McCain, Stephanopoulos and the 'Twitterview'

worlds first "Twitterview"

If Twitter, the microblogging Web site, represents the newest of mainstream communication technologies, then this story was put together with some really old ones -- like the cell phone (first U.S. commercial sales in 1983) and the conventional land line telephone (patented in 1879 by Alexander Graham Bell).

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos called me from his cell after I sent him an e-mail saying we wanted to talk about his "Twitterview" with Sen. John McCain. Brooke Buchanan of the McCain staff talked to me on a land line.

"It's fun. It's the latest rage," Buchanan said, referring to Twitter, not her phone.

"There's a lot going on," Stephanopoulos said, "and it'll be great to talk to him, even on Twitter."

Stephanopoulos and McCain talked -- or "tweeted," if you'll allow the term -- at noon today, strictly online. No camera crews, no lights, no video recordings, just the two of them on dueling keyboards.

Stephanopoulos conceded he wasn't quite sure how the idea for the 'Twitterview' (or is it 'Twinterview?') got started. "I noticed he was on his Twitter a lot," he said, "and one of our staffers said, 'Let's see if we can interview him on Twitter.'"

Twitter.com, in case you've just returned from a trip to Mars, has become an online phenomenon in which people send short messages -- 140 characters maximum -- to their Twitter pages to let friends (or "followers" in Twitter lingo) know what they're doing or thinking.

McCain, despite protestations that he wasn't a Web-oriented kind of person, opened a Twitter page in January. His office made no formal announcement (though Buchanan said it hardly hurt that he mentioned his "tweeting" on the Senate floor), but he quickly developed a fan base.

"We did the 10 porkiest projects in the stimulus bill for starters," Buchanan said. It grew from there; the senator now has more than 200,000 people who have signed up to get his messages. (Stephanopoulos has about 169,000 "followers.")

About an hour before McCain announced he'd do the interview, he posted other news via Twitter: He's making a trip to Vietnam. "Posted here first!" he wrote.

It Was McCain's Idea to Tweet

"It's the easiest way to connect with supporters, followers, people who don't watch TV or read newspapers," Buchanan said. Sometimes, she said, she will type the actual "tweets" for him ("he's the first to admit it -- he types very slowly"). But she insisted McCain himself "controls the content."

"He's the one who wanted to Twitter, and he's the one who updates it," she said.

One can update one's Twitter page from almost any device capable of sending text online -- a computer, a cell phone, a BlackBerry -- but Stephanopoulos and McCain both used old-fashioned computer keyboards for the Tuesday interview.

It is not, strictly speaking, a first. George tweeted with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., last week. But nobody else seems to remember a mainstream media interview done this way before now.

If the answers, or the questions, happen to run over the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter's technology, neither side will object. Politics being what it is, a fair number of tweets may well end with "and ..."

Twitter, originally a home for the young -- and, some argued, the self-involved -- has quickly become a haven for grown-ups, including a fair number of figures in media and politics. Megan McCain, the senator's daughter and a columnist for The Daily Beast, is active on Twitter.

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