Matzzie's unique position: Some lessons to learn from an activist turned discloser

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on October 25, 2013

From The News Desk

Tom Matzzie is on a wild ride these past two days.

For those who live in a hole, yesterday entrepreneur and environmental activist Tom Matzzie was riding the Acela train and couldn't help but overhear a loud talker on a phone call blabbing away. Some key words arose in this mystery man's conversation that piqued Matzzie's interest, such as "rendition" and "black sites." Matzzie then pieced together that this man was a former high ranking national security official giving off-the record interviews… on a train.

After listening some more, he figured out that the man was former NSA chief and CIA director Michael Hayden. Matzzie then live tweeted the conversation.

It's been widely covered, and most everyone is now aware of Matzzie's status as a short-lived celebrity Twitter discloser. But let's not simply focus on his initial tweets, but also how he's handled the past 24 hours.

He seems aware that once the heat from this blows over, his name will be wiped clean from our minds. So Matzzie has been using his Twitter soapbox to advocate for the grander issues that he cares about.

First and foremost Matzzie is an environmental activist. He's the founder and CEO of Ethical Electric, an electricity company that funnels its profits into other earth-conscious causes. Additionally, he worked for many years in media relations as an adviser to numerous causes and companies. Most famously perhaps, he was once MoveOn's director.

With this CV it's not surprising that whenever someone questions the ethics of live-tweeting the conversation, he says two things: It happened in a public space, and he's not a reporter.

Should it matter?

On CNN this morning Ashleigh Banfield, pointing to his tweets, characterizing him as a "mean girl" who tweets mean things about the people around him. She used this as a way to question whether a journalist would have done the same thing, and, further, if he had any right as a non-journalist to have tweeted what he did.

This is completely ludicrous.

Twitter has proven time and time again it is a good way to disseminate breaking information. It doesn't matter whether he's a journalist or not. A journalist could have easily live-tweeted the conversation, and that would have still been okay. (Let's all be happy we didn't have another journalist-train-twitter debacle like this one.) Banfield questioned why he didn't just write a piece about it. Because, as he continuously repeats, he's not a journalist. If someone says something in a public space -- especially if its germane to the political landscape as a whole -- it is fair game to repeat what's been said.

The fact that Matzzie is insistent on his role as an activist and not a journalist places him at an interesting vantage point. His Twitter follower list has exploded, news outlets are trying to interview him, I'm sure the Daily Show will cover this tonight. Matzzie is positioned in a unique and special place as an unbiased source.

Nevertheless he has an agenda. And today he capitalized on this. On his Twitter feed, he spent the brunt of his time doing two things, responding to people's queries about the Hayden debacle, and writing about what he thinks is the bigger issue. Early this morning he wrote the following tweet, "So now that a bunch of people are following my tweets I want to talk about something really important: climate change."

From there he wrote a litany of concerns and facts about the environment. These included facts about sea levels rising, animal populations dying, glaciers melting. He took the time to write about what he felt was most important. This is a prime example of a savvy media expert taking advantage of a golden opportunity.

The effect is not huge, though; those tweets received a fraction of the retweets or favorites that his Hayden revelation ones did. And let's be honest, he only gained a few thousand new followers, which isn't that many in the grand scheme of things.

It was, however, impressive to see someone understand that he could redirect a moment to a greater purpose.

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