The Politico, seeking to prove its commitment to substantive journalism, had an article today about the 10 most influential DC Twitterers. Enough said on their claims to substance. But they do hit on a mini-phenomenon; unlike blogs, which the Beltway media was slow to accept and embrace, Twitter has become something of a hit. Which makes perfect sense. After all, if you knew nothing about a topic except the barest outlines of the "who's winning/who's losing" dynamic, you'd want to limit yourself to 140 characters, too.
I'm not saying that Twitter is useless: it's a good publishing tool for quick news bytes and reporting from spaces where a computer is impractical. The best information from the California budget standoff came from the few reporters and advocates left in Sacramento updating their Twitter feeds (of course, that says more about California's political media than it does about the medium). However, reading the blurb for Ana Marie Cox' designation on the list, it appears that to them, Twitter has just become Village IM:
The former Wonkette makes the cut for two reasons: productivity and popularity. At 54,000 followers and climbing, Cox’s tweets (sometimes as many as 100 a day) are among the most followed in Washington. With attitude and humor, Cox documents just about everything: White House briefings, her cats, her former employers, her ongoing debate about whether to wear pants around the house — and political sound bites on TV that could pass for bad pickup lines at a bar (“My filibuster lasts all night long”).
Usually DC gets these things 4-6 years after the fact, like my grandparents' rural small-town radio station ("Coming up, music from a hot new band called The Who!"), but Twitter allows the chattering class the double pleasure of maxing out on their Blackberry usage, along with being forcibly constrained by time and space to definitively not talk about anything of import whatsoever. "John Edwards' haircut ZOMG LOLZ" fits the format; an analysis of proposed USDA country-of-origin labeling policy doesn't. And the structure of having "followers" surely appeals to Village types. All in all, it's better than passing notes in junior high! Actually, kind of the same thing!
This is the by-product of a media utterly consumed with self-regard and groupthink, who cannot conceive of talking about politics without sports analogies and scorecards. And the head Twit of them all, Tweety, has been unwittingly exposed by Chuck Todd:
NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd has a theory on why MSNBC's Hardball host Chris Matthews begged off from running for the Pennsylvania Senate seat held by Republican Arlen Specter. "Because [Chris] had a really good friend of his say to him, 'What are you going to do when you get there?' and he couldn't answer the question and he realized that, and that's why he didn't run," says Todd. "It was a childhood dream to be a senator, but he didn't know what he was going to do if he got there."
Eric Boehlert is quite rightly astounded.
Matthews, who has been inside the Beltway for going on, what, four decades, who once worked on the Hill and has been commenting, non-stop, about politics for countless years, had no idea what he'd do if he were a senator.
We've said it before and we'll say it again here: The Beltway press doesn't do public policy. It doesn't get it, and it has even less interest in it. So no, we're not surprised Matthews couldn't figure out why he'd do, y'know for other people, if he ever got elected.
Twitter's like a weighty public policy document to this crew.