- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

“How do u tweet?”


A revised opening for “Goodnight Moon”? A little something for the ornithology crowd, perhaps?

No, this is an official interview between Sen. John McCain and ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, conducted Tuesday via Twitter, the online social network and microblog. The 20 questions and answers - no longer than 140 characters each - took about 10 minutes to complete and were, for the most part, void of standard punctuation and spelling.

The exchange was jaunty. Succinct. A splendid “Twitterview,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said.

“Twitter’s fun. The concision it demands is both blessing and curse. You gain directness. You lose a bit of subtlety and comprehensiveness,” he said in an e-mail.

But there is some meat here amid the twittering, some real content in a format far removed from political podium or Sunday talk show.

“i would have never bailed out AIG, the real scandal is billions to foreign banks,” Mr. McCain revealed in 15 words, 66 characters.

Perhaps it is telling that he did not capitalize the “i” for himself. Perhaps not.

We also find out that the Arizona Republican and one-time presidential hopeful is at work on alternatives to President Obama’s budget plans. He is worried about Iran and Pakistan for different reasons, and he supports his daughter, Meghan, during her ongoing feud with conservative broadcasters Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter.

Mr. Stephanopoulos also inquired about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent remarks to CNN about the greater risk of terrorism under an Obama administration.

“too early to draw that conclusion,” Mr. McCain replied.

The lawmaker “had fun, he enjoyed himself, he communicated,” said his spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan.

But Twitter is not without hazards.

“The danger is that politicians must boil down their thoughts to those few characters, and do it quickly. There has to be some real strategy about it, some forethought, or it will come out flippant, miscommunicated or wrong,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.

“The positive thing is that Twitter can work. Short bites of information are always effective,” he added.

For the Tweet-challenged, Twitter was founded in 2006 by four researchers in a San Francisco pod-casting company who simply asked the public: “What are you doing?” Millions responded with their assorted “tweets” available by phone, palm device or computer. Politicians - particularly Mr. Obama - news organizations, celebrities and plain old folks are among the many who share their thoughts, however brief and incisive. Or trite.

“Twitter is a valuable tool for journalism, in the same way a reporter’s pad and pen are valuable tools in journalism,” said Jane McDonnell, executive director of the Washington-based Online News Association, founded a decade ago for journalists who specialize in digital content.

“It’s a great sourcing tool, though in the typical debate, critics would say that twittering is just too short, too terse for any depth. But we have to remember that Twitter is not a story. Twitter is a tool,” Ms. McDonnell added.

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