Communication Matters - our blog on trends and events


A multi-media firestorm

If you still question the power of the media, or the role of social media in societal debate, take the temperature of firestorm U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson unleashed upon himself last night.

It was rather surreal. There was President Obama speaking to a rare joint session of Congress, when suddenly, a member of that legislative body yelled, “You lie!”

The reaction was immediate, and negative. After the speech, I went online to see who had violated the sacred congressional decorum. The New York Times was blogging the speech live, and mentioned the event on its home page. But no name. Minutes later, I learned from CNN that the suspected screamer was Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina.

It was clear Wilson was in for a very rough time.

Now if Wilson had chosen to make his outburst, say, two years ago, the transgression would have made news, been posted on Web sites and fed cable and radio talk shows for at least a day or two. But now, with the power and proliferation of social media, with mainstream media striving to keep up the pace, the duration of Wilson’s coverage may be no longer, but the intensity promises to be withering.

Here is CNN’s coverage of the social media “conversation.”

Here is a sample of tweets form just one hour this morning. I can only quote a few. Such is the crass nature of much of the commentary.

“There ought to be a reprimand or censure of Rep. Joe Wilson to discourage that kind of conduct in the future.” @SenArlenSpector, 10:36 a.m.

“Really think that the House of Representatives should censor Joe Wilson for his childish outburst at President Obama’s speech last night.” @paxki, 11:18 a.m.

“Rep. Joe Wilson, ‘You Lie,’ no true words ever spoken. Stay strong Rep. Wilson, way to stand for what you believe in.” @andrewjward, 11:19 a.m.

“Donations to Joe Wilson’s D opponent—Rob Miller—now over $200K since ‘You Lie’ ” The Fix, 11:32 a.m.

“I’m a proud veteran. I’m stunned that Joe Wilson yelled at the President. This is a symptom the problems within our political establishment.” @DonnieBrainard, 11:39 a.m

Wilson himself has a Twitter account, @CongJoeWilson, but for some reason, it was not active today.

By the end of the day, Wilson had apologized. Here is the New York Times’ coverage of the apology.

Is Wilson prepared for the vitriol he started? You be the judge. Here is how he looked on MSNBC.

There is no doubt Wilson’s life will be hot for a while. A glance at the mainstream media headlines reveals the obvious. But for those who doubt the power of 140-character tweets, or Facebook discussions, or IReports on CNN, or news aggregators such as RealClearPolitics, well, just ask Wilson. You can direct message him on Twitter, if he hasn’t closed his account.

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