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Moral of Obama, Kanye incident? Nothing is off the record anymore.

By Matthew Shaer / September 16, 2009



What began on Sunday as a snafu – Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards – has escalated into a Web-wide conversation on the usefulness of Twitter and the state of presidential politics in the YouTube age.

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First, some back-story: On Monday, just as discussion of the West/Swift incident was really getting started, President Barack Obama sat for an interview with CNBC. Quite reasonably, Obama assumed anything he said was off the record. So when asked about West, Obama dispensed a short critique of the rapper's behavior.

"I thought that was really inappropriate. It was like, she was getting an award, why are you butting in? I hear you," Obama said to a small group of reporters. "I agree with you. The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person, she's getting her award, what is he doing up there?"

Next, he offered up a sobriquet not fit for print in a family publication. "Cut the president some slack," Obama joked a few seconds later, perhaps worried the press would run with the remarks. "I've got a lot of other stuff on my plate," he said.

But ABC reporter Terry Moran, who was apparently listening in on the feed, did not cut the president any slack.

Instead, he took to Twitter and relayed to the whole wide world the exact phrase Obama had used. "Now THAT'S presidential," Moran tweeted. A handful of media outlets immediately picked up on the tweet, and a full-scale media kerfuffle ensued; eventually, Obama's remarks on West made it as far as CNN.

And just as quickly, ABC News went into recovery mode. First, the offending tweet was yanked down. And then on Tuesday, ABC News President David Westin reminded his staff to follow appropriate social networking protocol. Finally, ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider issued a public apology.

"There should be a very dark, easily understood line between material that is approved, vetted and published, and material that has yet to reach that standard," Schneider said. "The message to our employees is very clear: If it's approved and published, then people can tweet it or share it on Facebook.... Prior to that happening, the information is not to be shared."

So what can we get out of the whole debacle? Well, for one, nothing is off the record anymore. Not in the age of Twitter and YouTube, when information can zip from one end to the blogosphere to the other faster than you can says "Google." You thought the 24-hour news cycle was bad? Try the hyper-accelerated Twitter cycle.

To accommodate this new insatiable cycle, we may start seeing politicians and public figures clamming up when it comes to talking off the record. And that would be a shame. As David Jackson of USA Today notes, "It helps to talk to people in a more relaxed state, and to have a more natural conversation; you learn things that can be helpful later."

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Volkswagen’s E-Up! An electric car for the people?

It’s a far cry from a $100,000 Tesla, but a new electric car concept from Volkswagen has people charged up. The diminutive E-Up! is just 125.6-inches long – a Mini Cooper is 20 inches longer – and isn’t going to haul four kids to soccer practice. And its 11.3 second 0-60 time won’t win any drag races. But that’s not the point. If all goes as planned, by 2013, E-Up! will be a mass-produced all-electric car from a major automaker, accessible to the average person.

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For more sci-tech news, follow us on Twitter. We’re @csmhorizonsblog.

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