Executive Order

From the Office of the President
September 15, 2009

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, effective immediately, there is to be no use of Twitter in the Press Briefing Room.
September 15, 2009

OK, seriously, I don’t believe for a moment that President Obama will ever issue an executive order like that one. I likewise hope there won’t be an unofficial equivalent, but… Wowsers. You just know there’s gotta be a temptation….
If you’ve somehow missed the uproar, sometime on Monday, during an “off the record” moment before a television interview, President Obama called Kanye West “a jackass.”
It’s been a bad couple of months for civility and politeness in this country. A summer full of “town hall meetings” being disrupted by people who instead of answers only wanted to cause a scene. Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouting at the President of the United States during a formal address. Rapper Kanye West grabbing the microphone away from Taylor Swift to protest BeyoncĂ© not winning the award that went to Taylor (Yay to BeyoncĂ© for putting Taylor back in the spotlight). And now the President of the United States referring to someone as a Jackass.
There is one important distinction though. The first three took place in public settings where the people involved should have been mature enough to realize in advance that their actions were wildly inappropriate. They should have restrained themselves and made their protests in a more appropriate manner.
In the case of President Obama, I’m a bit less certain. There are undoubtedly parents and teachers out there who now have to explain to the kids that just because President Obama used a word doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to use it too.
But although President Obama’s choice of words was unfortunate (it certainly could have been worse), was he wrong to say it? That’s where I’m not sure. Somebody made an audio recording of the President’s remarks, and from the context, it’s clear that the remarks were “off the record.” It was a private, informal conversation. (And hey, what’s up with recording a private conversation?)
The reporter, Terry Moran of ABC News, posted the report on Twitter and then realized it wasn’t something he should have been reporting. He then removed the Twitter post. Both Moran and ABC seem to believe that this was something which shouldn’t have been reported on, but with more than 1,000,000 followers, by the time Moran moved to delete it, the post had already been forwarded on.
Whatever else this may be, it’s most certainly a vivid reminder that when you’re talking to the media, you’re never completely off the record and you need to watch what you say (particularly with “instant news” as with Twitter). In general, the reporter has no way of separating personal musings from an official statement and may very well report the parts of the conversation that you least wanted. (This is a lesson I learned the hard way a few years back.)
And maybe now would be a good time for everyone, whether they’re in the limelight or out, to take a deep breath, look up the definitions of “civility” and “politeness”, and use them to start making the world a better place.
(Updated 9-16-2009, 8pm — Corrected Terry Moran’s News Organization.)

2 thoughts on “Executive Order”

  1. As someone who’s worked in the news media as a reporter, I can say that the reporter was out of line in reporting (or “Tweeting”) Obama’s comments, though I wouldn’t exactly call them private. This was obviously some sort of informal group B.S. session before the press conference started, and everyone knows the rules for informal B.S. It’s great a time to fish for stories, and if you want to follow up on a comment later, go ahead, but any comments made during that time are not for reporting.
    This isn’t really a “watch the media” moment, as much as it is a “remember that nothing is private when it’s said in public” moment — and that’s especially true when you’re a public figure like, say, the president of the United States.
    The reporter probably has been terminated, but for Obama, I’d say it’s a minor gaffe. “Jackass” is a mild term overall, and given the context, it’s clearly just a personal reaction to someone’s behavior. It’s not like he characterized a reporter as an @$$hole when the mike was live. That sort of comment comes from an entirely different place, and it IS flat-out inappropriate to be sharing in anywhere the most private conversations.

  2. Terry Moran is one of the co-anchors of Nightline. That (combined with his background) may give him enough clout to avoid being fired over this.
    Along with the other things this event may be (and it’s right now getting some airplay on the pop station I have on) it’s also a good reminder that the “instant reporting” possible with a tool such as Twitter is a multi-edged sword.

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