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NBC's Gregory and BuzzFeed's Smith Blame Obama Critics for 'Polarization' on Twitter

During an exchange on NBC's Press Pass on Sunday, Meet the Press moderator David Gregory and BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrung their hands over political divisiveness on social media sites like Twitter, but only managed to cite a list of Obama critics as the worst offenders.

Gregory lamented: "We talk about how polarized the country is....we see this reflected in particularly nasty ways....Donald Trump on election night tweeting....Jack Welch talking about a jobless report....Tone, tenor, and message, really polarizing on Twitter." Smith added: "We did a post on election night of people, you know, demanding Obama's assassination....We got a lot of emails from folks on that list saying, 'Hey, could you please take me off that, I certainly didn't really mean to say that in public.'"

While Gregory and Smith focused entirely on voices from the right, they ignored a wealth of left-wing tweets that were equally offensive:

> Actress and Obama campaign co-chair Eva Longoria became embroiled in controversy for retweeting a vile attack on Romney supporters.

> Actor Alec Baldwin praised "the end of white, middle-aged Christian male dominance" after Obama's re-election.

> In response to Mitt and Ann Romney thanking supporters on Twitter, the left unleashed a series of horrendous replies.

Gregory asked Smith: "What does it do to our politics and how – and how polarized we become as a country when we have this as a backdrop for conversation?" Smith again hit those on the right:  

...it wasn't just that people had their own opinions, they really did develop their own sets of facts. And conservatives, in particular, widely fell for this theory that the polls were all wrong and maybe in a conspiratorial way, maybe it was an error. But it was really interesting on election night to see kind of reality intercede and all these voices on Twitter who had been yelling that the polls were wrong, did not then, you know, demand that the numbers be unskewed, they just basically fell silent. Because there's nothing you can say.

Here is a transcript of the November 11 exchange:

11:32AM ET

(...)

BEN SMITH [BUZZFEED]: And people kind of fighting their way into the conversation on the merits of being interesting people with interesting things to say, which was really cool. On the other hand, people screaming their way to it by being psychopaths, that's fun.

DAVID GREGORY: Look, and we talk about how polarized the country is. I mean, we still have what could be a 51-48, a relatively narrow margin of victory for the President, even though it'll be much larger in the electoral college, and this is where we've been now since 2000. And then we see this reflected in particularly nasty ways. I mean, just a couple of examples, Donald Trump on election night tweeting, "He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country." Of course the President will end up winning the popular vote. But again, just the tone of it. Jack Welch talking about a jobless report, "Unbelievable jobs numbers, these Chicago guys will do anything. Can't debate so change numbers." That was back in October. Tone, tenor, and message, really polarizing on Twitter.

BEN SMITH: Yeah, you really feel that polarization, which, you know, maybe has always been out there. These are maybe things, something that Jack Welch might have said to the guy standing next to him or, you know, or something someone might say to their spouse, to their friends, now suddenly popping onto Twitter. I do think there's a bit of a learning curve with this. We did a post on election night of people, you know, demanding Obama's assassination, which is something, you know, again maybe somebody might say to somebody in a bar. Now you say that, the Secret Service is likely to pay you a visit. We got a lot of emails from folks on that list saying, "Hey, could you please take me off that, I certainly didn't really mean to say that in public."

GREGORY: Right. And then, well, the learning curve or what is it that they think is going to happen? There's a lack of filter and it extends to politics too. I mean, here's – here's an exchange, Eric Fehrnstrom for Romney, tweeting David Axelrod. He says, "@David Axelrod says Romney living in #MadMen 'time warp.' You mean when unemployment was lower, and the economy was expanding?" Axe writes back, "@EricFehrn No, when Russia was our greatest foe, bosses could dictate on women's health & Etch-a-Sketch was a toy, not a political strategy." I mean, this is real, kind of, political warfare all on Twitter.

SMITH: I mean, and for somebody like me, or perhaps you, who enjoys this stuff, I mean, I love that. It's fun to see that stuff play out in public in a way where, you know, where we're seeing the same thing that our readers are seeing and it's a much more kind of fluid kind of engagement.

GREGORY: What is the – well, I guess from different points of view. I mean, there's a journalistic piece to this, there's a political piece, and then there's a – there's just a political polarization piece. What does it do to our politics and how – and how polarized we become as a country when we have this as a backdrop for conversation?

SMITH: Well, one of the really strange things this cycle, I think you can blame it not only on Twitter, on cable news, on the partisan press in certain ways, was that people – you know, it wasn't just that people had their own opinions, they really did develop their own sets of facts. And conservatives, in particular, widely fell for this theory that the polls were all wrong and maybe in a conspiratorial way, maybe it was an error. But it was really interesting on election night to see kind of reality intercede and all these voices on Twitter who had been yelling that the polls were wrong, did not then, you know, demand that the numbers be unskewed, they just basically fell silent. Because there's nothing you can say.

GREGORY: Right.

(...)