The Magazine

Twits on Parade

Twittering is the newest of the new media. And the worst.

Oct 20, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 06 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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But mostly I enjoyed reading the wordslingers of the press corps. On Twitter, there are fewer words to sling, but some of the journalists were chattier than others. I got to like an earnest woman named Kate Phillips from the New York Times, who, considering she works for the Times, was remarkably level-headed. Every four or five minutes she'd chime in with a comment that was as inoffensive as it was pointless: "will the economy get worse?" she wondered. "the candidates need to be careful not to cause more market and fear."

"McCain's now in town hall mode--where he's been a natural--as he talks about his tax plans," Kate reported. "Obama wants to respond."

And then she offered a little of that analysis that the Times is famous for: "their differences on health care may be the singlemost voter touchstone, aside from mortgages."

It was a bit like watching a baseball game with a dotty uncle. "Oh, he's swinging now, hits the ball with the bat, there he goes, better slide   "

The New Yorker's pop music critic was Twittering too. "That small business jack was lame," wrote an outraged Sasha Frere-Jones, after one exchange about the economy. "McCain is the Kanye of politicians and Obama is Daft Punk. Also, Obama knows how to walk."

Sasha wasn't the only one to enrich his tweets with cultural allusions. My hours with Twitter demonstrated yet again that baby boomer journalists and their younger colleagues can effortlessly summon references from what must be, for them, the entire spectrum of Western culture: from Lost in Space to the Dave Matthews Band, from the New Frontier to Get Smart, you name it. They didn't take all those "American Studies" classes for nothing.

TheFix from the Washington Post offered stage criticism--"McCain is doing a weird stand/sit on his stool when Obama is answering questions. Looks odd"--and was particularly fond of quoting Bruce Springsteen lyrics. The tweets from the staff of Slate made the obligatory Seinfeld allusion ("When did McCain become such a close talker?") before opening up their can of snark: "There appears to be a correlation between being an undecided voter and wearing a goatee. Which actually sort of makes sense."

The unanimity was more than a matter of style. Tweeting journalists experience the same mind-meld that makes their non-tweeting colleagues so uninteresting and predictable. Even a revolutionary technology like Twitter can't change that. At the end of the debate, no fewer than four of the reporters chose the same insta-cliché to describe the debate. It had not, they announced, been a "game changer." Almost all complained that the "town hall" format wasn't really a town hall. And when McCain made a clumsy reference to the telegraph, the mirth was widely shared. Everyone sophisticated enough to tweet knows that McCain is really, really old and out-of-it. Time magazine's twinkly Twitterer tweeted, with nearly 70 characters to spare: "The 'telegraph,' of course, is the form of telecommunications that McCain is most familiar with"

Maybe that's so. If it is, I hope the old fellow knows how lucky he's been.

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.