Hollywood actor Don Cheadle learned the hard way what many public figures have known for a while: don’t say anything bad about President Barack Obama.
There has certainly been an increase in the level of accessibility of media and entertainment figures in an age of social media, where regular people can tweet directly to their favorite pundits and performers. While many may assume that it’s vocal critics of President Obama like Cornel West and Matt Damon who are the ones making all the ruckus, in many ways it’s the very passionate and vocal supporters of Obama on Twitter and elsewhere online who are having an impact.
In the most recent edition of Jet magazine, Don Cheadle is quoted as saying he wished Obama was more “gangsta” a quote which rankled many feathers and created a backlash which forced the actor to respond.
In a statement posted to his Twitter account, Cheadle said, “I believe I used the word gangster and I meant it. But I wasn’t talking about pants sagging and forties and ‘hoes’ or any of that other nonsense and I find it hard to believe that that is what some people thought I was saying. I was talking about wish fulfillment; my own and my desire to witness something more than I had.” It is clear from his response that he heard the outcry from Obama supporters who felt his comments were unfair to the president.
The response by Cheadle is just one example of the impact that these online supporters can have. They serve as almost a rapid response team swooping in whenever they feel a media figure or pundit is out of line in their analysis of the president or is not, in their view, factually accurate.
One active online supporter named Shawn, told theGrio she supports President Obama both offline with Organizing for America and online because he has created tangible change in her life. Shawn says that a result of President Obama’s health reform plan she no longer has to pay an extra $500 a month to purchase health insurance for her now college-aged sons, who have childhood asthma (a pre-existing condition).
She said many of those who supported President Obama in 2008 have forgotten about his message. “President Obama told us ‘Yes We Can’ but a lot of people forgot about the ‘we,’” she said. ”[We can’t expect] 20 years of crap to be cleaned up in four years.”
Another supporter on Twitter who asked to remain anonymous but whose Twitter handle is @TruthRose1 told theGrio that she likes to use Twitter to respond to critics because it evens the playing field between her and the media pundits. She likes that “Twitter allows for instantaneous give and take” and she said that when she reads or watches something inaccurately reported in the mainstream media she is able to quickly counter it.
TheGrio spoke with a few mainstream political pundits about how they view Twitter and whether they see it as the “great equalizer.” CNN’s Roland Martin told theGrio, “I have never changed a position based on any of the criticisms [I have received online]. You have to have conviction, therefore you have to understand it goes with the territory.” While Martin doesn’t think a medium like Twitter necessarily levels the playing field, it does allow him to interact direct with his audience in real time.
Similarly to Martin, Fox News Contributor Juan Williams told theGrio, “Twitter is not necessarily the great equalizer,” it certainly allows for more access but “the anonymity decreases the authenticity.” Williams went on to say that high profile Obama critics have certainly heard a chorus of discontent from Twitter and beyond.
Regardless of the public criticism he receives, President Obama’s approval ratings remain high in the African-American community. Obama’s “Twitter warriors” are simply an online extension of that support, which if they are smart, the Obama re-election team will actively engage.
Many of the supporters are simply frustrated with disgruntled Democrats who have not remained vigilant and focused on making sure the president is re-elected. “Making sure President Obama is re-elected so we can make sure he appoints the next two vacancies on the Supreme Court” is one common response from his supporters, to the question of what should be said to get wayward Democrats to snap out of their funk.
It is clear that these twitter warriors are focused on the long game, and not the cable news debates, just like the president they so vehemently support.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell