Snapchat, Helping Candidates Avoid Haunting Scandals
Every modern presidential election is at least in part defined by the cool new media breakthrough of its moment. In 2000, there was email, and by golly was that a big change from the fax. The campaigns could get their messages in front of print and cable news reporters — who could still dominate the campaign narrative — at will, reducing what had been a 24-hour news cycle to an hourly one.
The 2004 campaign was the year of the “Web log,” or blog, when mainstream reporters and campaigns officially began losing any control they may have had over political news. Anyone with a computer could weigh in with commentary, news and, often, searing criticism of mainstream reporters and politicians — “Media Gatekeepers be damned!”
Then 2008: Facebook made it that much easier for campaigns to reach millions of people directly, further reducing the influence of newspaper, magazine and television journalists. In 2012, Twitter shrank the political news cycle to minutes if not seconds, exponentially adding to the churn of campaign news.
The question this year has been whether 2016 will be the “Snapchat election,” a reference to the popular and new(ish) photo- and video-sharing service that already has some 100 million daily users and has a campaign news team of seasoned pros.
There is some debate about Snapchat’s role this year. Its presence in the media ecosystem is undeniable: Snapchat says nearly twice as many 18-to-24-year-olds watched the first Republican debate on its app than saw it on television. But it’s probably still too early in the campaign year to say how defining it will be.
It’s not too early, however, to say that Snapchat is a fitting symbol for 2016, and a powerful one. Its very existence represents a shift in the way news and information course through our overserved body politic. And that could have an effect on the outcome of the campaign, if it isn’t having one already.
For so long, media advancements affected the speed of news. But speed has more or less topped out with Twitter. What’s faster than seconds? (Please don’t say we need to get it to nanoseconds.) Snapchat represents a change to something else: the longevity of news, how durably it keeps in our brain cells and our servers.
Most of the stuff that is shared through the Snapchat app — whether it’s a bird’s-eye video of a mischievous cat, a boisterous Trump rally or a terrorist attack — goes away after 24 hours or much less, just disappears.
That is the opposite of the approach taken by The New York Times and other traditional news organizations that are reporting history for the record. Snapchat is recording the here and the now, playing for today. Tomorrow will bring something new that renders today obsolete. It’s a digital Tibetan sand painting made in the image of the millennial mind.
Snapchat executives say they set up the app this way because this is what their tens of millions of younger users want; it’s how they live. That makes sense, given the way their generation exists online, interfacing with a constant stream of bits and bytes. They can’t possibly have enough bandwidth to process all the incoming information and still dwell on what already was, can they? (O.K., probably, but stick with me as I play this through; it leads somewhere).
The older generations are getting there, too, as daily adult media consumption has expanded beyond television, radio and newspapers to include all the innovations I mentioned above: email, websites, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Instagram, Periscope and now Snapchat.
It was into this media hurricane that the presidential campaign caravan drove this year, and many of its cars were blown off the road.
Experienced strategists and their candidates, who could always work through their election plans methodically — promoting their candidacies one foot in front of the other, adjusting here and there for the unexpected — suddenly found that they couldn’t operate the way they always did.
Marco Rubio’s campaign marched into the election season ready to fight the usual news-cycle-by-news-cycle skirmishes. It was surprised to learn that, lo and behold, “There was no news cycle — everything was one big fire hose,” Alex Conant, a senior Rubio strategist, told me. “News was constantly breaking and at the end of the day hardly anything mattered. Things would happen; 24 hours later, everyone was talking about something else.”
马尔科·卢比奥(Marco Rubio)的团队进入今年的竞选季时，做好了准备像以往一样应对一个新闻周期接一个新闻周期的小型战斗。但他们却意外地发现，嘿，“这儿没有新闻周期，只有一场大火，要不停地灭火，”卢比奥的高级策略师亚历克斯·科南特(Alex Conant)告诉我。“新闻不断冒出来，最终几乎什么都无关紧要。各种事情都会发生；但24小时过后，所有人就都在谈论别的东西了。”
Then there was Jeb Bush, expecting to press ahead by presenting what he saw as leading-edge policy proposals that would set off a prolonged back-and-forth. When Mr. Bush rolled out a fairly sweeping plan to upend the college loan system, the poor guy thought this was going to become a big thing. “Jeb would say to me in the car, ‘This is radical stuff,’” Tim Miller, a senior aide in the Bush campaign, told me. It drew only modest coverage and was quickly buried by the latest bit from Donald Trump.
还有杰布·布什(Jeb Bush)，他原本期待着通过提出自己认为的前沿政策在选战中一路前进，他以为这些政策会引发持久的拉锯战。当他提出影响面非常广的高校贷款制度改革计划时，这个可怜的家伙认为这会成为一个大事件。“杰布会在车里对我说，‘这是非常激进的议题’，”布什竞选团队的高级幕僚蒂姆·米勒(Tim Miller)对我说。结果这个这项议题只吸引了非常有限的媒体报道，而且很快被有关唐纳德·特朗普(Donald Trump)的最新事件掩盖。
Which brings me to the good news for presidential candidates. In this “hit refresh” political culture, damaging news does not have to stick around for long, either. The next development, good or bad, replaces it almost immediately. This is arguably the best time in modern history to have a scandal. (Note to ethically compromised pols: If you have an embarrassing piece of video that is bound to get out, give it exclusively to Snapchat, then destroy it.) At the very least, it is the best time to be Mr. Trump.
Ask Mr. Miller. He is now working for one of the most aggressive Republican anti-Trump groups, Our Principles PAC. Mr. Miller knows his way around a pair of brass knuckles, campaign-style. But, once again, the old combinations — dump damaging “opposition research,” watch ’em drown in it — are proving far less potent than they were.
去问问米勒先生吧。他如今在为共和党内最积极的反特朗普团体“Our Principles PAC”工作。米勒知道怎么按照选战的方式重拳出击。但是又一次，旧的组合拳套路——抛出大量损害性的“对手研究”成果，看着对手被淹没其中——被证明效果大大不如从前。
Mr. Miller pointed to a recent episode in which Mr. Trump said a protester at a rally had “ties to ISIS,” after that protester charged the stage. No such ties existed. “He says ‘ISIS is attacking me’; this was debunked in eight minutes by Twitter,” Mr. Miller said. “Cable talked about it for three hours and it went away.”
“Hillary Clinton said that she was under sniper fire in Bosnia” — she wasn’t — “and that has stuck with her for 20 years,” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Trump has mastered this era of short attention spans in politics by realizing that if you’re the one regularly feeding the stream, you can forever move past your latest trouble, and hasten the mass amnesia.
It was with this in mind that The Washington Post ran an editorial late last week reminding its readers of some of Mr. Trump’s more outlandish statements and policy positions on the eve of what a senior aide described as a coming personality change by Mr. Trump, to one more befitting a president.
因此，《华盛顿邮报》(The Washington Post)上周晚些时候发表了一篇社论：一位资深助手形容，特朗普正在改变个性，使自己成为一个更适合做总统的人，而这篇社论提醒读者，在这个变化带来之前，特朗普曾经发表过若干怪异的宣言和政策立场。
The Post urged its readers to “remember” more than two dozen items from Mr. Trump’s record, including that he promised “to round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and deport them,” and “lied about President Obama’s birth certificate.”
Fred Hiatt, The Post’s editorial page editor, told me in an email that given “the constantly churning news cycle,” Mr. Trump’s trail of incendiary statements and proposals “may seem like news from another era.” He added, “It’s important that they not be forgotten.”
When I ran all of this by the good people at Snapchat they bristled at my choice of symbolism, understandably. Peter Hamby, Snapchat’s head of news, said Snapchat should not be “an emblem for a lack of attention span in our politics.”
With a unique line to younger voters, Snapchat presents substantive stories on issues like the election and the Flint water crisis in ways they can relate to, Mr. Hamby said. Snapchat’s reports are ephemeral, he said, because “it’s about being in the moment” with this young audience, being in the flow of their lives.
Of course, that’s where that audience lives, in the moment. Still, as the media habits of the young drive everybody else’s, I’m reminded of that old saw about those who forget history. Now, what was I saying?