Dana Milbank looks at the newer, braver world of Twitter and concludes that its high-tech promise of admitting "a more diverse array of opinion" into the national conversation has perished under the older, weightier law of unintended consequences:
In reality, social media have had the opposite effect, causing conventional wisdom to be set, simplified and amplified, faster and more pervasively--and nowhere is that more evident than in the debate coverage.
With four (including the vice-presidential) debates now behind us, Milbank provides the typical timeline of "groupthink" formation:
From the first minutes, journalists ... monitor each other’s tweets, testing out themes and gauging which candidate is ahead.... Somewhere around the 30-minute mark, the conventional wisdom gels--and subsequent tweets, except those from the most hardened partisans, increasingly reflect the Twitter-forged consensus.
In a way, this is nothing new. Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to observe (and pity) Americans' instant inclination to roam with the majority herd, and well more than a 100 years later the somewhat authentic liberal media's "instant analysis" of major political events became, right or wrong, a kind of sociopolitical Gospel; until, that is, the Nixon-Agnew crowd began converting Americans to the Groupthink Church of Anti-expertise and Anti-intellectualism. New anti-authority sources of received Authority were established. Now, as a result, enormous chunks of Americans reject profound realities such as global warming and believe that cutting taxes raises government revenue and mistake grotesque demagogues like Mitt Romney for presidential material.
They also, it seems, cannot independently recognize geysers of gross mendacity when they see them--I reference, in particular, the aforementioned and his "performance" in, especially, the first presidential debate--and so tend to accept whatever the new anti-authority sources of Authority are saying on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook and in blogs, even though that Authority is often merely piling superficiality onto surface analyses of cursory examinations. The latter, during the first presidential debate, immediately converged into the stylistic "story" of Obama's listlessness as opposed to the substantive story of Romney's malevolent metamorphosis.
I'm going to toot my own horn here. As I watched that first debate--while blogging, I guiltily confess--I noted that Obama might want to be less affable in the future, but essentially the theme of my evening's notations was that the debate came down to Romney's breathtaking lies and shifts and evasions. That, I thought, was the story. I was acutely mistaken, but only because I hadn't been tracking Twitter and Facebook and other blogs as I watched and listened. I had no idea that Twitter was on five-alarm alert and that other bloggers were melting down--most famously and thoroughly, Andrew Sullivan--and naturally I couldn't have known that Chris Matthews was about to have, as Obama later quipped, an on-air "stroke."
Only much later did counterproductive (or so cognition experts sadly tell us) fact-checkers begin turning the story to Romney's whoppers. But of course it was too late. The story had been written and concreted: Obama not only lost, he imploded. Hence Groupthink declared it a whole new race; thus it became ... a whole new race.
Not really--not in reality, that is. Obama's battleground footholds have remained satisfactorily intact. However the media's groupthink persuaded just enough voters that perhaps they should join the spooked herd--confirming, all over again, the mournful observations of Alexis de Tocqueville.