As We See It

When tweeting makes you a twit

As Garth Brooks took to the Wynn Las Vegas stage this past weekend for the first three shows of his planned 300-performance stint, I laid on my couch under two small dogs and three fluffy blankets wondering when the medicine my doctor had prescribed for the chills and aches was going to kick in.

I couldn’t be there, but I was entertaining myself by following the evening’s exploits on Twitter. But when the lights went down, several of my colleagues sent out whiny tweets of a similar vein informing the world that—gasp!—the Wynn folks were cracking down on “surreptitious tweeting.”

Maybe it was my fever-induced stupor, but I had a moment of clarity. Had I been there, I probably would have felt just as compelled as my pals to spend the show spitting out blurbs to my tweeps telling them what was being played, what Garth was wearing, when his wife popped onstage ...

Instead, I was at home and not in the rat race, and it suddenly became very clear to me that what we have all become accustomed to doing in the past several months is wrong. Also, outrageous, rude and disrespectful.

And it must stop.

This concept of journalists tweeting during performances is, so far as I can tell, largely a Vegas thing. I’ve looked long and hard all over the nation and I can’t find a single instance of any respectable journalist tweeting during the openings of, say, Broadway shows. Certainly no movie reviewer or scribe would ever even think to try tweeting the play-by-play of a film he was reviewing. It just doesn’t happen, with perhaps the vague exception of maybe at big rock concerts where there’s lots of lights and noise and it’s customary to let the audience do whatever they want.

But to go into a small, darkened theater where people are on stage commanding the attention of the audience and where you’ve been told not to use your handheld devices during the show? That is an appropriate moment for journalists to ignore both good manners and the house rules and go ahead anyway and tap away on a glowing screen that is undeniably disturbing the intended setting?

How did we come to this? When did such insolence become okay, part of the job assignment? When did we journalists become such special people that we have the right to flout the rules?

I thought I knew how it came to this, and no other than the inimitable Robin Leach confirmed it to me.

“I don’t think twittering like this went mainstream until Perez got into the situation with Criss Angel,” says Leach, a prolific tweeter whose blog, Vegas DeLuxe, is hosted by this magazine’s website.

Ah, yes. We always do take the wrong lessons from the most unfortunate slices of humanity, don’t we? Back in April, blogger Perez Hilton set off a silly little firestorm when, during a performance of Criss Angel Believe at Luxor, he tweeted that the show was “unbelievably BAD!” and that he’d “rather be getting a root canal.” Angel then came out on stage and declared Hilton “the world’s biggest douchebag asshole.”

At the time, this incident was newsworthy because Angel had once again done something bizarre and seemingly unforgivable, spouting obscenities to an audience that included children. The facts that Believe is unbelievably bad and that Hilton is every bit of what Angel so colorfully announced him to be made it confusing for those of us who opine about such matters to take a side.

While many of us thought the legacy of that moment would be Angel’s long-overdue departure from the Vegas stage, instead folks like Leach and Norm Clarke of the Review-Journal began tweeting during performances. Others, including me, followed suit out of competitive zeal.

But it’s not acceptable. What journalistic end is justified by such caddish behavior? Is the definition of “breaking news” now down to the fact that Garth Brooks is wearing a ballcap and jeans? That he plays “The Thunder Rolls” before “Piano Man”? This is information so critical, so vital that it’s worth insulting the artist with lapsed attention or irritating the people nearby who actually paid for their seats?

Leach agreed it was uncouth behavior but insisted that it’s appropriate in some cases when we’ve been invited as members of the media to cover a show. The Monte Carlo folks clearly didn’t mind me tweeting during the Frank Caliendo opening, for instance, as they re-tweeted (the least snarky of) my remarks.

Yet Vegas PR guru Dave Kirvin said he really wishes it would stop, too.

“Even though we’re charged with getting the word out, we can wait until the curtain comes down and the public can wait until the curtain come down,” said Kirvin, whose firm handles many big show openings. “Sometimes I think the media overestimates the speed at which we need our information.”

The oddest part of my outrage about this is that since I brought it up on Saturday via Twitter, I’ve earned lectures from other journalists about this new era we live in and the importance of social media. Me! The guy who taught all these people what a podcast is, the one who personally explained to a very irate Steve Wynn five years ago why having a story on Newsweek.Com was at least as good as having it in the print publication, the one who puzzled over how local publications could do “media issues” without taking note of what was happening in the Vegas blogosphere.

So don’t tell me I don’t “get” the importance of reporting news as quickly as possible. But this isn’t news. This is “hey-look-where-I-am-ain’t-that-cool” crap. There’s a time and a place for that, to be sure, and taking people virtually to places and situations they can’t otherwise go is undeniably why these people follow people like us.

So, okay, yes, there are rare times when I can justify mid-show tweets like, say, if a gunman opens fire or a tiger attacks a magician. But Leach argued that Carrot Top, Louie Anderson and Terry Fator popping on stage with Caliendo at his opening was “news” that needed to be reported instantly.

I respectfully disagree. Does it make any difference if people know about Top, Louie and Fator at 8:50 p.m. when it happens or 9:15 p.m. when the show is over? Of course not. Leach et. al. could simply agree not to do it anymore except for when there’s some genuine, consequential news.

It wouldn’t make a bit of a difference to the world if they didn’t hear from us for the 90 minutes it takes to take in a show as it is intended to be absorbed.

But it would make us better people. We’re already journalists. We can use all the good karma we can get.

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