ITSRG Twitter followers are no doubt aware that we have been tracking the rapidly growing Internet and Mainstream Media (MSM) story of our Graduate Fellow Michael Rovito's exchange with GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin at Tony Luke's in South Philadelphia this past weekend. It seems clear from the video captured of the Rovito-Palin exchange over US strategic interests in and around Pakistan that neither she nor her handlers anticipated that folks in South Philly would have the sophistication to be concerned and conversant about their campaign's foreign policy positions.
The Rovito-Palin exchange, now infamously referred to in the blogosphere as the Cheesesteak Gaffe, is of interest to the information technology and geographic blogging communities. We noticed that the entire exchange was captured and recaptured by others in the crowd on cell phone cameras. The end of the video footage shows Governor Palin helping one of those cell phone users to verify her identity to the conversational partner with whom he was speaking. We have all done it - we see something, someone, some place of great interest and immediately pull out our mobile devices and contact members of our social network to let them in on our mini adventures and encounters through sharing stories, photos, email messages and GPS-derived locations on-the-fly. This epoch decentralization of the technologies used to stay connected with our social networks and to exchange digital information illustrates the importance of understanding not only the viral way in which information is shared, but also the proxy arrangements that are embedded within those information exchanges.
That the actual questions posed to Palin by Rovito were so quintessentially geographic in nature highlights the importance for IT and geographic educators, scholars and policy makers to come to terms with the implications of the hyper-googled earth we live on. This exchange illustrates that at any time, in any place information can be brought to bear on issues and problems in real time. The explosion of news attention to the Cheesesteak Gaffe illustrates further that the speed of traveling information often obliterates the ability to interpret context. 48 hours after the exchange, political analysts like Michael Smerconish are conducting interviews with Michael Rovito to gain a sense of why he asked those specific questions. That George Stephanopoulos drew from the exchange of a citizen's questions directed towards Palin on This Week to probe McCain further about his policy stance on tracking terrorists between Afghanistan, Waziristan and Pakistan is a breathtaking sea change in not only how journalism is implemented but also in how information is exchanged.
This is a story that started at the grass roots and was promoted via the internet, followed by the release of video footage taken by a CNN reporter. It is precisely because of the cell phones of ordinary people being put into use to share their excitement of a rare sighting and close proximity to Palin with friends and family that the story broke before the video footage was aired. During Michael Rovito's interview with Smerconish he reveals that he did not have time to digest the meaning of her responses until after the entire exchange was concluded. Only then did he fully grasp that he caught her on the record agreeing with Obama's position on Afghanistan. The MSM storm followed the citizen use of IT, which collapsed the geographic scales, boundaries, and protocols that accompany information flows. McCain's response has been to sequester Palin once again as the only answer to controlling the speed and power of information on the ground. His campaign failed to effectively harness social media when it opted out of the use of Twitter during the primaries; and now the strategy to geographically isolate Palin fails to recognize that the electronic footprint has already kicked up crazy amounts digital dust that cannot be contained.
Michele Masucci, Director - ITSRG
Update: 9/30/08: Related Blog posts
Last night, Katie Couric interviewed McCain and Palin, questioning them about their reaction to Rovito's questions of Palin; McCain calls Rovito a journalist involved in Gotcha politics. Then Couric reminds him that Rovito is a citizen. Here are reactions; the video of the Couric interview is embedded throughout these posts.
Read Rumproast's review of the Nguyen CNN interview of Rovito, in which she questions him twice about whether or not he engaged in "gotcha" journalism (he did not, he is a graduate student who works as a research fellow of ITSRG), here.
Michael was interviewed by CNN, see report here.
Michael was interviewed by Fox 29, see report here.
The Huffington Post discussed the gotcha comments of McCain and Palin with Couric here.
Rumproast points out that Rovito seemed more knowledgeable about current global politics than Palin. Read more here.
BL Rag also comments on the audacity of blaming a citizen for asking a direct question of a candidate; somewhat ironic given McCain's desire for town hall style debates. Read more here.