Post's bloggers beat Rocky's tweeters

Twitter's limitations a detriment to reporting

by Dave Kopel

Rocky Mountain News. September 20, 2008

Barack Obama and Sarah Palin both campaigned in Colorado on Monday. Which Denver daily provided better coverage?

The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post both provided live online updates of the Palin and Obama speeches. The Post's were far superior.

The Rocky used Twitter, which allows only 140 characters per message; the Post used the more traditional weblog format, which has no limit on length. As a result, the Post supplied more than 1,600 words on live update information on the Palin rally, while the Rocky had fewer than 300.

So, for example, the Rocky said, "Palin is talking about her role as veep." The Post, meanwhile, reported, "Here's something new. Palin says she and John McCain have decided what she would focus on as vice president. 'My mission is going to be energy security and government reform. It's going to be helping families who have special needs, and I will push for innovative cures to diseases.' "

If you want the news as it happens, the Post beat the Rocky in reporting the one nationally significant fact from the Palin rally.

The Post's weblog format allowed the participation of an editor, whereas the Rocky's Twitter format does not.

The advantage of the Post's format was on display in the live coverage of the Obama rally in Grand Junction.

At 11:05 a.m., the Post's live report stated: "State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, is the day's first speaker. She took an immediate shot at the McCain campaign for the senator's remarks last month that the Colorado River Compact should be renegotiated. 'Would you like to see the compact overturned? Sen. Obama would honor our original agreement.' "

By 11:07, a Post editor had provided nearly 200 words of background about Curry's remarks, detailing how McCain had told The Pueblo Chieftain that the compact "should be renegotiated" before retreating from that position a little while later.

The terse "tweeting" of the Rocky missed the Colorado Compact controversy completely, merely reporting, "Curry pulls out blue shirt that says she is a hockey mom."

Ten minutes after Obama took the stage, the Post was already reporting his direct quotes about the Lehman bankruptcy, whereas the Rocky had nothing about his content.

Monday's Truth Patrol in the Rocky contained a major error. Rocky staffers Laura Frank and Katie Kerwin McCrimmon claimed that Sarah Palin fumbled a question from ABC's Charlie Gibson last week when he asked her if she supported "the Bush doctrine" and she asked him, "In what respect?"

According to Truth Patrol, the Bush Doctrine "is the policy Bush created in 2002, justifying the invasion of Iraq. The doctrine entitles the U.S. to attack another country if our leaders believe that a foreign country is on the verge of attacking us."

Not really.

In the same day's paper, the Rocky editorial pages carried a syndicated column from The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, the man who created the term "Bush doctrine." As Krauthammer explained, the Bush doctrine has been used by journalists to mean any one of four distinct policies: Pre- 9/11, it meant unilaterally withdrawing from certain treaties; shortly after 9/11, it meant treating any nation that aids terrorists as a hostile regime; then, before the Iraq war, the Bush doctrine meant pre-emptive war against potential threats. (Frank and McCrimmon picked this meaning.) The final meaning comes from Bush's second inaugural: spreading democracy across the globe.

Krauthammer pointed out that Palin sensibly requested clarification of an ambiguous question. As Krauthammer noted, Palin clearly didn't know what "the Bush doctrine" meant, but neither did Gibson. If Palin had not known about the different policies (e.g., pre-emption or democracy promotion), it would have been a major gaffe; but not knowing a label used by some journalists who keep changing their minds about what the label applies to is not really a "Rock Solid" fumble.

Krauthammer's column was first published in The Washington Post on Saturday morning, and the Washington Post on Saturday also ran a front-page news story detailing the often-changing meanings of "the Bush doctrine." The political Web sites on Saturday and Sunday had plenty of stories about Gibson's gaffe, so there was ample time for Frank and McCrimmon to have ordered a fix for their article before it went to the printer on Sunday night.

RockyTalk Live can't fact-check every online comment, but false or highly misleading comments shouldn't run in the print edition. On Monday, the Rocky printed a reader comment claiming that Palin has a 93 percent approval rating, while Obama's is only 45 percent. A few minutes' research showed that the 93 for Palin was within Alaska in May 2007; the only national 45 for Obama is from last February, when he was less well-known. The Palin 93 is so implausible on a national level that the comment should have been checked before print publication.

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