A political and media kerfuffle ensued late last week after Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and former Republican presidential candidate, spoke at a Republican conference. Below is his full quote:
If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be.
Soon after, CNN journalist Dana Bash tweeted this:
Then NBC reporter Kasie Hunt tweeted something similar:
These tweets, which did not accurately represent the context or content of Huckabee’s remarks, spurred a number of clarifications and a whole lot of discussion. Even in a political and media issue such as this, there are plenty of takeaways for PR pros:
Be sure of the proper context
Bash’s tweet made it sound like Huckabee said he thinks women are “helpless without Uncle Sugar.” The reality is he accused Democrats of thinking women are “helpless without Uncle Sugar.”
Quoting someone? Triple check you’ve got the context right. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what we know and what we write, so if you’re quoting anyone, make sure the quote and the surrounding content very clearly state the context of who said what. This is just as important, if not more so, when you’re summarizing in 140 characters or less. If it’s not crystal clear, don’t tweet it.
Especially if you’re live tweeting. As Bash and Hunt both exemplified, tweeting with no or incorrect context leads to backlash and completely derails a conversation, especially if it’s political. Suddenly, the story focused not on what Huckabee said, but on the media getting it wrong (even though it was only two reporters out of hundreds).
PR pros are in a similarly visible field, and this is an era in which out-of-context or ill-thought-out tweets can land you in hot personal and professional waters (as Justine Sacco proved late last year), whether it’s warranted or not. Particularly if it’s your message at stake, or that of your industry, you don’t want the focus to shift from your message or meaning onto a silly mistake.
Edit without losing context
There’s an easy fix to Bash’s tweet. Had it been worded: “At RNC meeting @MikeHuckabee says ‘Dems believe women can’t control their libido w/o birth control,” the problem never would have arisen.
The first way to edit within context: listen fully. This means paying attention and not letting your personal opinion get in the way. Then, distill selectively. Determine what the two or three main points of the quote are and summarize from there. Remember: quotes are not malleable; either it was said, or it wasn’t. Be accurate from the get-go, because issuing clarifications or retractions detracts from credibility.
Quality over speed
The nature of Twitter means that live-tweeting has become not only de rigueur, but practically mandatory not only for journalists, but for people attending anything of note, like awards ceremonies or industry events. It takes a lot of concentration to listen to someone speak while quoting what they said two or three sentences back. Unless it’s expressly necessary and you can be sure you’re representing the quote accurately, be very careful when tweeting of-the-moment.
The demand for immediate tweets is a classic GIGO scenario: it takes our focus off of the importance of what’s being said, places it on being first to tweet it, and disregards sharing quality tweets. When we put out words that haven’t been verified, checked, or thought-out, it shows.