“This was the first long filibuster in the social media age in Texas,” said Ross Ramsey, executive editor of The Texas Tribune.
Twitter would play a huge role as the night went on—but only because everyone could see what was happening. And that was possible because the Tribune, alone among news organizations, had secured a live video feed of the Legislature under a contract begun just this year. The video was the building block of everything else Tuesday night. Dubbed LiveStream, it relies upon state cameras and microphones on chamber floors and in some committee rooms. I’ve watched it before. It’s like C-SPAN: usually informative, and usually dreadfully dull. As Brian Stelter of The New York Times wrote on Twitter, the stream “sat on YouTube, mostly ignored, for months. Until the stream was set ablaze.”
On Tuesday, the drama of the moment and the emotional power of abortion—whatever side of the divide one occupies—drew people to the video feed like moths to a flame. As day turned into night and night wore on, and activists alerted each other and everyday people took interest, the usual trickle of viewers swelled into a river of 54,000. “Amazing,” tweeted Evan Smith, the Tribune’s CEO and editor-in-chief. Then there were 100,000 viewers—just on the Tribune site. Elsewhere, far-flung news organizations like The Washington Post were embedding the video on their own sites. Then the river became a torrent of about 200,000 viewers to the Tribune site alone, according to Ramsey—in the middle of the night. (CJR’s Ann Friedman has an interview with Smith about the livestream and other elements of the Trib’s coverage here.)
Meanwhile, on the floor, Republicans had objected to Davis getting help putting on a back brace, and to her discussion of Roe v. Wade and a Texas law on sonograms as not germane to the bill at hand. With three such objections sustained by Dewhurst, she was in danger of being cut off, and Democrats turned to other strategies to run out the clock. On their liveblogs, the Tribune and The Dallas Morning News recorded every procedural twist and turn.
But the updates slowed as midnight approached. Increasingly the state’s leading news outlets simply posted the video on their home pages. Developments were moving too fast. The Austin American-Statesman flirted with its very own “Dewey Beats Truman” moment: even as its reporters kept up with events on a liveblog, at 12:16 am the headline on the paper’s homepage still declared, “Challenge upheld; Davis’ filibuster all but over.”
By that point, the Senate had voted along straight party lines—though over exactly what was unclear amidst the shouting from the gallery. Was it a Republican objection to end the filibuster? Was it the bill itself? Had the vote—whatever it was about—come before midnight?
Fuming senators disappeared from the floor into a closed-door caucus, and Twitter lit up even more, as journalists, citizens, and advocates described the scene, tracked what politicians were saying had happened, and tried to suss out what had actually happened. “Have seen nothing like this in #texaslege in 22 years. Not even close. Waiting for someone to yell ‘Attica,’” tweeted Smith (168 retweets). “If Dewhurst can assert that it passed, I can assert that it didn’t. I believe I was closer to the dais at the time,” tweeted Texas Monthly’s Erica Greider (93 retweets). A minute later, Greider again: “From what I saw on the Senate floor, the last roll call vote was a motion to have a vote on #SB5, ie end discussion, not a vote on the bill” (200 retweets).
Around the same time, a pair of images began circulating on Twitter—screenshots from the Texas Legislature Online site showing a vote on the bill recorded on Wednesday and then, nine minutes later, altered to show the vote on Tuesday, before midnight. “TLO sheet has been edited!” Smith tweeted. The Tribune’s Ramsey had the screenshots, too. Soon, a tweet from the main Tribune account: “The Senate’s revisionists are very fast. Nine minutes earlier, these showed the record votes on 6/26” (1,366 retweets).