Eastwood, empty chair hijack Republican media coverage

Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:48pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant and Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Months of careful planning for the Republican National Convention were hijacked by actor Clint Eastwood as traditional and social media erupted in a frenzy of scratched heads and parodies that experts said largely overshadowed presidential contender Mitt Romney's moment in the spotlight.

Eastwood's rambling, unscripted address at Thursday's convention to an absent President Barack Obama in an empty chair inspired an instant satirical Twitter account, @InvisibleObama, that quickly went viral, demonstrating the power of social media to upset tightly scripted image control.

Although Romney notched up the most tweets during his keynote address to the convention in Tampa, Florida - more than 14,289 tweets per minute - his Twitter Political Index (Twindex), which measures how tweeters feel about a candidate on a scale of 1 to 100, fell from 46 to 38 following his speech.

Some 30.3 million Americans watched Thursday's prime time addresses on cable and broadcast television, according to final Nielsen data.

But by Friday, it was "Dirty Harry" star Eastwood's performance that was capturing the popular attention. The Twitter hashtag #eastwooding - mostly pictures of empty chairs - was also one of the top-trending topics on the microblogging site on Friday.

Paul Levinson, professor of media and communication studies at Fordham University and author of the book "New New Media," thought Eastwood's performance was "the biggest story by far from the convention, including Romney's speech."

"I don't think what happened with Eastwood will be decisive in the presidential election, but I think that forever and anon, when people think about this convention, they are going to think about this empty chair and this octogenarian actor rambling on," Levinson told Reuters.

The @InvisibleObama parody account garnered more than 25,000 followers by the end of Romney's speech, and by Friday afternoon it had some 55,000 followers.   Continued...

Actor Clint Eastwood addresses an empty chair and questions it as if it is U.S. President Obama, as he endorses Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed