THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lauren Ashburn Headshot

Etch-A-Sketch Flap: Twitter Is the New AP

Posted: Updated:
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

I always thought that Etch-a-Sketch was a great toy back in the pre-iPod era, even if I did have trouble making those squiggly lines.

But as a metaphor for a presidential candidate, not so much.

In our Daily Download debut on CNN's Situation Room, Howard Kurtz and I talked to Wolf Blitzer about why a less-than-bright remark by a top aide to Mitt Romney went absolutely viral. (Wolf knows his stuff, he's got more than half a million Twitter followers.)

Yes, it's obvious that Eric Fehrnstrom blundered, but the comment got little attention after he made it on Soledad O'Brien's morning show Wednesday. It was not until it went haywire as a Twitter trending topic -- with everyone from Obama strategist Stephanie Cutter to Eva Longoria weighing in -- that it became a bigger story for television, including CNN. Twitter is now our early warning system for breaking news and millions take this social media network information on faith. It's now taken over the old media space the Associated Press has played in so successfully for decades.

In case you missed it, Fehrnstron was asked whether the primaries were pushing Romney too far to the right for the general election. His response: "Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

What? Romney's positions could be erased just by shaking up that familiar red screen? So much for winning the Illinois primary -- that was so 12 hours ago.

By falling into the toy trap, Fehrnstrom was serving up fodder for the snark-driven culture that dominates Twitter. That culture often values ridicule over reason, but the story got traction because fairly or unfairly, it plays into a media narrative of Romney as a political shape-shifter. Even though the liberal group Think Progress was pushing out the CNN video, Twitter got it faster than television. Let's face it, Twitter reflects our collective pulse, and no one needs a ticket -- or a journalist's license -- to engage.

Twitter has its drawbacks -- how did we all learn to become so terse? -- but here's the thing. Like a child furiously turning those white dials, you can draw your own picture.

The piece has been crossposted at: www.daily-download.com