Twitter Standard Time

The CNN Effect has given away to Twitter Standard Time.

When I was in grad school in the early 1990s and we were all trying to figure out the lay of the land in the “post-Cold War era,” international relations types were all buzzing about the so-called “CNN effect.” The notion was that the advent of 24/7 television news coverage of events such as the civil wars going on in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia brought enormous pressure on world leaders, especially the American president, to act.

My mentor, Don Snow, came up with a corollary that he dubbed the “Do-Something Syndrome.” In most of the unfolding crises, there were no good options and no good guys. But, damn it, the president had to do something.

Those were, alas, the halcyon days of yore.  In hindsight, they were a period when presidents had the luxury of quiet contemplation. Why, they tended to get weeks to make decisions.

Now, we’re living on Twitter Standard Time. Whereas information junkies of the CNN era might have checked in three or four times a day to see what was going on, we’re now glued to our computer and smart phone screens getting up-to-the-nanosecond updates from hundreds of sources. Events that have been unfolding for two or three days seem like they’ve been going on for months.

Whereas the CNN Effect meant that Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were expected to make a statement within a few days of a remote crisis unfolding, there’s pressure on President Obama to say something within hours. And, while Bush had weeks on end to build a coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1990-91, the clock is running out for Obama to do something about the unfolding mess in the Middle East.

We’ve got the likes of John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry urging him to wait no longer before kicking off a no-fly zone in Libya. Despite lack of international consensus–much less authorization from the UN Security Council–and grave misgivings about the utility of American military power in dealing with the situation at hand, the president no longer has time to stall for good options.

That does not, one hopes, mean that he must therefore choose a bad one. But he needs to tell the country what it is he’s going to do. Even if the answer is, Not much.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Middle East, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. matt b says:

    Now, we’re living on Twitter Standard Time. Whereas information junkies of the CNN era might have checked in three or four times a day to see what was going on, we’re now glued to our computer and smart phone screens getting up-to-the-nanosecond updates from hundreds of sources. Events that have been unfolding for two or three days seem like they’ve been going on for months.

    James,

    This is actually a really insightful statement. One of the key twitter “values” Biz Stone (one of the three founders of Twitter) talks about is how immediate action/response turns crappy info into gold:

    Biz Stone: “You can take a tweet that you think is meaningless, or valueless, like ‘I’m grabbing a beer at Logan Airport at Sam Adams Pub.’ Sure, it’s of little value, but if someone gets it in real time, and they say ‘I’m in Logan Airport, I’ll meet Biz for a beer, we’ll come up with an idea for a company, and it’ll become hugely successful,’ you’ve turned that lead into gold.”

    That sort of ideology has become built into the platform in numerous ways. I’ve seen its interesting effects on Journalism. But I think in terms of policy (or at least talk about policy/calls for action) it’s begun to condition responses in similar ways.

  2. matt b says:

    Oh… sorry for the “acutally really insightful” thing… backhanded compliment was really not intended and completely retracted… It is just plain “insightful” (as most of your writings are).

  3. We’re still waiting for the Obama Administration to weigh in meaningfully on Libya and it’s been more than a few hours, or even a few days, or even a few weeks.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @charles austin

    We’re still waiting for the Obama Administration to weigh in meaningfully on Libya and it’s been more than a few hours, or even a few days, or even a few weeks.

    It might seem so but, as. Wikipedia notes, “The protests began on 15 February 2011 and escalated into a widespread uprising by the end of February, with fighting verging at the brink of civil war as of 6 March 2011.” It’s been less than 2 weeks since this started to really take off.

  5. One would have thought that they might have been thinking about this when Mubarek’s difficulties started.

  6. James Joyner says:

    I think they figured what worked in Egypt would work here. Gaddafi is simply more ruthless than Mubarrak.

    But there aren’t any good options here.

  7. But there aren’t any good options here.

    That’s true for so many things…