July 7th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #899 'Twitter-palooza!'

Reporter's Note: President Obama participated in a Twitter town hall. I once participated in a sack race, so…well, no I guess they are not that similar. Here is today’s letter.

Dear Mr. President,

I had high hopes for your Twitter town hall. I expected to see you plop down in front of a big-screen feed of the Twitter stream, facing a torrent of questions from America’s Joes and Josephines, but alas…it was not to be.

There was a screen alright, but there was also a moderator, and people to sift through the questions, and in the end I have to say it looked a lot like every other staged town hall. The questions were not unusually edgy or interesting. The follow-ups were pretty much non-existent. So…“Had a nice melody, Chuck, but I couldn’t really dance to it. Going to give it a 6.”

You’re a smart man. You could have just told the Twitter kids, “Look, give me a laptop, turn the cameras on, and let’s just take whichever question comes up at the moment I am ready to answer one.”

I realize this is risky. You could get questions about space aliens, the gold standard, and the Trilateral Commission. You could get repeat after repeat of questions on home values, job losses, or what the heck Biden is up to. But you also might get what this was billed as: At least a few moments of genuine conversation with normal Americans about what is on their minds. So why didn’t you take that tack? I think I know why, and it pains me.

I’ll admit in a heartbeat that there are problems in the way we Main Stream Media types handle such discussions. Too often our debates include too much inside baseball. We spend too much time trying to impress the audience with how smart we are, rather than trying to get real answers. Too often we agree to debate conditions that virtually guarantee no real debate will take place.

But can you seriously tell me that you or any other big pol sits around saying, “If only I could be subjected to a genuine public free-for-all, in which any American might have a chance to publically rip into my policies like a bulldog on a piece of baloney!”

What I fear is that the real attraction of these new style town meetings is that you know, despite a few small surprises now and then, they are basically easy. You know that regular folks are excited and intimidated by big league pols - especially a president - and you know that serious, professional journalists are not. You know that a member of the public who gets too tough can be brushed aside as a nut, while a well-known, skilled journalist, will be much harder to dismiss.

I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do. I think professional pols love pushing the idea of “alternative” and “cyber” media, not because it puts them more in contact with “real” people, but because it helps them avoid “real hard questions” and the follow-ups that make those questions stick.

Call if you can.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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