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An Unscripted – and Misunderstood – Moment at the RNC Goes Viral

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tried to quiet delegates as Committee on Permanent Organization Chairwoman Zori Fonalledas waits to address the convention. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This week I was reminded of the challenges embedded in the way information now zips from place to place, and the transformation of customers into competitors, able to edit, and repackage information before sending it out to audiences of their own. Credentialed reporters are not the only ones trying to explain the Republican National Convention to the rest of the country. All kinds of people are content creators now.

Ray SuarezFor decades, I’ve told young journalists not to worry about the rapid technological changes that have rocked our business. “News is news is news” I would sagely intone. If you’ve got good instincts and know how to write a lead you didn’t have to worry too much about the machines… they were just machines and you would learn how to use them.

Last night, the Republican National Convention was moving to officially nominate Mitt Romney as the party’s presidential candidate, and the chairwoman of the Committee on Permanent Organization headed to the microphone. Convention Chairman Reince Priebus had just passed a motion to unseat delegates for GOP presidential contender Ron Paul by a voice vote, and before the delegate could speak, Paul supporters — who said their voices hadn’t been heard — started a ruckus.

As Chairwoman Zori Fonalledas, a delegate from Puerto Rico, tried to start her official business, the Paul people took up a chant of “seat them now!” Other delegates began to shout them down, yelling “USA! USA!”

Watch the dueling chants in a BuzzFeed video using C-span convention footage, viewed more than 150,000 times on YouTube:

All in all, it wasn’t an event of particular significance. Ron Paul had not closed down his campaign or endorsed Romney, and the days when political conventions were places to hear divergent points of view have long since passed. The Paul forces had a long-stewing complaint with the Republican Party machinery, and were still not reconciled to being pushed aside.

Chairman Priebus pounded the gavel and asked for order on the convention floor, while Fonalledas stood quietly to the side. Once order was restored, the Puerto Rican delegate did what she came to the microphone to do, announce the nomination of House Speaker John Boehner as permanent convention chairman.

Enter social media.

Video of the “USA” floor chant drowning out the Puerto Rican delegate was embedded in emails as they zipped around America with subject lines like, “Watch this! Disgusting!” and “Can you believe this!?” Shorn of all context, the video could look like Republican bully boys on the convention floor were shouting down a Puerto Rican woman, who had to be rescued by a scolding party chairman.

Friends started sending me links to the video. They came from across America… and then from Southern Chile. A Dominican buddy on a long Latin American road trip was watching convention excerpts and wanted to know what I thought. Said one Facebook friend, “Shame on some Republican delegates at the convention! Shame on them and shame on all Republican leaders that will not repudiate these acts of pure unAmerican behaviors.” Another wrote, “The entire scenario is disgusting.” From another, “These guys don’t know that Puerto Rico is part of USA!”

Then, at about 12:45 a.m., just a few minutes after we turned out the light, my wife and I were summoned by a cell phone buzzing on the end table. It was my college daughter, who didn’t realize the time, and wanted to know if I’d seen the terrible mistreatment of the Puerto Rican delegate at the convention.

Narrowcasting in the extreme, I explained that the woman was actually pretty high up on the party food chain, and that the floor commotion had nothing to do with her being Puerto Rican, or being a woman for that matter.

As I am a little busy today, I can’t call all my hermanas y hermanos to push back on the “Republicans Mistreat Puerto Rican Woman” meme. The offense taken, the speed with which the video zipped around the country and around the world, were all interesting to me. Those of us with press cards in the bands of our fedoras used to have a little more control over what you saw, how it was explained, and the framing of the story. Now the news business is just one voice, not The Voice, telling Americans what happened, and delivering the information needed to come to some conclusion about events. Fonalledas is a big girl, and didn’t need to be saved from GOP bullies. Just thought you ought to know.

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