Tuesday night I followed on Twitter the progress of Texas state senator Wendy Davis’ heroic filibuster against evangelical governance in that state, governance represented by a proposed law—which earlier in the special session had passed the Texas House—that would essentially rob many Texas women of their constitutional right to govern their own reproductive lives without interference from an Old Testament Yahweh, a first-century Jesus, or their self-proclaimed representatives in the state legislature.
If you think that first sentence was a mouthful, you should have seen Democrat Wendy Davis in action, all 11 hours of action performed before her frustrated Tea Party colleagues, an admiring gallery, and almost 200,000 livestream viewers of the filibuster on the Internet.
That last datum is significant. For most of us, the only available means of seeing Senator Davis in action, of watching the proceedings—which were quite exciting at the end because of a midnight deadline at play and Republicans’ willingness to lie about the vote taken after the deadline—was the Texas Senate Livestream on YouTube, not on cable television news. Or, like me, one could follow it on Twitter and get updates from folks who were watching on YouTube.
I tried in vain to get live TV coverage of the rather unique and significant event that was unfolding as midnight approached in Texas. MSNBC’s tagline is “The Place for Politics,” and since there was some interesting politics going on in the Lone Star State, particularly a liberal-versus-conservative style of politics, naturally I figured I could follow it on The Place for Politics.
Except that MSNBC wasn’t covering it live (they did mention it during evening programming). Neither was the Cable News Network or the Fox “News” Channel. Nothing live. As James Poniewozik of Time pointed out,
As midnight approached in Austin, political observers were watching a nailbiter on YouTube; but on cable, you could see an interview about Iraq on Fox, a climate debate on MSNBC, and, toward the end of Anderson Cooper’s CNN show, a report on an attempt to ban the wearing of saggy pants.
Poniewozik also noted:
It was online and in social media where the story really took off, and even played out. As partisans from both sides traded shots on YouTube, Twitter became an extension of the Senate gallery, with users weighing in (President Obama’s twitter account directed attention to the filibuster at one point), cracking jokes, and even offering unsolicited advice to the legislators on the points of Texas parliamentary procedure.
If all this sounds like an American version of “Arab Spring,” in which social media has played a critical role in the attempted dissolution of Middle East despotism, then maybe it is, at least a tiny little bit. Cable news, whether it was because of producer indifference, lack of resources, or poor editorial judgment, missed something exciting and, we can hope, ultimately game-changing—there is talk already of Wendy Davis running for Texas governor in 2014!
The point in all this is that these days, just because the official news bidness misses something, that doesn’t mean it will escape the instant notice of motivated people who care about, in this case, the right of women to control their own reproductive health and to keep religious and other zealots from dictating to them when to become parents.