Denver as you were. You know what was up on every

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Dana Milbank said something very telling, for a change, to Howard Kurtz:

MILBANK: Exactly, that's when it should be done. The other thing that I think was going on here -- I was out there in Denver as you were. You know what was up on every reporters' screen that I looked at was Twitter.

Basically the reporters were having a conversation with themselves rather than watching the debate, and this idea gelled early on that Mitt Romney was having a big night, Obama was having a lousy night, which was generally true, but it accentuated it, and basically there was a groupthink going on there that was -- that was that this is a really big bad thing for Obama, and I think that we probably did our readers and viewers a disservice.

KURTZ: A groupthink, Amy Holmes?

HOLMES: It wouldn't be surprising and it wouldn't be the first time. I'm fascinated that reporters were looking more at Twitter than at the debate proceedings and what was happening on stage.

You know, clearly, the viewers, readers deserve a lot more than that, than what is it, 140 characters per tweet. And they expect the reporters to be watching and reporting what they are seeing, not having this internal conversation that then turns --

(The segment was about the B.S. video that Hannity said would destroy the world, but the video was a dud.)

I was on Twitter for awhile, and I had to shut it down because tweets were flying across the screen so fast that I couldn't keep up. I bet the media sets up lists and just follows their buddies. But it's a big problem.
Journalists should get off Twitter and watch the debate, without being influenced by their pals, and then report on what they actually saw instead of what the emerging narrative is. I imagine none of them wanted to dispute the narrative their colleagues were pumping out and risk being ostracized for having an independent thought. But Americans and their bosses are paying them to cover events and not to tweet it.

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In the first segment, Kurtz wondered why the media didn't report on all the whoppers Mitt told. It was a valid point. But maybe their Twitter obsession is trumping the truth and facts. Straight-out lying is the conservative tactic these days.

KURTZ: Terry Smith, let's stipulate that Obama lost this debate. He was flat, meandering. Romney was focused and energetic. The media have made it sound like the biggest fiasco in the history of debating. Is that a bit over the top?

TERENCE SMITH: Yes, of course, it's over the top. It's not a disaster. It was -- it was a flat night, not a good night obviously for the president. But I have to say, news organizations, and particularly my good friend Chris Matthews know this, go into a meltdown when they're confronted with a surprise. It was a surprise. Remember going in, everybody anticipated that Obama would be quite in charge and Romney would be struggling.

So it was, of course, mainly stylistic, the failing, not substantive, because going home after watching it, I listened to it, C-Span radio ran it again, and Obama wasn't that bad.

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KURTZ: But do you agree with my point that if you hear the media echo chamber saying over and over and over again, that this was a calamity for the president, that that can influence how people the event?

DRUCKER: Well, how the media covers things always influences how people remember the event. I mean, if you look at the presidential race, it has been very influenced by how the media has portrayed various events.

KURTZ: OK. Terry talked about listening to it on the radio. I was in Denver. I saw a different debate than most Americans because I didn't see -- and we can put some of this up here. I didn't see the split screens. I didn't see the reaction shots when the president was looking down often and Romney looked more energetic. We see that here.

And that, I think, especially what the media is focused on, the body language of the debate changed the way you looked at. I was more focused on what they were saying. So, it didn't seem to me that Obama had done so badly.
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KURTZ: Terry, I understand the focus on the theater of it. It is a theatrical performance. And I understand the focus on Big Bird and things like that. But here you have Mitt Romney who on the one hand seemed to be backing way from part of what he's been saying all year, he's not going to raise what high income people pay, but almost -- I mean, almost every independent study shows that he cannot pay for this through closing deductions and loopholes, and he hasn't said which deductions and loopholes he would close.

Why has there not been more media focus on this very central question?
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KURTZ: But why has the headline, why the front page story, why the top of the newscast not dealt with -- you know, not just Romney's tax cut and the questions about it, but Romney saying he likes part of Obamacare, he would still cover pre-existing conditions. Well, not so much if you look at the details. He said he likes part of the Dodd/Frank banking law, even though he's calling for its abolition.

It seems to me when it comes to the substance, the press has somewhat fallen down on the job here. Tell me I'm wrong.

SMITH: No, I tend to agree with you. I saw stories the next day that said that this is the moderate Mitt, that he moved to the center, that this was really a significant thing, and it was so reported.

So I think it was covered. I think you're talking mainly about emphasis, and was there enough emphasis on really disputable figures on both sides, I must say. They both fudged.
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KURTZ: Wait a minute. What if candidates get up there and they lie and they distort and they exaggerate?

DRUCKER: If it's a lie as simple as the sky is brown and we all know it's blue, that's one thing. But there have been competing studies, Republicans trotting out conservative-based studies, Democrats trotting out liberal-based studies about what these tax plans would do. And so, what you'd you get, as in most campaigns, is in a sense a muddle over values and how to attack a problem that ultimately is up to the voters.

And it's really unclear whether either of these candidates is telling the truth or in a sense arguing for something that can't be done until they may have a change to do it or not.

Drucker is playing a Villager apologist in much of this, but Howard's questions are valid. Why aren't candidates called out for lying? A liar is a liar. Romney smiled and lied.

KURTZ: But here's a fact that's not unclear. Romney says that when -- Romney essentially has a secret plan. He says when he unveils which deductions and loopholes he's going to close, although he's taken things like the home mortgage deductions off the table, then you will see that his tax plan won't increase the deficit. That in and of itself is a pretty central fact in this debate, but not if you look at the media coverage.

MASON: No, that's true. And I think the fact that we have fact checkers playing such an important role in campaign coverage now gives campaign reporters a pass on not covering those substantive issues. Reporters aren't good at math. That's not news.

KURTZ: Then they need remedial math.

David Atkins:

What if President Obama had spent an entire year campaigning on a $5 trillion stimulus program comprised entirely of government spending? What if that spending were on programs as unpopular, say, as tax cuts for the rich?

And what if, when confronted about the notion that this plan might add to the federal deficit, the President answered that it was revenue neutral, because he promised to cut $5 trillion in other spending to make up for it, even though said spending doesn't exist? What if the President refused to state any of the specifics of the spending that would be cut, even when asked about it directly on a friendly network like MSNBC?

And what would the reaction be if, during the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney called out the President on this spending plan, only to hear back that the President had never suggested any sort of plan like that in the first place? What if the moderator had then refused to interrupt and correct the record, allowing a "he-said-she-said" vacuous argument to take place for 20 minutes?

What would the reaction of the press establishment be? What sort of bias would the media be said to have? Would the President have been awarded a debate victory on the basis of that response?

We have a very, very broken media and political system in this country.

Exactly. If Obama had said that the stimulus created 20 million jobs I think there would be a media meltdown, but when Mitt says his health-care plan will cover pre-existing conditions -- it's crickets.

MASON: That is definitely true. But they can cover the broader issues. They want to cover other things.

KURTZ: They want to cover the theater of it and the polls and the momentum and the image-making.

MASON: That's what gets the hits on the Web site, not a substantive story about tax rates.

Did you know the Beltway press would rather cover Broadway?

KURTZ: Is it simply that -- I've seen 20 times the level of coverage about what Romney said about Big Bird and cutting off the subsidy to PBS, than anything else. Is it the other stuff, the stuff we're talking about here, is it just considered too boring to get hits on the Web site, or ratings for a television show?


MASON: It is. Would that journalism were still the church of truth? It's not. It's a profit-driven industry and the profit gets smaller and smaller. We're talking about Big Bird.

Profits trump news.

KURTZ: This was the most -- talking about social media here for a moment -- this was the most tweeted political event ever, 10.3 million Twitter messages, more than for the whole Democratic convention in just those 90 minutes. How does that change the way the people experience the debate if they're online and sharing and debating with their friends?

MASON: It does. I notice people paying much more attention to Twitter than what was being said on TV, and following the debate through Twitter rather than experiencing it as a television event.

I know journalists covering the debates are more focused on who's retweeting them than the substance of the news.

Julie Mason adds some truth telling to the discussion on RS:

MASON: It is. Would that journalism were still the church of truth? It's not. It's a profit-driven industry and the profit gets smaller and smaller. We're talking about Big Bird.

The media is a profit-driven industry. John Harris admitted that the Political uses screaming headlines to generate web links. They have nothing to do with the news.

MASON: It does. I notice people paying much more attention to Twitter than what was being said on TV, and following the debate through Twitter rather than experiencing it as a television event.

I agree that many of the online community loves them some Twitter, but of the 70 million that watched the debate I doubt 7% were on Twitter.

Anyway, here's a message to all the media: Twitter is fun, but not when you're supposed to be working. You already focus on horse-race politics instead of the facts, and Twitter just makes that even more pronounced.

About John Amato

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