Note to tweeting #Romney, #Obama campaigns and #journalists: Chill
Believing that faster is better, journalists and political figures feel constant pressure to express themselves at the speed of a tweet. The resulting commentary is long on reflex and short on reflection, and harms public discourse. There's an answer: Slow down.
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This tendency is especially strong during the “live-blogging” of a speech or debate. We will often read “Wow!” “Yea!” “LOL!” or “Unbelievable!” We will seldom see a commentator saying, “Gee, I wonder what will be said next. Let’s all sleep on it.”Skip to next paragraph
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A recent Gallup survey shows that distrust of the mass media is at a record high. Polarization is one reason, since conservatives and liberals both perceive media bias that favors the other side, and they point to it. Moreover, people of all persuasions know that the mainstream press is not as thorough or thoughtful as it used to be. Reporters are reacting to what they see online, then posting their own stuff in hopes of keeping up.
As Jay Root writes in his wonderful new book on the Rick Perry campaign, “We’re not so much reporting the news as blurting it.” Even basic factual accuracy can suffer. Racing for a scoop this summer, CNN and Fox News initially – and falsely – reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the comprehensive health care law.
Of course, the Internet also brings huge benefits. It is now possible to access more kinds of information than ever before in history. But most people have neither the time nor the know-how to sort through the countless government documents and scholarly studies available online. They have to rely on public figures and news organizations that are the objects of distrust or partisan scorn.
As columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has written, “Someday we’ll be told something true that we need to know and we won’t believe that either.”
Long before anyone could have imagined the technological marvels that we carry in our pockets, the Framers understood the risk of hasty judgment. In Federalist 71, Alexander Hamilton wrote:
“When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.”
The moral is that public figures, reporters, and commentators of all kinds should take a breath and think before they post. Slow down, because speed kills.