Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Whassup, Citizens!

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Whassup, Citizens!

Article excerpt

Hey, buddy, how's it going? What, too familiar? You might say the same thing about how our political leaders are communicating with us.

In emails to potential campaign donors, President Barack Obama uses such terse subject lines as "Hey" and "Wow." First lady Michelle joins in with emails labeled "I want to meet you" and "Me again."

On Twitter, Mr. Obama kicks off a live chat from the official White House account with the lower-case message, "this is barack -- let's get this started! -- bo."

What has happened to the language of politics? Sure, in the age of email, texting and social media, many of us have grown accustomed to chatty informality -- but why would politicians let this style overrun their usual tones of statesmanship and decorum? Have their young staffers taken the rhetorical reins?

Politicians are taking advantage of ever-more direct modes of communication, in the form of emails, tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube clips. Not surprisingly, their language has followed suit: When approaching people so directly, it makes sense that your tone should more closely approximate a friend-to-friend chat.

But who is in charge of the politician's "voice" in the new media landscape? Many emails, posts, and tweets are being ghost-written by communications teams, and with good reason. When politicians themselves take to Twitter, the combination of breezy familiarity and haiku-like constraint -- compounded at times by senior citizenry amidst a young crowd -- can lead to decidedly bizarre results. There is something refreshing about receiving unedited messages without the intervention of handlers and commentators, but much depends on the politician's gift of gab--and thumbing skills. Let's not forget the to-do in 2010 over Sarah Palin tweeting the "word" "refudiate."

Mr. Obama has been gingerly venturing into this world, with his Twitter live-chat from an Iowa campaign stop last month billed as the first by a sitting president. In video of the Q&A session released by the White House, he is clearly trying to have fun but also still getting to know the medium. Told that he has crafted a tweet of 140 characters, and that such an achievement is called a "twoosh" (short for "Twitter swoosh"), he wryly calls himself "the twoosh master. …

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