You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Twittering Under the Dome: Milbank Doth Protest Too Much?

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, February 25 2009

Dana Milbank thinks that nothing -- nothing! -- should stand in between the utterances of the powers-that-be and the ears of the American people. Why else would the Washington Post writer stage an impromptu one-man protest over David Plouffe's "off the record" National Press Club speech? Well, let's walk that back. When you're talking about Congress and Twitter is in the mix, that's a different enchilada. Then, Milbank's of the opinion that the whole idea of political openness and accessibility is an entirely risible display of bureaucratic self-absorption:

Some members called it a new age of transparency, a bold new frontier in democracy. But to view the hodgepodge of text messages sent from the House floor during the speech, it seemed as if Obama were presiding over a support group for adults with attention-deficit disorder.

Twitter -- so easy to mock, so difficult for the harried reporter to actually comprehend, it seems. Here are the numbers Milbank pulls up to demonstrate the futility of congressional Twittering:

And how many were reading these dispatches? Those following Congressman Wittman at 9:40 p.m.: 44. Senator McCaskill: 1. Congressman Blumenauer: 0. The live-streaming Culberson topped them all with 8,216.

Ooh, boy. Me thinks that's fuzzy math. (Does the idea that a United States Senator like Claire McCaskill has one single follower not set off any alarm bells?) We'll let the Municipalist clear up Milbank's follower vs. following confusion:

This struck us as ridiculous, since we follow McCaskill, and we knew her numbers were large. Our check this morning reveals: McCaskill has 9,462 followers. She is FOLLOWING just one. Blumenauer has 601 followers, but is following 0. Wittman has 768 followers, but follows 44.

It's a fair point that, by following few to no people, McCaskill and others are using Twitter as a broadcast medium. But it's not, of course, the one Milbank's anywhere close to making. Some reporters are experimenting with the Twitter medium -- John Dickerson, David Gregory, Ben Smith. Others are pulling out the old deride-and-conquer playbook that they made use of during the early days of blogging. 'Cause that approach has worked out well for them.