Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The YouTube Effect on American Politics: CNN/YouTube 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate

Millions of viewers of the 24-hour news network CNN International and visitors to are aware that the network has teamed up with the popular online video community YouTube to produce two groundbreaking 2008 Presidential Candidate Debates. The first of these debates featuring candidates from the U.S. Democratic Party aired on the evening of July 23rd for the CNN USA network (program re-aired July 24th, 10:00 AM CET for CNN International viewers). The second program for the Republican Party candidates is scheduled to air on September 17, 2007.

National politics and political campaigns are oft-times a very nasty business and I try to avoid writing about them here at Jewels like a rat sidestepping a snake pit, but this week’s CNN/YouTube hookup brought some fresh perspectives to the tried and tired political campaign practice of TV debates.

According to the CNN producers and marketing crew this is the first time in U.S. political history that the candidates had to field questions directly from the American public on both national and international TV and the questions were via homemade video clips uploaded to the YouTube video sharing website. More than 3000 videos were submitted for this first debate from YouTube users from around the world. CNN executives and producers labored for weeks in a secure glass-enclosed room to choose 39 video questions for use on the program, keeping their choices a well-guarded secret. The results of this labor and new media ingenuity on the part of all parties involved, especially the people who produced and submitted the videos, is an overwhelming “Thumbs Up” from American voters and CNN viewers and YouTube visitors from around the world.

Of course not everyone was happy about this experiment between the mainstream (traditional) media and the new media crowd (bloggers, online video producers, CJ’s) and some people are not convinced that the CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate was groundbreaking at all. Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Ariel Sabar says,

“The staid rituals of presidential debates met the hurly-burly of the Internet Monday night, in an event cosponsored by YouTube that saw candidates fielding questions that a set of mostly young Americans had uploaded to the video-sharing website.

YouTube and CNN, the other sponsor, promoted the forum as a radical change that harnessed the freewheeling populism of the Web and gave anyone anywhere a shot at quizzing candidates for the country's highest office.

But the debate came off more as evolution than revolution. While the 39 video questions aired during the two-hour program injected some humor and razzle-dazzle into a tired form, the debate retained many familiar trappings. A panel of CNN journalists chose which of the nearly 3,000 YouTube questions to pose to candidates, angering bloggers and Internet activists who felt the choice should be left to Web users.

And despite a few tough questions about the war in Iraq, race relations, and Hillary Clinton's bid to be the first female president, the candidates proved adept at steering answers back to comfortable territory.”

"I'm not convinced it represented a lot beyond at best giving us some break from the routine of the traditional debate genre," said Jamie McKown, a government professor at College of the Atlantic in Maine. "I strongly believe that new e-mediums and advances in communication technology do have the potential to change politics. But this wasn't it."

(End excerpt)

In the January/February 2007 issue of Foreign Policy magazine online, Moisés Naím (editor-in-chief of the magazine) wrote the following about “The YouTube Effect” as it pertained to the international news coverage of uniformed Chinese soldiers allegedly murdering Tibetan monks, women, and children on a Himalayan mountain pass:

“Welcome to the YouTube effect. It is the phenomenon whereby video clips, often produced by individuals acting on their own, are rapidly disseminated throughout the world thanks to video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube, Google Video, and others. Every month, YouTube receives 20 million visitors, who watch 100 million video clips a day. There are 65,000 new videos posted every day. Most of the videos are frivolous, produced by and for teenagers. But some are serious. YouTube includes videos posted by terrorists, human rights groups, and U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Some are clips of incidents that have political consequences or document important trends, such as global warming, illegal immigration, and corruption. Some videos reveal truths. Others spread disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies. All are part of the YouTube effect.

Fifteen years ago, the world marveled at the fabled “CNN effect.” The expectation was that the unblinking eyes of TV cameras, beyond the reach of censors, would bring greater accountability and transparency to governments and the international system. These expectations were, in some sense, fulfilled. Since the early 1990s, electoral frauds that might have remained hidden were exposed, democratic uprisings energized, famines contained, and wars started or stopped, thanks to the CNN effect. But the YouTube effect will be even more intense. Although the BBC, CNN, and other international news operations employ thousands of professional journalists, they will never be as omnipresent as millions of people carrying a cell phone that can record video. Thanks to their ubiquity, the world was able to witness a shooting on a 19,000-foot mountain pass.

This phenomenon is amplified by a double echo chamber: One is produced when content first posted on the Web is re-aired by mainstream TV networks. The second occurs when television moments, even the most fleeting, gain a permanent presence thanks to bloggers or activists who redistribute them through Web sites like YouTube. Activists everywhere are recognizing the power of citizen-produced and Web-distributed videos as the ultimate testimony. The human rights group Witness arms individuals in conflict zones with video cameras so they can record and expose human rights abuses. Electoral watchdogs are taping elections. Even Islamic terrorists have adapted to this trend. Al Qaeda created a special media production unit called Al Sahab (“The Cloud”), which routinely posts its videos online, with the realistic expectation that they will be picked up by major media outlets and other Web sites.”

(End excerpt)
Note: links to external sites added to the original text for clarification

So I am not going to bore you (or embarrass myself) with an attempt at an in-depth analysis of the two-hour cablecast of the CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate but instead will let you decide for yourself. I posted this piece as a Heads Up for my international readers living outside of the U.S.A. because I felt that many of you may not be aware of this important event. Blog authors and online video journalists and content producers from around the world need to take notes on this joint project as it could be possible to duplicate something similar in your corner of the globe.

Below are links to assorted news articles and blog posts about the debates, plus a link to my personal favorite YouTube video questions submitted by Jackie and Dunlap, two upstanding American citizens from the great State of Tennessee. I’ve included links to the CNN and YouTube websites which offer a full selection of articles, blog posts, and video reports covering every minute of the two hour CNN cablecast.

Everything is in this debate for your viewing pleasure: Iraq, domestic issues, Africa (Darfur), race in America and reparations for slavery, national health care, gay marriage rights and wrongs, religion & politics, U.S. foreign policy, education, the economy, passionate emotional outbursts from the candidates on serious issues and humor from the American voting public. Don’t miss a minute of it!

P.S. Checkout all the new embedded features (interactive, video, story highlights, recommended articles, blogs linking to the story, i-Report video, reader comments) on the overhauled website. is back with a vengeance to snatch the coveted Webby Awards for best online news site from the teeth of the BBC News.

Related articles and online resources
CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate (complete video downloads, 2-part)
Questions, not answers highlight YouTube debate users sound off on Monday night’s debate (videos)
Clinton, Obama mix it up over diplomacy answer (CNN Political Ticker blog)
Electorate can show true colors in YouTube debate
Anderson Cooper’s 360 blog (Cooper was the debate moderator)
CNN Election Center 2008
CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate (individual video questions and answers)
Submit your questions for the Republican Debate (scheduled to air September 17th)
YouTube blog: The CNN/YouTube Debate: How did they do?
YouTube behind the scenes at CNN

My Favorite YouTube Democratic Debate video clips

Red State Update's Jackie and Dunlap on John Edwards and Barack Obama
Red State Update’s Jackie and Dunlap on Al Gore
Jackie and Dunlap on the CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate (candidate reactions)
Lessons of the YouTube Debate (Tuned-In TIME TV blog)
Grading the July 23rd Democratic Debate (video slide show of candidates)
Ten Weirdest YouTube Debate Questions

The New York Times
Novel Debate Format, but Same Old Candidates
The Fourth Democratic Debate (full transcript)

The Christian Science Monitor
A debate where citizen is star

Washington Post (posts from the Washington Post’s blogs: The Fix, The Trail)
And this round goes to… (Hillary vs. Obama on foreign relations)
Democratic Debate: a wrap up
Democratic Debate: winners and losers

YouTube Debate: Groundbreaking or Hype?

Yahoo! News
Clinton, Obama clash over diplomacy (AP)
Obama debate comments set off firestorm (AP)

Outside the Beltway
YouTube Debate by James Joyner

The Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic Online)
The YouTube Debate (full Sullivan coverage)
Hair (candidate John Edward’s YouTube campaign video)

Capitol Hill Blue

Lots of glitz, little substance

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1 comment:

I.Q.SMALL said...


I cast my vote on character
Assessment as made by
Media pundits, if with their
Rationale somewhere laid by--

Rather mislaid: this changeling thing
Called "character" is like
Chameleon, as the praises sing
TV shows. I liked Ike,

But not so much as anyone
Whom these pundits applaud;
Votes they have cast, or deeds they´ve done
Count no more than a fraud.

What care I for a voting record
When bimbos on TV
(Whom I perhaps had gladly peckered)
Are happy telling me,

Albeit with a serious tone,
That "questions" have been raised--
False rumor with the certain known
Made equal, coolly phrased.

Why should a rumor, innuendo
Be treated just like fact?
Well, I was busy with Nintendo
When school taugh things abstract

Like measuring one´s words to deeds,
Or gauging proposition--
No, I followed the TV´s leads,
Its prepackaged rendition.

Why, if I read the tally once
Of how a joker voted--
My candidate--the slightest glance
Might shock delusion bloated.