Schieffer: How 2012 is different than ever before


I participated in a panel at USA Today on Monday where we looked at how this presidential election already is different than any election before, and it got me thinking about a lot of things.

I think the biggest difference between now and any other election is that there's just more technology, and everyone's using it. In 2008, then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama embraced social media in ways nobody had seen before. In this race, both sides are doing neat things with everything from Twitter and Facebook to post-2008 sites like Instagram and Pinterest. Susan Page, USA Today's Washington Bureau Chief, told me she'd recently read that in 2008 just 1.8 million tweets were sent on Election Day 2008. Now, just about that many are sent every eight minutes. That's wild - that alone has forced so many of these mini-controversies like the Hillary Rosen/Ann Romney battle and the infamous "Etch-a-Sketch" war.

With all of this information literally zooming around our heads non-stop, people need to depend on a variety of sources to really be informed about anything. When I was growing up it was easier: You had three television networks and two or three national newspapers and they all more or less had the same set of values. You could take it for granted they wouldn't broadcast or publish something unless they'd gone to some trouble to find out it was true. Viewers and readers have to be much more careful these days.

But I like to think our viewers are cautious and smart. Knowing they are gives me some reassurance when guests I have on the show try to be evasive and don't answer the questions. I'll admit, by the time I have to ask the same question twice I'm usually ready to just jump across the table at them. But I don't often ask more than twice, because I think the people watching at home are smart enough to recognize the difference between an answer and an evasion - or a "talking point."

Talking points are something I didn't have to contend with quite as much when I first came to Washington 43 years ago. When I first arrived, practically nobody on Capitol Hill had a press secretary or media manager or adviser. Now, it seems like everyone has at least one. And they're all trying to manage their message by giving talking points and insisting their members stick with the party line.

I really miss the days when I'd call former Sen. Sam Nunn to ask him to be on the show and he'd say, "Bob, I just don't have anything to tell you this week." It was much easier for him to say that than come on and waste my time, his time, and our viewer's time with these managed messages.

This is a whole new world we're in, no one knows how this election's going to turn out but I do think it's going to be really, really close. I'm really looking forward to it!

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.