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Meet the town twits

I’ve often said that Twitter, with its 140-character limit, is for people who find the more popular Facebook far too deep.

I’ve often said that Twitter, with its 140-character limit, is for people who find the more popular Facebook far too deep.

For my taste, Twitter is to news dissemination what a dirty limerick is to The Iliad. Still, for getting a short message across, it works like a sock full of pennies to the head: It’s fast and efficient.

So I watched with interest as President Obama held his Twitter town hall this week. The premise and the promise were simple: Let people all across the land lob their questions directly at the chief executive in a live forum, and cut out all those pesky journalists in the middle. Fair enough.

Only that’s not what happened. For all of their vaunted “crowd sourcing” and “direct democracy” talk, Internet types are quick to take on the trappings of (gasp!) the dreaded Mainstream Media as soon as the chips on the table start adding up — like, say, when the president of the United States comes to call.

So, predictably, the Twitter town hall included eight regional moderators to sift through the questions and to decide which ones spoke for the largest crowds; in short, to do precisely what the bloggers always whine about the MSM doing. That’s how some 40,000 questions were boiled down to the 18 that were actually asked. Much to the consternation of the Twitter tribe, even that scant number included one question from House Speaker John Boehner, and one from a newspaper columnist.

The funny thing is, despite all that, I saw how this really could work. Put a politician into a chair with a live camera, open the spigot to the Internet, and simply let the questions flow. Keep everything onscreen, so participants can see which queries the pol answers, and which ones he skips.

But almost no one in big league politics really wants to see that happen. The risk of embarrassment, a wrong answer or a cyber-pie in the face is just too high. Town hall meetings, once you reach the presidential level, are like professional wrestling. Even if they look spontaneous, no matter who is hosting the event, the conversation will never stray far from the script in real life ... or online.

– CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”

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