A Bunch of Twits?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:40 AM

Admit it: You're sick of reading about Twitter, aren't you?

You'd rather read another nine pieces about Kate Winslet or "Slumdog." Am I right?

Well, that's what people said about Facebook when I wrote about joining it two years ago, when it seemed like a pointless time-waster on which young people posted endless pictures of themselves. Now it's a time-waster that has sucked in just about everyone I know.

I'm not a Twitter evangelist. I don't see it achieving a huge mass audience like Facebook. It works for me as a journalist because there's a kind of rolling conversation that is not just interesting but provides me with a steady flow of links and media ideas. But most people have, um, lives.

In my column yesterday, I wrote about how such anchors as Terry Moran and David Gregory are using the Web site to communicate with viewers, provide behind-the-scenes color and try to boost their ratings. (It's a blabby world: Moran and Gregory promptly twittered about the interviews, thus blowing my cover.) And with its tight limit on message length, there are no filibusters.

Not surprisingly, I got plenty of reaction on the site. Pollster Frank Luntz said Twitter is "no gimmick, it's the future." Delrayser, an Alexandria "father, government lawyer, political junkie, causal gamer, beer snob, amateur geek," picked up on one of my descriptions: "Twitter is 'self-involved & incestuous.' Would comment but need to get back to thinking abt myself and sexting."

Members of Congress, pro athletes (Shaq) and CEOs (Steve Case) are among those who are active on the site. So maybe, despite the clunky software, it will get bigger. If not, I'll write the obit in 140 characters.

Politico's Patrick Gavin says: "When you talk about Twitter, you might as well be talking about the Snuggie: People around you swear that it's actually useful, but you can't help thinking it silly and declaring, 'I just don't get what all the buzz is about.' But in Washington, the social networking and microblogging service is quickly becoming part of the daily media diet -- and a powerful tool in the hands of those who are adept at making their points in 140 characters or fewer."

His top 10 D.C. twitterers: Karl Rove, Claire McCaskill, David Gregory, Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich, Ana Marie Cox, Chuck Grassley, Joe Trippi, Patrick Ruffini and Al Gore.

Gavin's Politico colleague Mike Allen says he wanted "less white noise" in his life, but . . . well, I have a minor cameo in this:

"On Wednesday, my bosses and I were taking Betsy Fischer, executive producer of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' to birthday lunch at BlackSalt on MacArthur Boulevard. While I was waiting for the cab, I hit the 'Meet the Press' page on MSNBC.com and saw that moderator David Gregory had started Twittering, big-time. 'Connect with David,' the page said, offering Twitter and FaceBook links. (Since then, he's added a blog.) In the 20 seconds I looked at his Twitter feed, one thought stuck with me. In one tweet, Gregory wrote: 'On the phone with Washpo's Howie Kurtz talking about Twitter. Is it me or is Twitter all anyone is talking about this week?' Then in the next, @davidgregory added: 'I told Howie what I believe: people like me have to reach people where THEY are instead of asking them.' "

But when Mike pitched the story, his boss John Harris replied: "My feeling is that it will probably be like double-knit pants and long sideburns in the 1970s . . . why did people do that?"

The Times of London quotes a neuropsychologist as saying: "We are the most narcissistic age ever. Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist." Funny, I felt quite real before I used Twitter.

Ana Marie Cox, the former Wonkette, has more than 79,000 followers, and explains her approach:

"I cover Washington and am somewhat obsessive about politics in general so you'll be getting what is a basically a live feed from inside my head regarding whatever I'm doing that day. . . . Because I also have a 'blue' streak (not talking politics here) you will also get hopefully funny interpolations of wonkspeak into what I like to call 'sexytalk.' See here, for examples, for what happens when congressmen start talking about how a 'stimulus' requires a 'big package.' "

All right, enough tweeting. Let's talk about @barackobama. A plethora of polls to share with you today. From WashPost/ABC:

"Nearly seven in 10 believe Obama is delivering on his pledge to bring needed change to Washington, the poll found, and about eight in 10 say he is meeting or exceeding their expectations. At the same time, however, the bipartisan support he enjoyed as he prepared to take office has eroded substantially.

"Just 37 percent of Republicans now approve of how he has done his job, a sharp drop from a month ago when 62 percent gave him good marks for his handling of the transition."

NYT/CBS: "With a job approval rating of 63 percent, Mr. Obama remains in a strong position to sell his economic policies, with people expressing confidence in his leadership even if they do not fully understand his proposals . . . More than three-quarters of Americans said they are optimistic about the next four years with him as president."

And there's more: "As President Obama outlines his priorities to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, Americans overwhelmingly support new spending to help individuals -- including creating jobs and rescuing struggling homeowners -- but oppose bailouts for automakers and banks.

"A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday finds that the new president, with a reservoir of support and a 62% job approval rating, still has a selling job to do with an anxious public focused on the economy."

The president seems to be doing pretty well, despite what the Beltway wise guys say.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes critiques his first month:

"Does Obama loathe Washington? It sure looks that way. In the midst of an economic crash, he's spent a surprising number of days away from the White House, delivering speeches to stir support for his stimulus and housing programs and, at least once, to denounce Republicans. In his first month, his trips covered 11 days, including four days in his hometown of Chicago. And that's not counting the two days he spent at Camp David and his visit to Springfield, Virginia, to talk up his stimulus bill.

"Not that there's anything wrong with this, but it does represent a different presidential style. Okay, all modern presidents travel a lot. The difference here is one of degree. Obama's job is less the shaping of policies than the promoting of them . . .

"Obama and Democrats are in sync. This may explain why Obama feels he doesn't need to hang around Washington. Democrats have large majorities in the Senate and House and they aren't likely to deviate from his wishes. They agree on nearly every aspect of big government liberalism. . . .

"Obama the market killer. The Dow opened at 8281.22 on the morning of Obama's inauguration. Yesterday it opened at 7465.95. That's a vote of practically no confidence in Obama's strategy for reviving the economy."

But is it? Didn't the great market swoon begin months ago when that other guy -- the one Fred wrote an admiring book about -- was president?

Slate's John Dickerson offers the pro and con arguments:

"It's an Obama bear market: After Obama's inauguration, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 332 points. It tanked again last week after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced his plan for bailing out the banks and tanked some more this week after Obama announced his housing plan -- an 800-point slide in a month. By the end of the week, the market was at its lowest level in six years. Even if you think the business cycle is responsible for much of this, weren't Obama's policies -- the stimulus bill, the bank bailout, and the housing plan -- supposed to do something positive?

"Obama's not to blame: The market is reacting to long-term economic conditions. If you want someone to blame, it should be George Bush. The conditions are the result of his policies. Or, if you don't want to blame an administration, just look at the financial sector--a big component of the Dow Jones industrial average. Two years ago it accounted for a third of total corporate profits. This year it has no profits and its share prices are cratering, hence the Dow is down. Bank stocks may trade based on what Obama has been proposing, but those have lost so much value they're not responsible for throwing off the entire Dow."

Of course, the other major indexes are way off, too.

What to make of the GOP governors turning up their nose at (a sliver of) the stimulus money? Time's Joe Klein says that Bobby Jindal is a smart guy but that on "Meet the Press" he was "not so intellectually honest. The governor of Louisiana has made headlines this week by threatening to refuse the stimulus package funds headed to his state. But he's not going to do that, really. He's going to accept all the money heading his way -- except for the funds associated with one program, a permanent change in the rules governing the provision of unemployment insurance to part-time workers.

"He spent an awful lot of time griping about the overall stimulus package -- although, in the end, that was pretty much a distortion, too. When it came down to it, Jindal didn't like the aforementioned unemployment insurance provision and the slight trims on tax breaks for small businesses. He also didn't like some of the infrastructure spending -- on high-speed rail. He also didn't like $50 million orginially proposed for the National Endowment of the Arts. . . .

"To summarize: Jindal opposes the unemployment codicil, the slimmer tax breaks for small businesses, the support for high-speed rail and the money for the arts. That leaves the overwhelming bulk of the stimulus package, which he presemably supports. A fair question would have been: Governor Jindal, if you were given a take it or leave it choice on the entire package headed for your state, would you take it or leave it? The answer, of course: he'd take it. And so would nearly every one of the Republicans who hooted and howled and grandstanded against the bill. They had the luxury of voting against it because they knew it would pass."

How's this for a vote of confidence:

"The Republican governor of Utah on Monday said his party is blighted by leaders in Congress whose lack of new ideas renders them so 'inconsequential' that he doesn't even bother to talk to them. 'I don't even know the congressional leadership,' Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told editors and reporters at The Washington Times."

A Baltimore reporter has admitted doctoring a video that made Fox's John Gibson sound as though he was comparing Eric Holder to a monkey. The guy says it was a joke -- an awful, unfunny joke, if you ask me -- and that his disclaimer got lost when the tape was picked up by Huffington Post and other Web sites.

Philadelphia's second paper is in jeopardy, according to Reflections of a Newsosaurus:

"The bankruptcy filing of Philadelphia Media Holdings could deliver the deathblow to the Philadelphia Daily News.

"The gritty and colorful tabloid -- whose circulation is about a third of its sibling, the Philadelphia Inquirer -- is the most logical place for publisher Brian Tierney to find the significant operating savings that will enable him to restructure the debt that has overwhelmed his young media company."

Not to worry, says Forbes: Tierney's pay "was boosted just two months ago by 38% to $850,000."

And does this remind you of anything?

"Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal plans to intervene in the Journal Register Co.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case to try to block bonuses planned for executives . . .

"As part of its proposed bankruptcy reorganization plan, the company wants to give 31 "key" executives $1.7 million in bonuses -- some termed 'shutdown bonuses' -- if they meet certain goals."

As the Chandra story heads into what might be its final chapter, Lisa DePaulo has no sympathy for the man who was caught in the media storm:

"Within moments of the breaking news that a suspect, Ingmar Guandique--who was most definitely not a former U.S. congressman--was about to be arrested in the eight-year-old Chandra Levy case, Gary Condit, who was previously not known for his rapid-response on matters pertaining to the Levy case (remember, it took him 67 days to even admit, sort of, that he was having an affair with her?), had this to say: 'It is unfortunate that an insatiable appetite for sensationalism blocked so many from searching for the real answers for so long. I had always hoped to have the opportunity to tell my side of this story, but too many were not prepared to listen.'

"Ay yi yi, Gary. Here I was, all ready to give you your just due. (Really, I was.) But you had to go and get all OJ on us. It was just so Gary Condit to say something so self-serving and victim-y -- not to mention inaccurate. Was it really an insatiable appetite for sensationalism that 'blocked' the congressman from cooperating with the police for 67 days? Now that Condit has been 'vindicated,' as his former lawyer Abby Lowell put it, it's easy to forget that it might have been nice if Condit had been more eager to tell his side of the story back when it actually mattered. Would the search for 'the real answers' -- not to mention Levy's body -- have gone a little bit smoother, perhaps, if her lover had been more concerned with his missing mistress (and constituent) than he was with saving his political ass and his marriage?

"Not to get all Nancy Grace on you here, but let's be real. She was a missing intern. He was her secret married lover. We'd have all been nuts -- the media, the police, the public, and especially her parents -- if we weren't all looking at Gary Condit."

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