A week or so ago, a Newsweek reporter followed Rep. Michele Bachmann around and dispatched his observations via Twitter. It’s still not entirely clear what Andrew Romano’s story was supposed to be about — Twitter or Bachmann. But it had enough “legs,” as we like to say in the dying-media business, that all of his “tweets” were retweeted with great regularity, as if they provided some insight.
They didn’t, and in a Web column today, Romano let’s on that that appears to have been the point.
I sounded, in other words, like a kneejerk Bachmann hater. But that wasn’t really the case; I hadn’t spent enough time with her to decide if she was unserious, or crazy, or whatever. Instead, I was simply doing what Twitter demanded: being pithy and provocative. Straightforward narration would go unnoticed. Quotes from Bachmann’s old friends would seem un-newsy. Nuance would cost too many characters. So I became a color commentator, casting off the reporter’s traditional cloak of detachment and publicly weighing in on the proceedings at regular intervals. And because observation and publication were now compressed into a single act, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to phrase my tweets that I otherwise would’ve spent absorbing a scene or speaking to locals. I don’t remember much about the crowd in Monticello, the businessmen in Blaine, or Bachmann’s larger themes. I do remember what I wound up tweeting, and that’s about it. Real magazine profiles require more.
Still, Romano found reporting advantages to Twitter, including the somewhat scary notion that he didn’t have to approach some people for comment; they came to him.
But the Bachmann camp also read his tweets and, suddenly, she didn’t have time for an interview:
My guess is that her staff read my tweets and decided that it wasn’t in Bachmann’s best interest to talk to me. And that says as much about Bachmann as anything I observed on the road. Given her mastery of the provocative soundbite and her recent ranking as the most influential Twitterer in the House, I’d initially believed that Bachmann, love her or hate her, was emblematic of a new, niche-media breed of politician. But it turns out that she’s just a louder-mouthed version of the old model: happy to attack her opponents from afar, happy to play the victim, but unwilling to engage, mano a mano, with anyone she deems insufficiently friendly. What Twitter revealed about Bachmann is that she’s not democratic enough for Twitter–or the new era it embodies.
And so, Newsweek killed the print piece — the in-depth look at one of the country’s most polarizing politicians and leaving Romano with another online blog entry that sounded “like every other Bachmann hater.”
Maybe Romano has stumbled on another story idea, though. In 2010, is that pretty much all we want anyway?