It’s just another cautionary tale in the age of social media campaigning.
Last night, Ted Cruz’s communications director, Rick Tyler, shared a video on Facebook that seemed to show Marco Rubio publicly dissing the Bible in front of Ted Cruz’s father and a Cruz campaign staffer.
As it turned out, the video—which was erroneously subtitled by a college newspaper trying (and failing) to make sense of Rubio’s garbled words—got the quote wrong. It showed Rubio pointing to the Bible and saying, “Not a lot of answers in there.” What Rubio really said was, “All the answers are in there.”
Tyler deleted the post and has since apologized for the mistake. But apparently that didn’t cut it for Cruz. Today the Republican candidate asked for Tyler’s resignation. “I have made clear in this campaign that we will conduct this campaign with the very highest standards of integrity,” Cruz said.
The Outrage Cycle
There’s a lot to unpack here. For starters, there’s the sheer absurdity that Rubio, a devout Christian who has made his faith a centerpiece of his campaign, would launch an unprompted Bible-bashing session in front of his competitor’s staff. Fox News called the claim preposterous, and Tyler clearly should have known better.
Then there’s the fact that Cruz may be slightly overreacting given just how far candidates like Donald Trump have stretched the limits of social media mud-slinging this cycle. By making an example of Tyler, Cruz is likely hoping to make up for a series of stories that have made his campaign appear underhanded, including reports that Cruz staffers wrongly told Iowans that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race during the Iowa caucus, urging them to vote for Cruz instead.
But the clearest lesson to be learned from Tyler’s error is just how clumsy campaigning on social media can get. Tyler could have easily reasoned that the video’s subtitle was inaccurate. But social media doesn’t reward reason. It rewards outrage. And speed.
If we’re being honest, most of us have tweeted or posted something we later regretted on social media. But the fast and loose rules the rest of us follow don’t apply to the people pursuing the most powerful position in the world. (That is, with the exception of Donald Trump. That guy gets away with everything.)
A decade or more ago, when television attack ads still reigned supreme, Tyler or another staffer would likely have caught the error before it was too late. But in the era of rapid-response campaigning, a career-ending gaffe is never more than a click away. Tyler just had to learn the hard way.
“Since the audio was unclear, I should not have assumed the story was correct. I’ve deleted the post because I would not knowingly post a false story,” he wrote in his Facebook apology. “But the fact remains that I did post it when I should have checked its accuracy first. I regret the mistake.”
So you can see it for yourself, here’s the real video, via Rubio’s spokesperson Alex Conant:
This video has correct transcript; any other is another dirty trick by Cruz camp. How do I know? I’m in the video!! https://t.co/llZGimU5Jp
— Alex Conant (@AlexConant) February 21, 2016
And here’s the one Tyler posted. The Daily Pennsylvanian, a University of Pennsylvania student-run publication, has since amended its story, writing that the audio is “too unclear to say for sure.”