Why YouTube should make politicians
[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:30 p.m. August 29, 2006]
|Popular video clip hosting sites such
as YouTube are changing politics already.
The revolution will not be
televised, but there's a good chance you'll be able to see it later on
YouTube is the ever-growing, popular, user-enhanced Web site where
everyday people put up video clips to be viewed by a large
After less than a year online, it currently shows about 100 million videos every day to some 16 million individual users
While the most popular YouTube selections tend to be music
videos, highlights from TV talk shows, stupid human tricks or
real-life bloopers, YouTube is also starting to have an impact on
Some in the U.S. believe that 2006 could become the election
where video clip formats led by YouTube have an impact on the
mid-term elections, just like American bloggers did in the 2004
presidential campaign, debunking fake
CBS documents and keeping the Swiftboat Veterans in the
A New York Times article recently predicted that 2006 could be the
"YouTube Election." And the pioneering PoliticsOnline
said "as the midterm election nears keep an eye on YouTube it may make or break more than one election this fall."
And that could be bad news for politicians because the political
clips that get viral on YouTube tend to be of the embarrassing sort
that one won't find in a candidate's brochures.
Although clips featuring Canadian and British politicians are
currently featured on YouTube, it is in the U.S. where the latest in
Internet technology is having a political impact at the
Just this week, U.S. Senator and perennial Democratic presidential
hopeful Joe Biden made an appearance on the Sunday morning
current affairs program Fox News Sunday.
Biden, who is from the small state of Delaware, was asked a
relatively harmless question by host Chris Wallace as the
interview drew to a close: "What kind of a chance would a Northeastern liberal like Joe Biden stand in the South if you were running in Democratic primaries against Southerners like
Mark Warner and John Edwards?"
Biden's response was stunning for the relatively few of those who are
watching Fox at 9 a.m. on a Sunday and who hadn't dozed off
listening to the musings of the verbose Biden for the previous 10
"Better than anybody else," he told Wallace. "You don't know my state. My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth- largest black population in the country. My state is anything from a Northeast liberal state."
While Biden was denying Delaware was a liberal state, in the process
he seemed to be issuing a twisted appeal to Southern Democrats that
they should vote for him because he came from a state that was once
a slave state.
Even though it was televised, Biden's gaffe hardly made a ripple in
the media, with the exception of an Associated Press brief that
appeared in the Washington Post and on ABC News' Web site.
But thanks to YouTube, a video
clip of Biden on Fox News Sunday found its own distribution
By Monday afternoon it had ranked among the Web site's top 20 most
viewed items for the day. Some 48 hours after Biden made the
comments, YouTube stats show that the 35-second clip had been viewed
over 120,000 times. And that number is growing as clips on YouTube
have an unlimited shelf life.
As shown by the Biden case, the technology is proving to be a way
for people to use the media to get around what editors and reporters
do not find newsworthy.
Essentially, video clip hosting services such as YouTube will now
allow anyone with an account and email the ability to find their own
Beer and Popcorn moment and start broadcasting.
And that could be a recipe for disaster for many politicians in
Canada and around the world, where partisan and ideological
opponents on both ends of the political spectrum often view the
media as biased.
Biden's comments have yet to penetrate the mainstream media in the
U.S. as a result of YouTube, but the gaffe is only two-days old and
is in its Net infancy.
If it does get media traction then Biden will become the second
American politician this month to see YouTube as another layer of
media to worry about.
The relatively obscure racial slur Macaca is now a household name in
American politics after Virginia Senator George Allen used it
to describe an Indian American campaign worker for his
The staffer was a so-called "tracker" who had been tailing
Allen with a video camera at events across the state. A standard
procedure in high-stakes political races.
"Give a welcome to Macaca, here," Allen tells supporters
at an event captured on tape and uploaded
onto YouTube by the campaign of his opponent Jim Webb.
In just two weeks, the infamous Macaca comment has been viewed over
Even more damaging for Allen, who is mentioned as a 2004 Republican
presidential hopeful, is the clip has made its way onto network and
cable news shows as well as late night talk shows. This includes CNN,
Morning America, Nightline,
Hardball, and The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
And, of course, all those TV segments have been posted for posterity
on YouTube and viewed by thousands more who did not have the chance
to see them when they originally aired.
Hence the problem for a politician created by a technology like YouTube. Even at a small event where the media isn't there, every video
camera or even cell phone camera now has the potential of capturing
a gaffe that could be seen by tens of thousands of voters within
hours. And of course this could result in a mainstream media
And even relatively harmless political events can become fodder.
Like this Pop-Up
Video parody the conservative publication National Review made
of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee playing bass on stage
while a band plays Born to Be Wild.
However, there is also a positive side for politicians in the new
YouTube presents the possibility to run free advertising on the site
in the form of video clips.
In the California gubernatorial race, the state Democratic Party has
ads on YouTube for Phil Angelides who is challenging
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the high-profile Connecticut Democratic primary between
Senator Joe Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont,
dozens of clips from a Lamont
supporter appear on YouTube documenting speeches, ads and
The capability for political parties in Canada to make use of
the technology is there. The question is whether they will embrace
it as their U.S. counterparts have done in California, Virginia and
At the moment, the Canadian presence is relatively limited, but that
is bound to change.
The most watched Canadian political clip on YouTube is a video
exposé by conservative blogger Stephen Taylor showing how CBC
News took Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of context when he
answered questions about the crisis in the Mideast.
After viewer complaints and a CBC ombudsman investigation, CBC was
forced to express "regret" about the Harper story during
a broadcast of The National.
However, Taylor gives more credit to his blog
than YouTube for the popularity of the clip.
"The site is an Internet marvel in that it allows really anybody to be a video
publisher," Taylor recently wrote on his blog. "However, most of the
YouTube views of my video were from the embedded player on my site. While
YouTube certainly helped me deliver my multimedia message to thousands and thousands,
YouTube did little to promote in the viral-marketing sense."
PoliticsWatch is publishing a regular feature highlighting political
clips from Canada, the U.S., the UK or around the world that are
already viral or are worthy of becoming viral.
Readers are encouraged to send their picks from YouTube or other
similar services to PoliticsWatch.
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