Worst Week in Washington

Who had the worst week in Washington? Twitter.

By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Fix is a confirmed FOT (Friend of Twitter). We've been using the microblogging service since the summer of 2009 and have enjoyed every minute of it.

But we've always thought that Twitter was a dangerous game for politicians. (We even wrote an essay warning pols to tone down the tweeting.) Now, it turns out that Twitter holds real peril for political reporters, too. Two examples from the week that was highlight the dangers.

First, Washington Post editorial writer and blogger Jonathan Capehart used a tweet from Rep. Jack Kimble of California as a launching pad for a blog post on who is to blame for the current federal deficits. The problem? There is no Rep. Jack Kimble; that Twitter account is a spoof.

Then, several reporters jumped the gun -- via Twitter -- on a release touting the endorsement by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Senate candidacy. The release in question was actually sent out by the campaign of Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democrat in the race, to draw attention to Graham's endorsement of Crist way back in 2009 -- when the governor, now an independent, was still running for Senate as a Republican. Graham had since rescinded the endorsement and is now backing former state House speaker Marco Rubio (R).

To their credit -- and Twitter's credit -- Capehart and the Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel, who tweeted on the Graham endorsement, corrected their errors quickly. Capehart wrote (via Twitter, of course) that he had been "bamboozled," adding: "Lesson here: Never let a good opening get in the way of that final fact-check."

The Fix adopts a "there but for the grace of God go I" approach to mistakes via 140 characters or less -- as should any self-aware journalist. But the slip-ups highlight the double-edged sword that is Twitter. On the one hand, you can instantly share your news and views with the world. On the other hand, you can instantly share your news and views with the world.

The immediacy that has turned Twitter into an international phenomenon -- don't all Hollywood celebs and pro athletes announce everything important on it these days? -- presents major challenges for journalists trying to live by the "trust but verify" credo.

(It wasn't all bad news for journalists on Twitter this week. A Japanese reporter imprisoned in Afghanistan used a cellphone to tweet that he was alive and well; he was released days later.)

But Twitter, for complicating the already overcomplicated lives of political journalists, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail chris.cillizza@wpost.com

with your nominees.

Can't remember who had the worst week last week?

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