When Reading 140 Characters is too Big a Strain

It only seems fair to take an entire tweet, lengthy though it may be, into account when reacting.

Apparently, tweets can be arduous reading.

Thursday was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s birthday.  In acknowledge of said event, US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Philip J. Crowley tweeted the following:


Now, one can question the efficacy of such a tweet, but the tone is clearly, as Steve Benen notes, sardonic and was decidedly not a heart-felt b-day greeting for the Iranian chief executive.  It was, rather, a plea for the release of political prisoners and a way to keep said prisoners in the public discussion.

However, Sarah Palin apparently only read the first 34 characters and tweeted the following:image

Now, I actually don’t think that she didn’t read the whole tweet nor do I think that she couldn’t comprehend the meaning and tone of Crowley’s tweet.  Rather it seems that she is deliberately misstating its meaning and actively disseminating into the public—something that is far worse than misapprehension.

The reason I think that it is noteworthy is that I suspect that the notion that the Obama administration is “kowtow[ing]” and “coddl[ing]” Iran via sincere birthday greetings will probably become a meme on Fox News and on talk radio–the further dissemination of false information.  This is unfortunate.  It is one thing to have a different perspective on how to deal with a problem, quite another to make things up.

I may be wrong about my prediction of the development of the meme (although if anyone has heard or seen it, I would be interested to know about it), but I am not wrong about the essence of what Palin did.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Chip Bennett says:

    I eagerly await a similar analysis of any article ever written by MMFA…

  2. @Chip: And so that makes what Palin did acceptable? Just checking.

  3. Chip Bennett says:

    I’m not willing to accept any sort of admonition or indignation toward Palin’s response here, when such admonition/indignation was not equally applied to the same tactics as used by liberals for years with impunity. In fact, MMFA have used this tactic – almost exclusively – since their very inception (and without a 140-character limitation, at that).

    But, for the record: I’m not that offended by this one example, mainly because far more truth than hyperbole underlies Palin’s response.

    You admonish her insincere response to a 140-character statement by the State Dept, but apparently fail to recognize the 140-character limitation of her response. In other words: just as Crowley’s 140-character brevity loses a bit in translation, so does Palin’s.

  4. reid says:

    They have to keep reinforcing the memes among the wingnut troops that Obama coddles the enemy and snubs allies, no matter how detached from reality those ideas are. Sad and pathetic.

  5. matt says:

    OF course it does cause ummm well errr uhhhh cause they did it first!!!

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I find neither of the tweets edifying, but don’t disagree with the notion that Crowley’s tweet has the simmering stench of cravenness about it. The U.S. shouldn’t be publicly begging like that.

  7. matt says:

    It’s pretty obvious Chip here has gobbled up the meme that Obama loves them muslims (AKA terrorists) which fox and friends have been pushing since day one. So it’s only natural that he has no issue with Sarah’s ridiculous lies…

  8. @Chip: Her response is not a reflection of the limitation of 140 character limit. Further, Crowley’s 140 charater are pretty clear–she just chose to ignore over half the comment.

    Further, your logic is strained.


    Palin=not bad, because MMFA is bad.


  9. reid says:

    For the record, I wouldn’t have tweeted anything if I was in Crowley’s position. It seems a bit weird to use such a silly technology for communication between highest levels of governments no matter what the message is.

  10. I find neither of the tweets edifying, but don’t disagree with the notion that Crowley’s tweet has the simmering stench of cravenness about it. The U.S. shouldn’t be publicly begging like that.

    Suggesting that Iran release political prisoners is begging? Really?

    You don’t think that the Reagan administration didn’t have people saying that various hostages in Lebanon should be unconditionally released? Was that begging? Hasn’t every administration stated that when American are held that those holding those hostages ought to release them?

    This kind of thing drives me crazy because it is the kind of thing that ought not have any partisanship whatsoever. And yet…

  11. @Reid:

    For the record, I wouldn’t have tweeted anything if I was in Crowley’s position. It seems a bit weird to use such a silly technology for communication between highest levels of governments no matter what the message is

    I think that that is a fair point. On the other, I am not sure it is radically different than a press release or a statement issued at a press conference.

  12. Chip Bennett says:

    @matt, I don’t watch Fox (or any other) news. Thanks for playing, though!

    @Steven: are you engaging in a bit of intentional mischaracterization of my statements, or your own brand of reading comprehension issues? I clearly stated:

    But, for the record: I’m not that offended by this one example, mainly because far more truth than hyperbole underlies Palin’s response.

    I’m completely unsure how you glean from that statement the response you made. Let’s break it down logically:

    …I’m not that offended by this one example…

    …clearly implies some degree of offense at her response.
    mainly because far more truth than hyperbole underlies Palin’s response
    …clearly implies that my reaction to her response is based entirely on the content of that response, and has absolutely nothing to do with MMFA.

    My statement regarding MMFA is intended to elucidate the double-standard of one who would call out Palin, but who has continually failed to call out the likes of MMFA, for the very same issue. My statement placed your comments into context, not Palin’s – quite simply, because I will not accept the sincerity of such comments in such context.

  13. matt says:

    Chip can’t even respond to me without lying… I find you quite amusing..

  14. reid says:

    Steven: Twitter just seems like an unserious mode of communication, unlike traditional things like press releases. At least he didn’t use smilies or “LOL”! I may be outside the mainstream about it these days, though. I’m over 40 so clearly not hip.

  15. @Chip: you are clearly stating that a critique of Palin is undercut by a lack of a critique of others doing the same thing. My original observations about your comments stand.

    You want to criticize what I actually wrote, fine. But to say that my critique is less valid because I haven’t likewise engaged in some other critique you want me to have done is problematic.

    Your original comment was:

    I eagerly await a similar analysis of any article ever written by MMFA…

    That is a deflection, plain and simple.

  16. reid says:

    I rarely check out MMFA, but when I have, I’ve never seen them get their facts wrong. They obviously do more fact-checking of conservative media, but that’s different. If you want to convince us, Chip, you should probably link to them for evidence. Especially since you claim they’re notorious about it. (I always assumed they were a right-wing bogeyman like ACORN.)

  17. matt says:

    Do keep in mind Steven this is a guy who just proclaimed he never “watches” any “news” while posting on a site that provides news and requires you to watch a computer screen to comprehend…

  18. Chip Bennett says:

    @Matt: I find your lack of logical argumentation likewise amusing.

    You claim I’m lying because I said that I don’t watch Fox (or any other) news, which you attempt to prove by pointing out that I am responding to a blog post, that requires me to “watch” my computer screen?

    That’s not worth any response beyond laughter and pity.

  19. Chip Bennett says:

    @Steven: I’m critiquing your bias, not the content of what you wrote.

    To be honest, if I were to address the content, my thoughts would be fairly similar to Reid. Twitter isn’t a great medium for reasoned, well-thought-out political discussion and debate. It’s also not a great medium for the State Department, in much of any capacity.

  20. TG Chicago says:

    Chip, for one thing, I find your analogy between Palin and MMFA unconvincing, given that you do not provide any examples of MMFA’s alleged malfeasance.

    For another, do MMFA posts get anywhere near the mainstream media attention that Palin’s every utterance gets? Of course not. Thus, it is completely reasonable to spend more time criticizing Palin’s disinformation.

  21. James Joyner says:


    While I agree with Steven that one can criticize intellectual dishonesty from a top contender for the presidency while ignoring same from a third rate website, the fact of the matter is that there are dozens of posts on OTB over the years taking issue with Media Matters.

    Indeed, a March 2009 post accuses Think Progress of “writing at the Media Matters level of hackishness.”

    Or see an October 2009 post which begins, “Media Matters has manufactured yet another Outrage of the Day: Ann Coulter, a self-professed Christian, wants everyone else to become a Christian, too!”

  22. Chip Bennett says:

    @TG Chicago:

    Take a look at any of MMFA’s treatments of, say, anything Rush Limbaugh says (they love to try to find alleged “gotcha” quotes from his show), and compare it to this situation.

    As to your second point: if you want to critique Palin’s full-length articles or blog posts, and render the same criticism as is found in this blog post, then that’s another matter entirely. It would raise an interesting question, though: do her full-length writings elicit the same criticisms? If not, perhaps this treatment/criticism of her Tweets is lacking in some context?

  23. @Chip: The problem with your position is that you are assigning bias to me not because of something I said, but because of something you think that I ought to have said about some other topic.

  24. PD Shaw says:

    Prof. Taylor, my position stands regardless of the President or party, this type of public dispatch is inappropriate and shows poorly on the U.S.

    I think it’s interesting that you can’t imagine anyone that would disagree with you, so you resort immediately to denigrating them as partisans.

  25. @PD:

    So you are saying that the US government should never, ever say to a country/entity holding hostages that they ought to release those hostages? They should remain silent?

    I honestly find that to be curious.

  26. TG Chicago says:


    1) Still no concrete examples. Very lazy on your part. Even James Joyner has done a better job of providing specific examples (not particularly convincing ones, but at least it’s something).

    2) I was discussing your comparison of Palin vs MMFA. Now you’re moving the goal posts to a discussion of Palin’s tweets vs Palin’s blog. Do you actually have a point you’re trying to make? You’re all over the place. Maybe it would help if you tried to restate your case more clearly.

  27. PD Shaw says:

    First, I’ve used the word “public” in each comment. There are back channels.

    Second, the communications need to be appropriate to the recipient. The Iranian leadership is an enemy, and more importantly it’s President blames U.S. interference for all of the country’s problems and obtains legitimacy from his needed support through anti-Americanism.

    Third, the tone and tenor of this communication is trivial, and uses birthday wishes in an ingratiating manner. If you want to find for me the Birthday card the Reagan administration sent Hezbollah to get hostages released, I’ll make the same complaints about it.

  28. @PD:

    Fair enough–if your position is that the US government should only make back-channel communications in these situations that is a fair position. I am not sure it is one that has ever been followed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid position.

    I take the general point about tweeting, although I ultimately think it is really not that much different than press releases or sound bites from press conferences. I think that the characterization of this as a birthday card is unfair and I will refer you back to the original post in that regard.

    And really, you are altering your argument from saying that such communications should only be back channel and then stating “If you want to find for me the Birthday card the Reagan administration sent Hezbollah to get hostages released, I’ll make the same complaints about it.” Either public pronouncements are bad or they are not. You seem to be arguing that public statement are bad in general, but then qualifying your position.

  29. TG Chicago says:

    Not that this will actually get anyone to think about this issue any differently, but let’s go all the way back to the year 2007 when Iran took those British sailors hostage…


    We want to see it [the situation] resolved peacefully and we want to see it resolved by the Iranians doing the right thing, which is letting these guys go,” State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters March 28.

    If Obama’s State Department had said that exact same thing about the hikers, Palin would have called it kowtowing and coddling. In reality, it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.

  30. TG Chicago says:

    Also, when Ahmadinejad released the British sailors, he used the framing that it was an “Easter gift”. So the State Dept. reference to a birthday gift makes sense in that light.


    Calling the release an Easter gift to the British people, Ahmadinejad said the captives would go free immediately after his afternoon news conference.

  31. matt says:

    Well chip I suggest you look “watch” and “news” up in a dictionary because you’re currently doing both 😛

  32. PD Shaw says:

    Prof. Taylor, I listed three separate objections to the cominication. Whether or not the communication was made public, I would still find the tone and tenor of using birthday wishes to beg for release inappropriate.

  33. @PD:

    We clearly differ on whether ”beg” is the appropriate word here (or, for that matter, whether “birthday wishes” is the appropriate characterization).

  34. Rock says:


  35. sam says:

    BTW, do we even know if she wrote the thing? Just as Louis XIV his royal pants-put-oner, royal sash tier, and royal shoe buckler and so on, I understand that Her Nibs has a bevy of flunkies who write things for her.

  36. steve says:

    Sarcasm in print can backfire. Probably best left to radio talk show hosts who can use it for race baiting.


  37. wr says:

    Hilarious. Good ol’ Chip gets huffy at the accusation he watches Fox News — but apparently not only listens to Limbaugh, but listens so closely that he can tell whenever MMFA takes one of his quotes “out of context.”

    Of course, to a dittohead, taking a Rush quote out of context means not prefacing it with “Oh, Rush, you are the wisest and most brilliant mind in the history of the world.”

  38. Quiddity says:

    If Twitter were around 65 years ago, George Kennan might have used it. Instead of the famous Long Telegram, his ideas about the sources of Soviet conduct could have been expressed in only 140 characters.