It’s been said that journalism is a process, not a product. That process was on full display this week at @SuperTuesday.
The Romney campaign quickly moved on from Michigan to Ohio and smartly engaged the local media there. He had an interview with Ohio News Network’s Jim Heath and was asked if he supported the “Blunt-Rubio Amendment” which would allow employers to refuse to cover contraceptives or other kinds of health care services for religious or moral reasons. In the middle of the question Heath referred to a potential state ballot question as well. Romney responded by saying he “opposed the bill” – the amendment is attached to a larger bill on transportation issues – and then referenced an earlier debate where he said that contraception is one of those issues best left alone. A slightly confusing question met a slightly confusing answer. Still, Heath (and many others) took the answer to mean Romney opposed the amendment – which appeared to contradict previous statements he had made about religious freedom. So before the interview ran on TV, Heath teased it:
ALERT: Mitt Romney tells ONN he would not vote for senate bill which would allow employers to deny coverage for birth control.
— Jim Heath (@JimHeathONN) February 29, 2012
This looked like quite a scoop. More than 50 people “re-tweeted” Heath’s alert, including journalists and conservative activists. Put simply, the national media noticed. Quickly.
@JimHeathONN Planning to release excerpts? Sounds like you got quite a response to a question he has avoided so far!
— Phil Elliott (@Philip_Elliott) February 29, 2012
News outlets in conservative Super Tuesday states such as Georgia were reporting that Romney “flip-flopped” on the amendment. All from a single tweet. So the campaign had to act fast – they got the message out to reporters they knew, who quickly went to Twitter:
Per the @MittRomney campaign: The gov supports the Blunt amendment. It’s being “incorrectly reported” campaign tells me.
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) February 29, 2012
However, only nine people “re-tweeted” this. So Romney himself went on a friendly radio show in Boston and said, “of course I’m for the Blunt Amendment.”
The whole thing got some conservative pundits and journalists a bit miffed:
This is why Twitter is highly problematic. Romney did not oppose Blunt amendment but Twitter made us think for an hour that he did.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) February 29, 2012
To be clear: I do not believe Mitt Romney actually meant to say he opposed the Blunt amendment. I think this is a nothing burger.
— Matt K. Lewis (@mattklewis) February 29, 2012
So how is this a “Twitter problem?” The answer is grounded in basic economics – demand for access and information to the candidate is currently outstripping supply. Journalism in the digital age isn’t only faster, it’s much more competitive. Reporters are using every tool at their disposal to move news quickly and promote their own stories. Right now, the tool of choice is Twitter. Throughout this process, every journalist involved tried to get it right – this was an honest miscommunication on all sides. And ultimately, the process worked. But this shows how campaigning has evolved – every day is an exercise in crisis communication. Twitter is where news breaks in a crisis. Every moment a campaign has to put out fires on Twitter is a moment they can’t push their overall message.
I’m fascinated by what’s happening here because this is the type of work I do every day – social media and crisis communication. Most companies and organizations don’t have the resources, the relationships or the institutional flexibility of a presidential campaign, but they all experience a crisis at some point. Managing this basic “supply and demand” issue quickly and efficiently is going to be even more important for organizations in the future.