The Two Hour YouTube Commercial On CNN

Now that the first ever YouTube debate is completed, can we please promise not to have any more?

If you separate out the candidate’s answers and overlay the questions in text, the debate was no better or worse than any other debate. The participation of YouTube added nothing positive to the format or the content.

Since all of the videos broadcast were pre-selected by CNN, this could hardly be characterized as promoting the voice of the people. There were probably considerations by the CNN judges that included such irrelevancies as humor, entertainment value, charisma, and controversy. That is not an appropriate basis for engaging prospective occupants of the White House.

What’s worse, the gimmickry of this format is notable for whom it excludes. For instance:

  • Any questioner that doesn’t have a video camera or video skills.
  • Anyone who is uncomfortable performing on video or lacks public speaking skills.
  • All of those without Internet access or who don’t know how to upload files.
  • Internet users who are not registered with YouTube and don’t want to be.

This doesn’t seem like a format that encourages participation from a cross-section of America. If it was their purpose to produce a debate that was representative of the population, they failed.

What they succeeded at was promoting YouTube and it’s corporate parent, Google. The program was a two hour American Idol style commercial for a business that has a broad portfolio of vested interests in media and politics. CNN is partnered with Google who’s search engine is featured on their web site. And all of the political players on the stage have potential for benefiting Google’s regulatory agenda.

A far better experiment along these lines would have been a blog powered debate hosted by a broad-based and open site that allowed for more diverse and less moderated (or community moderated) participation. If CNN had such a site, I would not have objected to them using it. But since they don’t, something along the lines of the Huffington Post might be interesting.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope that that will occur. It’s a little too far off the radar of old media players like CNN. So we’ll have to endure these spectacles for some time to come. And of course, the Republicans are going to get the YouTube treatment next.


11 thoughts on “The Two Hour YouTube Commercial On CNN

  1. Your points are valid, certainly. I didn’t think of the points you make concerning the unequal distribution of digial cameras and so on, and the point about the vested interests of google are very salient.

    But it never occured to me that the intention behind the format was to give a cross-section of the American public. I think the intention was to “show a cross section of the public” who is both politically engaged and proficient with the internet.

    And the CNN editors picked the clips to use.

    So: the gun-nut. The talking snow-man. The singing hillbillies. The Bob Dylan impression. And so on.

    I think it was an implicit attack on bloggers, is what I think. An attempt to portray the politically active internet community as, well, looney.

    • It may have had that effect (the looniness), but the pundits have been pronouncing it a success. Even David Broder hailed it as opening up the process to the people. Obviously, I disagree with him.

  2. Interesting. If anyone were gonna take the anti-internet “great unwashed” line, it’d be Broder. So I guess I’m wrong.

    • Take with a grain of salt who Broder thinks “the people” are.

  3. Totally disagree on most of your points. Given the numbers and the fact many videos are going to be completely inappropriate, someone has to edit down. The fact that only YouTube-proficient users can upload (or people who care enough to have someone help them do it) doesn’t make the questions less valid. If anything, that would skew towards the young and engaged, which is not a bad way to skew.

    That said, I’d prefer a debate with good journalists and good questions, with follow-up (which is really the key). But that just isn’t going to happen anymore.

    • Sure, someone has to decide which videos are selected. Why couldn’t the YouTube community do that instead of the same old gatekeepers at CNN?

      And there are other ways to engage young citizens (i.e. blogs) that don’t require cinematic abilities in front of and behind the camera.

  4. One thing you neglect to mention:

    The majority of the clips I’ve seen were all of young good looking people.

    The few that were of > 25 years old weren’t unattractive either.

    Granted I don’t want to be looking at somebody that’s fugly either. But that doesn’t mean that fugly people shouldn’t have a voice.

    Note this video. Watch the total non-reaction to the China issue. He carefully frames the “debate” on “innovation” by China as “the problem”. Fact is China was GRANTED carbon emissions exemptions in 1997 via Kyoto and damm the factory building gold rush did ensue. We GAVE them the technology, gladly for a profit.
    Global warming my ass!

    • That was weird. It did seem a little like he intentionally cut off the call and then apologized. ???

  6. I disagree with scrapping the format entirely. But I think a better way of doing these debates though would be to allow the internet community to vote for which videos they think are the best.

    Then the network would go with the top vote getters. They’d of course have the ability to veto inappropriate or duplicate entries. Any winning videos that they turn down they should publicly state the reason for their decision.

    I also think a good idea would be to have a prominent progressive blogger co-host the Democratic event and a conservative blogger to co-host the Republican event.

    • Your suggestions would improve the format. But there would still be the problem of who is excluded.

      Also, I read in today’s NYTimes (Adam Cohen, I think) made the point that with videos you lose the spontaneity that live debates are supposed to have because the videos have to be prerecorded and uploaded before the event, and you can’t interact with them.

      I still like live blogging better.

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