Youtube-ing democracy

By Staff Editorial

The objective of Monday’s CNN/YouTube debate was to offer an unconventional event in which questions could be submitted directly by YouTube users. For the most part, however, the event was less debate and more forum, containing little argument among the candidates while providing more of the same unbalanced stump-speech debris seen in previous contests.

The broadcast began with CNN outlining some of the specifics of how questions would be filtered, explaining that videos submitted by children would not be used, as they tended to be scripted by adults, and that no questions submitted by those in costume would be used.

Following these guidelines would have added credibility to the forum, but any respectability earned from this format was lost when, halfway through the proceedings, back-to-back questions were asked by a snowman (about global warming) and two men dressed as rednecks (about a possible Al Gore candidacy).

Some questions did offer a refreshing change of pace from the typical topic list that provokes talking points more than honest answers. Videos asked the candidates for their stances on slavery reparations, selecting a Republican running mate, and whether women should register with selective service. International questions were accepted, though only one was aired — having to do with Darfur. This Editorial Board finds it hard to believe that of the vast number of submissions, none of the international videos came from the Middle East or dealt with Iraq.

Despite a strong effort by host Anderson Cooper to rein the candidates in and keep their answers within the designated time frame, responses still went long, raising the question of why the microphones couldn’t simply be cut after the allotted time had passed. And though most answers were pertinent and topical, many questions were still completely dodged. The method used in assigning general questions to a specific few candidates was bizarre and went unexplained.

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A question asking for specific plans on how to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq would have been best used on Kucinich – the most aggressive of the field to push for immediate withdrawal – but was instead was proposed to other candidates. Short videos labeled as “YouTube style” that were made by each campaign were shown going in and out of commercial breaks, but almost all of these videos were ads that could have easily been (or already have been) viewed on television, eliminating the uniqueness of the medium.

The CNN/YouTube “debate” was disappointingly similar to previous events in that it was not, by most definitions of the word, a debate.

Taking questions from the public through the Internet offers a promising new way to provide discussion of the issues, but Monday night’s attempt was precisely opposite of what the event was hyped to be — simply more of the same, leaving viewers with more questions than answers.