On Tuesday night, 180,000 people tuned in to watch Wendy Davis’ filibuster on Senate Bill 5 in Texas. The bill proposed closing all but five abortion clinics in Texas, including all of those in the poorest, most rural regions, and would have banned abortions after 20 weeks.
It was an issue that affected thousands in Texas, and more, across the nation, as women’s reproductive rights continue to be debated. So it wasn’t surprising that 180,000 people wanted to witness the outcome of Davis’ filibuster which began at 11:18 AM and lasted more than 11 hours.
But where did these people watch the proceedings? Not on CNN, or MSNBC or even FOX News. None of those – or any mainstream media channel – was talking about it. Instead, these people flocked to a YouTube livestream hosted by the Texas Senate.
Without a news station commentary, viewers took to popular social media sites like Twitter to create their own dialogue using the hashtag #standwithwendy. The final minute before the crucial midnight deadline resulted in 4,900 tweets a minute, which was 4,900 more tweets than from any mainstream media source.
The political jargon used on the floor could be confusing to many. Without a journalist explaining what some of the rules, regulations and terms were, many viewers became confused. In fact, confusion was so rampant that even Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) asked for clarification.
Fortunately, both people outside the Texas Senate building and those watching from their homes used social media to disseminate information about what was happening to help other viewers understand everything from what Robert’s Rules were to why so many parliamentary inquiries were occurring. It was truly an example of citizen journalism at its finest.
The mainstream media and their investigative journalists failed again when chaos erupted in the final minutes of the filibuster. A vote was called for and questions arose regarding when, exactly, it was taken. Some claimed it happened before the midnight deadline while others said it took place after 12 AM. It was then when Americans and those watching internationally most needed someone to step in and find the answers. But the media stayed quiet on the subject, with large media outlets such as the Associated Press preferring to report on Channing Tatum and his new baby and CNN hosting a segment on the caloric dangers of muffins.
The confusion continued when the Texas Senate web site posted the vote as having taken place on July 26 (establishing the timing at after midnight). The web site was later edited to reflect a voting date of July 25, but not before some citizen journalists had captured the original entry.
And still the story went untold by mainstream media. There wasn’t even a reassuring message announcing that its editors, reporters and anchors understood there was confusion and were seeking the answers for their viewers, listeners and readers.
It wasn’t until more than two hours after the midnight deadline hit that the media finally started to pick up on the story. By then, the confusion was mostly resolved, with president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, announcing that the bill was declared dead – the vote had occurred after midnight. But even as news outlets started to retweet news about the ruling, the only live footage to be broadcast came from citizen journalist Christopher Dido’s cellphone camera. He dutifully filmed everything and uploaded it to a streaming web site where people could view the chaos at the Texas Senate building. He’s received over 200,000 views as he stayed in the thick of things to act as the eyes for those waiting anxiously for news of the vote and whether it would count or not.
The people were awake and watching, so where was the media? They missed out on this historic moment and the public deserves answers, if not actual reporting.