WASHINGTON — So much for 140 characters or less. A president, it seems, gets to respond to a tweet on his own terms.
President Barack Obama got an avalanche of questions on Wednesday at a town hall forum through Twitter, the popular social media service. Of the many thousands that streamed in, he answered 18 in a familiar, spoken explanatory style that well-exceeded the limited length of a tweet.
Obama's first answer, to a question on mistakes made in handling the recession, was relatively short by his standards. It still amounted to about 2,300 characters — 2,160 longer than a tweet can be.
"I know, Twitter, I'm supposed to be short," Obama conceded in the midst of another multilayered response about college costs.
The White House had warned this might happen.
"He's the leader of the free world," presidential spokesman Jay Carney said. "He decides how short his answers will be."
No one seemed that concerned. The broader image was one of a president up for re-election and eager to connect directly with those using the ever-popular communication site, especially younger voters whose enthusiasm will be vital to his bid for another term.
So let history show Obama was the first president to host a Twitter town hall at the White House.
He made little news over the course of about an hour, but that wasn't his point.
Obama wanted to get in touch with people outside Washington, promote his agenda, prod Congress and embrace the fast-moving online conversation site that is increasingly seen as a home of national buzz.
The event drew enormous interest on Twitter. Questions streamed in long after the event had finished.
The president started by sending out what he called his first "live tweet" by using a laptop set up on a lectern.
"How about that," Obama declared to his East Room audience and those watching on TV or online.
His tweet set the tone of the economic discussion. Obama asked followers what they would cut, and what spending they would protect, to trim the deficit (the debate that has Washington's divided government in a stalemate.)
For the purposes of Twitter, the White House made Obama briefer than he was.
Overall, the town hall felt much like one Obama has had many times since taking office. Even a familiar critic got his voice heard.
Twitter selected the questions for the president, and one was from House Speaker John Boehner, who asked Obama, "After embarking on a record spending binge that left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?"
"This is a slightly skewed question," Obama said of his political rival's inquiry.
The president went on to answer Boehner's question by noting that the economy is creating jobs, though not at a fast enough pace.
The town hall moderator, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, made sure to reflect the immediacy of Twitter that embodies so much of its interactive appeal. He posed questions to Obama that had come in since the event began and read responses from those who answered Obama's own tweet.
Aides to the president pride themselves on bringing the social media savvy of the Obama presidential campaign to the White House. In addition to the official White House Twitter account, a handful of high-level staffers are regular tweeters, including press secretary Jay Carney, who tweets under the handle (at)PressSec, and communications director Dan Pfeiffer, who goes by (at)dpfeiffer44. The office of Vice President Joe Biden also joined Twitter this week with the handle (at)VP.
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