Perhaps the most notable feature of Howard Kurtz’s new Fox News show “Media Buzz” is how relentlessly it reminds us to tweet at it. “We wanna hear from you!” Kurtz said at the beginning of Sunday’s show. “Send me a tweet! That’s @howardkurtz, and we’ll read the best ones at the end of the program.” After a breakdown of Charlie Rose’s interview with Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin’s Times op-ed came the next entreaty: “Again, just send me a tweet about our show during this hour @howardkurtz!” #MediaBuzz lingered in the corner of the screen for the full hour. Then there was a discussion about the Twitter IPO, which Kurtz and fellow Fox News analyst Lauren Ashburn deemed the perfect segue. “Please tweet to us,” Ashburn said, “whether or not you liked our segment about Twitter and tweets!” At last the vaunted moment came: a bit called “Buzzworthy” wherein Kurtz read several very boring viewer tweets. “Charlie Rose did a great job interviewing Assad,” offered one. “You and your show are a welcome addition to Fox. Just keep your armor on for the inevitable slings and arrows to come,” said another. “Consider me suited up,” Kurtz replied.
Needless to say, Kurtz did not invent the art of reading tweets on the air. It’s a trend that seems to be everywhere in TV news, from Anderson Cooper to Al Jazeera. The concept has been around for a while; in 2009 CNN’s Don Lemon spent several long, surreal minutes reading positive tweets about Sarah Palin such as “I disagree with her, but I wish her well” and “Way to go Sarah, she did a great speech, she keeps it real.” CSPAN read tweets during the 2011 Affordable Care Act repeal vote that included: “With 21 new taxes in #obamacare it should be called the non affordable health care act.” But TV tweet-recitation has become increasingly prevalent over the past year or so, a rote attempt for shows to demonstrate their savviness at viewer engagement and wrangle the social-media hordes—to drive traffic from online to TV while giving the news the appearance of a democratic forum.
Part of what’s goofy about this ritual is that most Twitter handles do not ooze gravitas. (CNN read one tweet from “@Hobbit1206”; CSPAN’s came from “@safariwoman”; Howard Kurtz chose one from someone named “ShiShi.”) It's also a waste of airtime, an annoying bit of pseudo-populism that doesn’t exactly boost the quality of the conversation or the reporting. And in Kurtz’s case, the tweet-reading has all the self-congratulatory extraneousness of a journalist pasting the most flattering soundbites from the comments section into the text of his article.
Sometimes relaying tweets becomes a form of journalistic crowdsourcing. During major natural disasters, anchors occasionally share tweets from people on the ground in order to give dispatches a sense of immediacy. One CNN report about an LA earthquake included a tweet from someone who could see their pool water moving. This seems like the kind of fact-finding work best done off the air, and independently verified, to supplement an actual broadcast. CNN wouldn’t have @Hobbit1206 as a guest on air. Maybe that means his1 tweets are better left to the internet.
@Hobbit1206 could easily be a woman.