Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

This blog is devoted to a variety of topics including politics, current events, legal issues, and we even take the time to have some occasional fun. After all, blogging is about having a little fun, right?

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

YouTube debate tonight, but does even CNN trust the medium

I haven't live-blogged a GOP debate in a while, and it's due in part to the numbness that still lingers in my hands. I'm considering it tonight, so just keep your eyes peeled for that later. However, yesterday this story popped up on the radar from Wired. Mind you, CNN is conducting this YouTube debate tonight, and it doesn't look like CNN has all that much confidence in the questioners:

As Republican presidential contenders brace for Wednesday's CNN-YouTube debate, the executive in charge of the event is unapologetic about his decision to put mainstream journalists in charge of deciding which user-contributed YouTube videos the candidates will actually face on the air.

For all the talk about online voter empowerment, the web is still too immature a medium to set an agenda for a national debate, says CNN senior vice president David Bohrman.

"If you would have taken the most-viewed questions last time, the top question would have been whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a cyborg sent to save the planet Earth," says Bohrman, the debate's executive producer. "The second-most-viewed video question was: Will you a convene a national meeting on UFOs?"

Thus, instead of using an online voting system to select video questions, CNN's journalists are plowing through the contributions this week. CNN will air the final 40-or-so selected questions Wednesday (8 p.m. EST) when the Republican presidential candidates take the podium in St. Petersburg, Florida -- submitting to a debate format Democratic presidential candidates went through in July.

CNN's YouTube-enabled presidential debate is one of several mainstream media experiments in voter-candidate interaction that have emerged this election cycle -- and faced mixed reviews. The Huffington Post teamed up with Yahoo and online political newsmagazine Slate in September to allow netizens to pick preselected questions for the candidates, which were then posed by PBS talk show host Charlie Rose. Videos of the recorded interviews were posted on the web. But the interactive element was little more than an on-demand cable-television-like offering, and not a true two-way conversation between voters and candidates. ...

... "The notion that the CNN-YouTube debate represents a grass-roots triumph of the internet age is laughable," wrote Marty Kaplan, a research professor at the University of California's Annenberg School for Communication. "The 4,000+ videos are pawns; the questioners are involuntary shills, deployed by the network producers in no less deliberate, calculating and manipulative a fashion as the words and stories fed by teleprompters into anchors' mouths."

But Bohrman, a 53-year-old technology geek and network TV news veteran, says allowing internet users to vote on which videos to air would reduce, not enhance, the quality of the debate -- a lesson he says he learned during a brief stint at the doomed online media company Pseudo.com.

"Guess what, there are troublemakers," says Bohrman. "When I was at Pseudo, and we ran live video chats, we had (people typing) 'Fuck You' in 98-point-type, which appeared on the screen."

He's also concerned that the questioning could be manipulated. "It's really easy for the campaigns to game the system," he says. "You've seen how effective the Ron Paul campaign (supporters) have been on the web -- you don't know if there are 40 or four million of them. It would be easy for a really organized campaign to stack the deck."

Community-chosen videos would also rob the debate of spontaneity, because the candidates would know well in advance what question they will be asked.

But in the end, Bohrman just doesn't trust people on the internet to pick the interesting questions. A recently launched project by TechPresident called 10 Questions allows users to vote up or down on video questions that will then be sent to the presidential campaigns, but he's not impressed with the results.

"You look at 10 Questions, and some of the questions are interesting," Bohrman says. "But some of them are completely irrelevant and not interesting, and then it's just another artificial Kabuki dance."

Look, I hate to say this but this is the furthest thing from the Lincoln/Douglas debates. Truth be told, and as I pointed out on the air with Hugh last night, the YouTube questions were not only a farce, but a disaster. People groaned as they watched this slip-shod production that had less substance than a William Shatner toupee. This debate forum is nothing more than, as Mr. Bohrman called it, a "kabuki dance." It's "gotcha" journalism.

It takes away the spontaneous reaction of the candidates, leaves little time for discussion of substantive issues, and the issues raised by the majority of questioners will completely lack the intelligence that we would normally expect from a debate amongst presidential candidates. Look, I'm not trying to demean or be mean to the average American citizen. The average person doesn't even pay attention to election year politics until after Labor of the election year. That's a statistical fact. Only hard-core news and politics junkies -- like ourselves, like poli-bloggers -- pay this close attention to the race in it's early legs.

So, who is producing these videos? It's likely the 'Net-savvy individuals out there, but Lord, look at those questions. They're idiotic and asinine. They lack the basic political information to be relevant. While I applaud those in 'Net-oriented businesses for wanting to attract new voices in the political realm, there should be some basic knowledge involved, and as Mr. Bohrman basically said, these people aren't professional. They're kids, or they act like it. The 'Net has provided them a level of anonymity that they use to get away with a lot of stupid comments and tricks.

Presidential debates should be professional. The questions should be serious and substantive. We are, after all, choosing the next president of the United States. We're not looking for "Mr. Cool." The YouTube fiasco that will unfold tonight should serve as a final reminder to news outlets and political commentators that this is not the wave of the future. It's a passing fad, and in the most important election out of the last decade, a group of geeks are going to get the opportunity to ask the most obtuse questions that we've ever heard.

Prediction -- There are 40 questions tonight. I'm betting that if we're lucky, there will be five substantive questions throughout the whole debate.

Publius II


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