Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

Following the recent George Allen flap, Ryan Lizza pens an article for The New York Times Week in Review relaying concerns that some of the most powerful inside-the-Beltway types have about the democratizing and decentralizing effect of YouTube.

But others see a future where politicians are more vapid and risk averse than ever. Matthew Dowd, a longtime strategist for President Bush who is now a partner in a social networking Internet venture, Hot Soup, looks at the YouTube-ization of politics, and sees the death of spontaneity.

"Politicians can't experiment with messages," Mr. Dowd said. "They can't get voter response. Seventy or 80 years ago, a politician could go give a speech in Des Moines and road-test some ideas and then refine it and then test it again in Milwaukee."

He sees a future where candidates must be camera-ready before they hit the road, rather than be a work in progress. "What's happened is that politicians now have to be perfect from Day 1," he said. "It's taken some richness out of the political discourse."

Howard Wolfson, a senior adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is not known for her spontaneity, agrees.

"It is a continuation of a trend in which politicians have to assume they are on live TV all the time," Mr. Wolfson said. "You can't get away with making an offensive or dumb remark and assume it won't get out."

I'm not certain that it is such a terrible thing to put politicians on notice that they cannot speak out of both sides of their mouth, offering contradictory positions to different crowds. What's more, it's certainly beneficial to our political system to have tousands of citizen watchdogs, not just a handful of gatekeepers who control the most powerful positions in the political media. Lizza rightly notes that it's highly unlikely that the video of George Allen making (allegedly) racist comments would have ever reached Virginia voters in the pre-YouTube era. Similarly, video of Conrad Burns sleeping through a field hearing in Montana would not have reached the tens of thousands of people it has in just a few days had it not been for the power of YouTube.

Now, there can be detrimental effects to having candidates believe that they must always be "on", mainly that there is a tendency among today's politicians to become overly cautious in language and stick entirely to message (instead of embracing the spontaneity required to truly connect with voters). However, this trend began much earlier than the YouTube revolution, with the proliferation of 24-hour cable news stations causing politicians to be guarded long before YouTube was online (let alone political blogs).

But frankly, even though campaign staffers might spend more time at night fretting over the possibility that their candidate stumbled off message (as I have at times even in my modest campaign) and members of the elitist media worry that their monopoly over political reporting is in jeopardy, the fact that actual people outside of Washington and Manhattan have more of a say in our political process is great for our democracy.

Tags: Crashing the Gate, Youtube (all tags)

Comments

32 Comments

Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

Just imagine -- politicians who are accountable to the voters without a filter from really smart people in Washington -- scarey!  

By the way, where were George Allen's spinmeisters the other day?  Where was Ed Gillespie?  Where was Mary Maitlan? (the only woman I know who is uglier than her husband)  Does this mean that voters might judge Allen on the basis of his ad libs? Ouch!

by howardpark 2006-08-20 11:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

Yes, the insincere will have a hard time in the new paradigm. And this is supposed to be a bad thing?

by Tod Westlake 2006-08-20 11:13AM | 0 recs
Road-testing?

 So what "idea" was George Allen "road-testing"? Racism?

 If a candidate wants to try out some talking points with various audiences, he doesn't have anything to worry about if he's not advocating anything offensive. Does anybody believe that a video of Allen saying "I'm going to cut Paris Hilton's taxes even more despite the deficit" would have made any kind of impact outside the political-junkie world?

 I think that this "concern" over YouTube is simply a function of politicians being far less able to hide their REAL agendas from the general public. The "moderate" mask, which has been so critical to getting Republicans elected nationwide, can get ripped off pretty quickly with this tool. YouTube apparently has taken a lot of the edge off dog-whistle politics. That's bad for politicians...and good for Americans.
 

by Master Jack 2006-08-20 11:18AM | 0 recs
Concern Over YouTube

We'll need to be mighty vigilant about keeping the Internets free and open.  The entrenched political and economic interests are starting to figure out that You Tube, the blogs, and the connectivity that the Internet offers is working against them.

by global yokel 2006-08-20 11:46AM | 0 recs
Spectrum Limitations

The last time insiders faced this kind of a problem, they solved it by declaring electromagnetic radiation a scare resource, and only granting licenses to use it to companies willing to submit to governmental control.

Instantaneous communication amongst the governed is not only playing havoc here, its having disasterous consequences in our attempts to prop up friendly "democracies" where we have interests. Its a pretty tough challenge when you don't have their hearts and minds, and they can talk amongst themselves behind your back.

There's been a literally constant attack on free instantaneous communication, through everthing from the child-protection internet legislations, through McCain-Feingold, to Net Neutrality to try and gain some kind of control of this thing.

And then there's the NSA. Who knows what kind of Carnivore-style hardware they have astride the net. One of the most interesting facets of the deconstruction of the Bush43 administration will be just how much wholesale espionage was going on, and how much of it was purely political in nature. I have a feeling, Nixon will appear principled by comparison.

by PBCliberal 2006-08-20 12:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

The rumors are that there is video of Burns rant against fire fighters....

by Bob Brigham 2006-08-20 12:10PM | 0 recs
Humanize Candidates

Recognize that they can make mistakes and say stupid things and apologize and be forgiven like anyone else.

Of course, that requires a candidate who is human enough to open up and show that. The recent Allen thing is an example of failing that. Saying arrogant things to the effect of "I'm sorry you're so stupid so as to mis-interpret my harmless words as offensive" won't cut it when everything is open to scruitiny.

There are too few politicans opening up this way. Mis-leader in chief certainly seems unable to admit any mistakes or apologize for anything. Even I would cut him a little (very little) slack if he would go that far.

by bolson 2006-08-20 12:32PM | 0 recs
Insiders only are nervous - challengers love it

I have a regional blog and I have been following and rooting for a challenger to our local Republican State Senator.

I asked him if he would be interested in answering some questions and kind of introduce himself to our blog readers. He was pretty good. Confident answers.

The reaction and the very fact that this guy has "air time" at all has scared the incumbent. Since the local papers aren't covering this race blogs provide a way for voters to meet the candidates for office.

The incumbent would prefer it, I'm sure, if youtubeing of politicians didn't exist because used this way(video blogging) it gives his opponent some "face time" with voters too busy to go to an event on their own.

All that is required now is some curiousity on the part of the electorate and they can see for themselves all the local,state, and federal candidates for office they want.

All it takes is a click of the mouse and a web address.

by merbex 2006-08-20 12:51PM | 0 recs
Are journalists like travel agents?


Let's see...

Travel agents are no longer needed to book flights...

And...let's see.. oh yeah... reporters are no longer needed to filter the news.

Middlemen are always unhappy when they're about the be eliminated.

by jgkojak 2006-08-20 12:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Are journalists like travel agents?

Yep .. These media filter whores are becoming increasingly obsolete every passing day. They sure do get cranky when they can't twist the message to serve their corporate masters.

by Oregonian 2006-08-20 02:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

Leave it to the self professed Gatekeepers of the Truth in the corporate media to decry information getting directly to the people.

Would they be whining about if it were Democrats getting burned left and right in this election year? (Come to think of it, I don't remember them wrining their hands when Busby got caught in a faux pas on film right before election day.)

by Sitkah 2006-08-20 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

Aw, I'm all touched. This is like that time they all gave Howard Dean a break for using a microphone in a crowded and noisy room. Oh, wait, that's not what they did at all.

It's not the record that hammers spontaneous politicians down, it's the commentators, like Matthew Dowd. They'll be as big a menace to spontaneity when they've succeeded in putting the new media under their control as they always have been as gatekeepers of the old.

by Del C 2006-08-20 01:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

It will require that smart, honest folks who can communicate their ideas without a script are more likely to end up as the candidate.

In other words, it will get harder to create a candidate from a pretty face and big wallet.

by aiko 2006-08-20 01:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

As a child my mother taught me to keep quiet if I didn't want what I said to come back at me. We've got real trouble if our so called leaders have a problem with a concept that my then 6 year old mind could comprehend.

by herbal tee 2006-08-20 01:33PM | 0 recs
What would Darwin think?
Youtube may cause an evolunationary change where a new form of Candidate will evolve. I prefer to hope It will be for the better. If a candidate is truly sincere, and honest this quality will always shine through. The actual enemy of liars,fakers,cynics and phony politicals is not YOUTUBE it is the bright light of scrutiny. A simple faux paus will not sink an Honest man.
I hope the true victim of Youtube will iminate from lurking in the dark under side of politics. And who might that be,you ask? Why it's the Savy Consultant, Darth Vader of politics. They are the invisible hands behind falsity and parsing every word spewed in the voter's direction.
by eddieb 2006-08-20 02:07PM | 0 recs
Re: What would Darwin think?

Amen, Brother.

The problem is not YouTube any more than it used to be TV cameras, radio microphones or reporters' pens and pads. It is about the candidates' core beliefs and genuineness of personality.

As a reporter of some 30 years' of experience, I've known scores of politicians -- most of whom I liked, irrespective of ideology or party affiliation -- yet for many there is a latent strain of smarminess, toadiness and insincerity. One advantage movement conservatives have enjoyed is that they are true believers -- no matter how ill-conceived, illogical or idiotic their positions may be. I've met George W. Bush, many years ago in a setting which was primarily social, and he is (shock!) a nice guy -- although the smirkiness he demonstrates in public settings these days is certainly off-putting. Voters recognize that quality and find it reassuring, despite whatever misgivings they may have about his intellect -- which isn't substantial -- or ideology.

It isn't just about being "on-message" -- which isn't a problem for candidates who believe in their positions -- and connecting with voters isn't difficult for someone who likes people. What it boils down to is being genuine. If you're a racist, it will show. If you are arrogant, likewise. However, if you like people and genuinely want to serve them -- even if the policies being pursued are misguided or the agenda helps only a narrow base of the public (i.e. BushCo and his fat-cat buddies) -- then voters are perceptive enough to make the distinction between the real and the phony.

by MoCrash 2006-08-20 06:34PM | 0 recs
YouTube v. Lewinsky

Cry me a river, pundits.  Eight years ago, you guys were crucifying a President over stuff that happened with only one other person in the room.

If you were going to start worrying about pols having to be presentable at every single moment, 1998 would have been a very good time to do so.  2006 is more than just a little late.

by RT 2006-08-20 02:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

What a joke. You can go to Youtube and see what a (comparatively) crappy public speaker Lamont was in March of this year... and watch him field-testing messages and ideas. And he still beat the battle-tested incumbent's ass.

The issue here is that the insider crew plays a game where they "forget" the embarrassing things said by candidates they like. This racist Allen flap? Without video, there maybe would have been a page A13 note about a "he said-she said" debate over an insensitive remark -- and Allen's shallow remarks would have been enough to dismiss the story.

The rules are changing, and there's a very large class of people in the blogosphere who are "ultra high-information participants" that won't let omissions stand. The behind-the-scenes media politics that shapes what's allowed to be in the public record is being dissolved - if you don't put the information out there, you don't have credibility. And that's quite a positive development.

by scvmws 2006-08-20 03:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

I think the traditional corporate media was surprised when their little tacit agreement to flush  Stephen Colbert's amazing performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner down the memory hole backfired when people using youtube.com and the Internet jimmied the plumbing and made the performance sit in the bowl for days for all to see (to prolong the metaphor) ;-)... That was their first major warning that something was amiss with their smug control of the moving image in this country ...

by Oregonian 2006-08-20 04:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

I agree with the general view of the comments here about Youtube and the democratization of our poltiical discourse.  But there is another, smaller problem with what Dowd is saying.  It's just not true.  If a campaign wanted to road test a speech or the ideas in the speech, they could tape the candidate delivering the speech on a closed set and then have the consultants run the tape by focus groups to see their reaction and adjust accordingly.  I'm sure that happens all the time even before Youtube hit the net.

So the idea that the spread of Youtube prevents "road testing" is just preposterous.  That the insider couldn't come up with a better attack on it just shows how one-sided an issue this is.

by Shermaclay 2006-08-20 03:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

I'll go you one better, Shermclay.

You can use YouTube to "roadtest" speeches.  Review the feedback you get, try to get specific points raised by people who comment (and most specifically to ensure you know where they are coming from, etc...).

When you're done, you can show how your campaign has evolved by listening to the people of your district, state, whatever.

More comments than from a focus group, and more of a way to show where you are versus where you were.  If your message is wildly inconsistent, then you have something to answer for.  If it evolves over time or stays consistent, people can see you for what you consider important and judge accordingly, but they'll do so knowing with greater confidence who you really are.

Do it right, and you can be shown as someone calibrating their message.  Do it wrong, and you'll be justly accused of flip-flopping.

by palamedes 2006-08-20 04:16PM | 0 recs
One or two points...

I entirely agree that those who are so flawed of character or intelligence as to put themselves forward as candidates for election do not deserve our sympathy!

However...

Firstly, it's absurd to advance the Youtube phenomenon as some kind of advance in political accountability.

We're talking about short clips, edited by eminently biased contributors, of gotcha material!

Secondly, I'm betting the phenomenon will appear much less amusing to lefties when the Youtube clip of the day features one of their faves making a twat of himself (or, conceivably, herself).

Folks have been toting camcorders round for a good twenty years now; digital for the last ten.

An wealth of potential material for oppo merchants to hunt through for a choice morsel or two.

What about Brer Lamont? Has he been fully debriefed on all the occasions on which his be videoed doing or saying stuff he'd rather not see pop up online?

Some wedding, perhaps, at which, as best man, he regaled the guests with some Borsht Belt classic gags.

Heaven forbid that he (or Mrs L) might have some former employee, friend or shag who has some colorful footage of what was in context harmless fun.

Because the thing with Youtube, of course, is that it comes without context.

by skeptic06 2006-08-20 03:35PM | 0 recs
Two words on why the insiders might be right

Dean Scream

by cutter28001 2006-08-20 03:47PM | 0 recs
Not really comparable

 First of all, it was the "insiders" who promoted the Dean scream. And enormously distorted the context.

 Second, the "scream" was turned into a "gaffe" because the established media pushed the idea that it was so, and crafted the narrative around that idea. If that video clip had been taken by a random audience member and posted at YouTube, sans distortions, nobody would have thought it particularly remarkable, and no narrative would have developed.

 In fact, most people who DID see the video independent of the media chatter about it basically asked, "What's the big deal?"

 No such ambivalence with George Allen. He made a blatantly racist comment, TWICE. There's no way to spin that away.

 

by Master Jack 2006-08-20 04:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Not really comparable

I don't know the detailed history of that 'Dean scream' clip, but someone must have digitally altered the audio track in order for the 'scream' to get so much resonance and clarity. (In other words, someone 'sweetened' the sound -- probably by: (1)  copying sections of 'scream noise' on the audio track, (2) then pasting those copied sections OVER the existing background noise, then (3) recalibrating the audio frequencies on the tape.  It simply defies logic that the 'scream' would have been so dominant in a room with crap acoustics.)

I'd bet that "Dean scream' was classic disinformation, done by someone(s) with a sinister, sink-Dean agenda. Someone must have digitally reconfigured the audio track of that incident.  Then, the press carried it: over, and over, and... over... and...

As for the George Allen clip, I don't believe it was altered. That's part of why it's so shocking and obscene.  

Nevertheless, all the whining and wailing about how YouTube is changing things is silly.  Social structures all over the world have 'flattened' and YouTube is consistent with this phenomena.  Wailing about it, or trying to legislate about it, makes about as much sense as telling Prometheus to go give all the fire back to Zeus and let the poor humans starve and freeze in the dark.  

I recognize that YouTube undercuts the influence of some very well-paid people.  I recognize those people will wail and whine about YouTube.  They're missing a much larger, more important set of dynamics.  

They're spitting into the wind.

by readerOfTeaLeaves 2006-08-20 09:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

"Politicians can't experiment with messages," Mr. Dowd said. "They can't get voter response. Seventy or 80 years ago, a politician could go give a speech in Des Moines and road-test some ideas and then refine it and then test it again in Milwaukee."

Baloney.

They said the same thing about Jack Benny and Johnny Carson: Benny got by on the same shtick for decades, but Johnny Carson had to come up with something new and funny every night for decades. And you know what? Carson pulled it off.

Today's politicians will adapt or become dinosaurs and sink into the mire.

YouTube is part of the solution not part of the problem.

by arubyan 2006-08-20 04:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

George Allen made his comments directly to a camera.

What did he think would happen?

Even if CNN alone gets it, it gets out.

That's Allen's fault, nobody else's

by v2aggie2 2006-08-20 06:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube DOWD IDIOT

hi i'm matthew dowd.  i worked for a president that had like 1 open Q&A session in his first year on the job.  because he tends to put his foot in his mouth we have to control everything the president does and says.  he even wore a wire in a debate so we could feed him the answers. we try to never let him off his leash.  we even prepare for Q&A sessions in advance and only make them look spontaneous. not that it matters since all the bad protesters are in the free speech zone 3 miles away.

oh, and you tube could really be the death of spontaneity and i fear, hurt our democracy.  

A - - H O L E!!!!!

by hotpotatomash 2006-08-20 09:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

I'm doing exactly this kind of stuff through OAC blog on Edwards. I'm also working on a diary for Deval Patrick, I was able to catch a town hall type speech and Q & A that he held in Gloucester last week. I'll be posting that on Tuesday, but that one doesn't have any real access to the candidate in Deval.

Guerrilla Vlogger: Lamont and Edwards in New Haven
The endorsement last week, this one has video clips of unrestricted access to both Lamont and Edwards at a blogger meet and greet closed to the press held at Yale just prior to the rally. I was invited along with many other Lamont bloggers from My Left Nutmeg and ConnecticutLocalPolitics blog.
Direct link to the clips:
Lamont and Edwards - Bloggers 1
Lamont and Edwards - Bloggers 2

Guerrilla Vlogger: Patriotism for something more than War
The Edwards foreign policy edition: dateline Waukee, Iowa.

Guerrilla Vlogger: WakeUp Wal-Mart assignment Pittsburgh
one of my favorites, an Edwards appearance in conjunction with the 2006 WakeUp Wal-Mart WakeUp America Nationwide Bus Tour, currently in Day 21 and rolling in to Omaha, Nebraska any minute now. Next stops include:
Aug 21st    Omaha, NE
Aug 22nd    Denver, CO
Aug 22nd    Pueblo , CO
Aug 23rd    Albuquerque, NM
Aug 24th    Albuquerque, NM
Aug 25th    Phoenix , AZ
Aug 26th    Las Vegas, NV
Aug 26th    Santa Monica , CA
Aug 27th    Santa Ana, CA
Aug 27th    Rosemead , CA
Check it out if they come close to you. They do an awesome presentation and the tour wraps up on Labor Day in Seattle.

Guerrilla Campaign, Iowa w/YouTube video
the first: dateline Indianola, Iowa.

by mbair 2006-08-20 10:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube

Right. Leave the A/V sliming to those with the millions in Washington. The insiders concern is that now others will have the power that used to be exclusively theirs. What a bunch of chumps. Hopefully the Washington Democratic Apparat will be displaced shortly by some younger, more creative types. The new people will have cut their teeth on YouTube.

by editor25 2006-08-21 03:33AM | 0 recs
Perfection

The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is neurotic, and a waste of time.

Why, then does the author quoted say ..

"Politicians have to be perfect from day one"

We are not requiring our politicians to be walking political advertisements. The blogosphere reserves the right to see a person in all of their human dimension.  There is nothing problematic about youTube, or any other element of the net affecting modern politics.

The internet will require politicans  to become statesmen and citizens to become participants.

We've taken care of our side of the deal. If the world is going to be one big political advertisement, the way I see it, youTube is just the toto pulling the curtain away - and this latest missive about its effects, an angry charlatan's cry to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain"!

by heyAnita 2006-08-21 04:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Insiders Voice Concern Over YouTube
I'm 57 and getting younger all the time. I remember when people were worried about video cameras being mounted on poles at every street corner, in every major city in America.
That was then, this is now. Now when even cell phones are equiped with good video cameras that can transmit any image w/audio around the globe in zero time. It becomes reasonable to expect politico to expect zero time for their lies and deceptions to nest and rest within the Internet for all to see and hear.
Is it not interesting, that our "so called representitives" in congress are now looking to breakup and control the internet. Some little arrogant squirt of a man "Steven's from Alaska" has a bill that will do just that. He and his co-members must be terrified of the Internet and it potentials of liberating the truth.
It turns out that video cameras are the best thing to ever happen for peace loving, truth seeking humans. Things like police brutality, lying politico and their corporate war mongering buddies may become a thing of the past, soon.
I find a world free of deceptions, war,genocide,lying due in part to video a very refreshing thought and reality, don't you?
by Mikes3 2006-08-22 08:18AM | 0 recs

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