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Social Slipups: POLITICO Reporters on Twitter

by Amanda Le, published

With a focus on social media blunders, Twitter gaffes, and Facebook faux pas, we’ll be profiling one politician, political figure, organization, or candidate who has committed one of the social media sins in our weekly series Social Slipups.

Journalists must abide by the etiquette and guidelines made by the platform of writing they work with. But to what extent in a journalist's personal work does this extend? Does it apply to personal social media accounts? Are there such things as social media journalism ethics? And if not, should there be?

Dave Catanese, a Politico reporter who had been covering the flurry of discussion around Todd Akin’s comments about rape, was recently taken off the assignment by the news site after a series of tweets posted on his twitter account.

The tweets involved his defense “for argument’s sake”, of the Missouri Rep.’s comments on the biological guards females have against “legitimate rape”.

Akin’s comments, not only nonfactual and uninformed, were both destructive of his credibility personally and politically. Hard pressed to find anyone who would defend Akin’s comments, Politico’s Dave Catanese took a shot at it, and as a consequence, was suspended from reporting on the matter.

His slew of tweets on Akin started with this,

continuing with,

and lastly saying,

His tweets led to POLITICO's Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor to make public their memo reprimanding the reporter for his use of social media.

From Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris and Executive Editor Jim VandeHei: From: John Harris Sent: Mon 8/20/2012 5:33 PM To: TP-Edit Subject: Twitter We have had newsroom conversations about the importance of good judgment on social platforms like Twitter and the perils of letting that slip. Unfortunately, today offered a good example. David Catanese crossed a line a reporter shouldn’t cross on Twitter when he seemed to weigh in on the merits of Todd Akin’s comments — especially in a way many people, including many POLITICO colleagues, understandably found offensive. Dave’s tweets on Akin created a distraction to his own work, and to the newsroom as a whole. They also made himself part of the story, requiring us for now to remove him from Akin coverage. Today’s episode is a reminder that we need to be paying more attention to the ongoing issue of the right way for POLITICO journalists to be using social media. We have raised this issue before, and if you have questions about how this applies to your own work please speak with your direct editor. John Jim

Many on Twitter are criticizing POLITICO for holding a double standard referencing the suspension of Joe Williams just a month ago for a few crass comments made by the White House reporter on his Twitter. Critics of the news site are asking why Catanese was simply reprimanded and diverted to a different case while Williams faced much harsher consequences.

When reached out to by Talking Points memo, Williams "told TPM that Twitter is becoming a 'very dangerous medium' for journalists."

Catanese later tweeted this on his account

Some, such as Erik Wemple of the Washington Post’s opinion blog on news media, says Catanese’s tone blames Twitter and its receptiveness to nuanced opinions where the real problem is the innate defense of “something that didn’t merit defending”.

And the reasoning for this occurrence to be the Social Ballot’s weekly social slipup? The reporter’s comments on a politician’s offensive and controversial tweets led to public repercussions. But the premise of this happening on a social media site and damaging his journalistic integrity proves an interesting dynamic and delves into the murky waters of etiquette and guidelines of social media for political reporters.

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