Friday, October 20, 2006
YouTube becomes political weapon
You've likely heard of YouTube. Well, rest assured, your representatives in Washington, D.C., most definitely have too.

That's because campaign operatives are starting to place negative images of the candidates they oppose on the video sharing site. The campaigns have camera-wielding staffers who go to the opposition's campaign events with the hopes of shooting something negative or embarrassing the candidate says and then putting it on YouTube.

The video of Virginia U.S. Sen. George Allen referring to an opposition cameraman as "macaca" is available for the world's viewing on YouTube.

One of the more active purveyors of YouTube video attacks is the campaign of Montana State Senate President John Tester, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate. Tester strongly supports the work of two members of his staff who record campaign appearances of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican running for his fourth term in the Senate.

On YouTube, you can see and hear Burns referring to "a nice little Guatemalan man" who's doing some work for him. You can also view the senator referring to the war on terror as a battle against a faceless enemy who is "a taxi cab driver in the daytime but a killer at night." And then there is the most viewed of the Burns' videos, where the senator appears to nod off at an agriculture hearing in Montana.

We went out to Montana to talk to both candidates and the cameraman about this. I asked John Tester if some of this is unfair. For example, don't tired people sometimes nod off at meetings?

Tester told me Burns shouldn't be falling asleep at hearings so important to Montanans.

So I asked Burns what he thought about these tactics. Obviously, Burns' campaign workers aren't particularly pleased when their candidate is ridiculed on a Web site, but Burns seems to like Kevin O'Brien, the cameraman who works for the Tester campaign and goes by the name of "arrowhead77" on YouTube.

"We feed him at our luncheons and our picnics, because I don't think the Democrats are paying him very much," he said.

The polls show this race to be tight. We'll see if Senator Burns has the same sense of humor about all this after Election Day.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 5:32 PM ET
  16 Comments
Hmmm, do the squabbles of politicians reach as far as popular entertainment sites? It seems so. What is happening to our country?
Posted By Anonymous Jason, Sugar Land, Texas : 6:28 PM ET
As long as Kevin O'Brien doesn't crawl into Senator Burns' bathroom to get the next YouTube exclusive, detractors need to get themselves videocameras and/or just get over it.

This trend also illustrates an interesting, increasing lack of faith on the part of the American news-viewing public in where they traditionally get their news. If Congress is corrupt, if Big Business is corrupt, isn't it possible that all institutions including the Fourth Estate are corrupt? If so (and even if not), why should we trust local, national and international news stations more than we do the guy down the street with the home-video camera? Who am I more likely to believe is telling the whole, unvarnished and ugly truth: the networks with advertisers and other monied interests to satisty, or the person just like me who feels forgotten and disenfranchised and who might enjoy taking down a Senator or two while they're not looking. Viva la revolucion.
Posted By Anonymous Karen Krebser, Belmont CA : 6:53 PM ET
Isn't the First Amendment great?! Anyone considering running for public office should be aware that with today's blinding fast moving media, even the little town meetings have a chance of being transmitted to all of America. This is great because now we can truly see how the candidates act throughout the country and make our decisions. If you have chosen to be a representative of the public then you cannot be mad that the public is viewing your every move while you are in a public forum.
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Woodland Hills : 7:00 PM ET
The question begs to be asked: "If I had paid time to follow a U.S. Senator for a day with a video camera would I do it?"

Of course. Who wouldn't?

What prevents anyone from doing it? It's going to become part of the democratic process, just like watching the Vietnam war on television changed how we felt about wars. It's the up close and personal instant gratification of the truth.
Posted By Anonymous Ole, Santa Clara, CA : 7:01 PM ET
"I asked John Tester if some of this is unfair?" No more unfair than a regular repetition of Kerry and Gore statements taken out of context and serving no purpose other than to ridicule. Oh, that's right, you guys did that.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Cammack, Entiat WA : 7:37 PM ET
Hi Gary
I'm sure both parties will get their licks in before this campaign is finished and each one will seem worse than the last. The thing is there are still an awful lot of eligible voters who don't have access to youtube or the internet. I'm quite sure it will all even out in the long run.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Whitby Ontario Canada : 9:31 PM ET
Hi Gary,
It sounds like there's an awful lot of people with way too much time on their hands..The only thing a person can do is have a sense of humor about nearly everything these days..It's a brutal world for the elephants and donkeys..But on the bright side, November 7th is almost here. On the downside, the 2008 party train will roll out on November 8th to a Big Wow..Confetti, balloons, and enough carnival barkers to make us wish it would quickly become 2009..Keep Smiling
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 10:06 PM ET
"The world is a stage"--someone once wrote and with the technology that has invaded our everyday lives presidents, preachers, politicians and professors are all in the spotlight on a daily basis. Camera phones to camcorders provide instantaneous capture of our actions both positve and negative. Those actions can then be quickly transmitted around the world via the internet. If you're going to talk the talk in today's world you better walk the walk -----someone's always watching! No one is immune to a reality check and maybe that's a good thing.....
Posted By Anonymous Zann Vickers-Easterwood Martin, Tennessee : 10:54 PM ET
This is just another way to gather information on politicians. The more information we know about our politicians, the more honest our democracy will be.

As long as the cameramen are not violating the personal rights of a public figure by invading their home, any information gathered in a public appearance is as fair as the information gathered by corporate owned media.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 11:36 PM ET
The takeover of YouTube by Google & the buyout of MySpace by Rupert Murdoch(FOX) are the leading indicators that a system is being designed to serve the interests of big media. Hence big busines.

YouTube capitalizes on the growing proclivity of users to be creators as well as consumers. And as the network television and cable audiences age, advertisers are increasingly aware that "user-created content" are key to attracting young audiences.

5 corporations dominate much of the US new-media market: Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon and Qwest. They control the wires and cable lines delivering us broadband, digital TV and, soon, much wireless service.

Given this emerging marketing model, US broadband will become a "brandwashing" machine: selling, commercialization & commodification. And it will lead to an inherently conservative and narcissistic political culture, in which consumption is the only message. We must challenge that outcome. Or the emerging digital culture will challenge our ability to communicate and organize.
Posted By Anonymous Paul Malouf, Montreal Quebec : 4:20 PM ET
Hi Gary~
Geepers~ I just sent a blog that did not have my name on it. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches, TX. I was blogging about my grandmother 112 years old and my three rottweilers nudged my hand. Did I ever tell you that I was a volunteer for Southern States Rottweiler Rescue? That was, until I FLUNKED fostering 101!!!!! Ok~ sorry~ You guys are great! Please don't print this one just the other one. Thanks~Betty Ann
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 1:37 AM ET
Hi Gary,

This is America: Free country! Free speech!
Even though Sen. Allen may have only called the guy a "Macaca" for his Mohawk hairdo and not meant it racially, it still came over as an insult.

"YouTube" has a variety of other interesting stuff: I have seen Arab and African children being interviewed how they perceive their situation in relation to war and poverty. Unfortunately, there was no translation to English from their own Arab and African languages.

Perhaps, these camera people who record all these footages and place it on "YouTube" are important after all.
Posted By Anonymous Ratna, New York, NY : 12:36 PM ET
YouTube is part of a free press movement, in contradistinction to the corporate press which presents almost exclusively points of view which are consistent with their corporate perspective.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Goldman, Berkeley, California : 1:36 PM ET
Gary,
This is a great topic. Election season is here once again and so are the tacky yard signs and the endless die-hard campaigners stuffing my mailbox and knocking down my door during some of the most anticipated football games on weekends.
We've all seen the "oh-so-creative" commercials that mix chopped video with broken sound bites twisting politicians' words to make them look even more negative. (I'm not sure why you would have to twist a politician's words to make them look negative. I think they do a fine job of digging themselves into holes.) My question is; why can't politicians advertise their stance on issues and be done? What is a voter supposed to do? You get to the poll and you vote for the person who has been bashed the least? This has gotten so out of control that nobody even knows the issues anymore. Maybe these ambiguous campaign tactics have something to do with the current state of affairs in our country. As a young voter, this lunacy is enough to keep me away from the polls all together.
Posted By Anonymous Tom, Malvern PA : 1:00 PM ET
Wow! Big brother is here and he is on the internet. While it is true that this form of campaigning is morally repugnant and reduces the Tester campaign to the equivalent of a digital camera toting tattle tale, the fact is that I see nothing legally wrong with it. Just please, let's stay out of the bathrooms and bedrooms.
Posted By Anonymous Kyle, Odenton MD : 1:15 PM ET
What I do not like is all the back biting that has been going on in these elections. What distresses me even more is that the American people are buying it and if it didn't work they(politicans) would not be doing it. How sophomoric of us all.

As a speicies I think humans need to grow-up. We seem to be the only species that is still at war with itself
Posted By Anonymous Lisa Roberts Charlotte NC : 8:35 AM ET
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