July 23, 2007

Why CNN Suppresses YouTube's Internet Democracy

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Today marks a new milestone in political debates with tonight’s CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate. Yes, the questions will come not from journalists in the upper echelons of the mainstream media, but from simple people submitting questions via YouTube videos. However, while the questions will come from the people, ultimately CNN itself will decide which questions to select. This has created a bit of a ruckus, as people wonder why they can not only submit the questions but choose them, too. Needless to say, the principles of democracy get invoked, anybody who disagrees gets labeled a fascist…OK, I am exaggerating somewhat, but I have a point to make here.

The Promotional Video for The CNN/YouTube Debates

The problem lies in the fact that anyone can submit a question. The word anyone deserves to be repeated. One question comes from a person dressed as a Viking, another deals with extraterrestrials, and others look so weird they do not even deserve to be mentioned. What if one of these questions got selected? This may sound unrealistic, but fads spread quickly on the Internet, so if the Viking costume becomes new newest 1337 thing on the Internet, watch out! For those who do not believe that humorous or ridiculous things can drive traffic on the Internet, “Obama girl” has 2.5 million reasons and counting why that is not true. Now imagine what happens if she submits a YouTube video question to Barack Obama. I will leave her question to the reader’s imagination, but needless to say, the debate’s credibility as well as the reputation of CNN would quickly tumble.

Also, with the Republican debate in September, a likely scenario for online voting would dramatically alter the debate. One of the second-tier candidates, Ron Paul, realistically does not stand a chance of winning and received only 2 percent of the vote in the CNN’s June 22-24 poll, yet his online following would make one think that 2 percent of people did not vote for Ron Paul. At one time it appeared that Ron Paul’s cash-on-hand for the campaign, raised almost entirely through the Internet, exceeded the cash-on-hand figures for McCain (McCain’s fundraising numbers later came out to be higher than expected, though). I easily could envision a scenario where an online poll could almost exclusively select YouTube videos that come from Ron Paul’s supporters or relate to him somehow. Even now, although Ron Paul is running as a Republican, a website set up to vote for YouTube questions at one point listed questions from a Ron Paul supporter as the most popular question for the Democratic debate. Now that question’s ranking has changed since then, but it still serves as a clear warning of what could happen. In fact, if Ron Paul’s online army catches wind of what I just said like they caught wind of my previous blogs, the comments below this blog may very well prove my point.

Even though CNN ultimately has the final say for good reason, it does not mean that the debate will not very similar to your standard, boring political debate. The questions themselves have impressed even the biggest names in CNN: “There are questions that we, the journalists, we, the mainstream media, would never think to ask in the presidential debate,” [CNN Senior Vice President David Bohrman] said. As I write this blog, CNN’s website list of recommended articles includes one about how YouTube has taken control of politics away from the candidate themselves. Just ask George Allen. I remember full well how his loose tongue cost Republicans control of the Senate. CNN has taken an interest in creating unscripted debates where it takes more than pre-prepared speeches to win. At their previous debates in New Hampshire, the questions from audience members served exactly that purpose. In fact, the single best moment of the Republican debate came in response to an audience question from a family member of a fallen soldier in Iraq. Not even the best question journalists could devise could recreate a moment like that.

Mike Wacker is a blogger and an Assistant Web Editor at The Sun. He can be contacted at mwacker@cornellsun.com.

  • Keith Wright

    I am a Deist minister and wondered if CNN would ban questions on religion. Since Romney would be holding the keys to our nuclear arsenal in his hands, the question of logic and reason comes to my mind. I wanted to know if Romney thought it was logical and reasonalble to believe that God lives on the planet Kolob and that the sun and moon are inhabited by people dressed like William Pen on the Qaker Oats box. I am concerned that a man that believes in those dogmatic items should be questioned on his ability to rationalize fact in dogmatic issues.

    Rev Keith Wright

    The United Deist Church

    PS Our church has absolutely no dogma except for a belief in a creator. Period.

  • J Halliday

    I agree in principal that some kind of selection must be made. I would only ponder what group should be involved in the selections themselves. Should CNN be the ‘holder of the keys’? Doesn’t that color the result as far as viewers are concerned? Why not include CNN as the managing entity (they provide the technological communications) and link others into an online selection group. Various ‘responsible’ folks could be included in the group and thereby offset some of the perceived control by CNN. Also, the votes for different questions could be revieed for a time, allowing the extra curious to review ALL submitted questions and seeing how various members of the voting group voted. A means of providing feedback to these members in a public BLOG-type forum might provide the average person with a means to expressing their opinion as to the quality of the voting.

    Sounds complicated through – could the average web-user keep it all straight?


  • Anonymous

    If the people vote to have questions come from someone in a viking costume, then what’s wrong with the person in the viking costume asking the question? They should be able to veto questions that actually have nothing to do with the debate or politics in general, but short that, who cares where they come from? I don’t think high paid lobbyists should be the only ones with access to the candidates, so this would be a giant trump card in the hands of the common man.

  • Jed

    I don’t even like Ron Paul but dosen’t it beg the question, Why would anyone trust an ultra liberal news organization like CNN to ask tough questions of ultra liberal candidates? This venture between CNN and YouTube is CNN’s attempt at mixing with the new media and its a last ditch effort. CNN is loosing ground and fast. The fact is, CNN is going to go out of business and Fox news is watched by millions more people every day. Hurrah for YouTube and hurrah for the death of the old media. Long live talk radio.

  • Anonymous

    Good writing! You’ve a chance at a Pulitzer; only my opinion, of course. I totally agree.


  • Bob

    I believe this You Tube debate is finally the beginning of the American people taking back the political process. Instead of well rehearsed answers to questions the candidates know are coming, we will finally see them in a forum where they will have to deal with real life questions in real time. Hopefully we will see who can thing on their feet. After all, being President requires dealing with circumstances as they occur, not scripted, not rehearsed.

  • ChicagoDweller

    Ever since CNN has made “public discussion” available on their articles, I have wondered why the comments are overwhelmingly liberal and/or critical of the GOP. It became clear very quickly when I attempted to post some reasonable responses — I was censored. And this didn’t happen only once, this happened about two dozen times.

    It is hardly a surprise that CNN is equally selective about the news it posts in the first place. When I talk to friends and family members who are deployed in Iraq, you’d think they’re in a whole different universe — so little about the positive changes brought about by US troups is reported here.

    The same problem is at work here. Not only do the questions selected, but also the mode of the questions asked influence the answers given, and the likability of the candidates.

    CNN has *nothing* to do with democracy. CNN practices lobbying by careful selection of news, reader-responses, and — now — questions asked of presidential candidates.

  • Anonymous

    CNN should not be in total control of the final questions. They should have taken the time to accept questions, put up 50 or 100 contenders, and leave it to their web visitors to decide which questions get asked.

    And so what if someone is dressed as a Viking as long as their question is pertinent? To use a long-forgotten phrase (these days)….Open your mind, man.

  • Anonymous

    What will the candidates do to address the Military insustrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. It is obvious that it has taken over every aspect of our lives. It effects our pockets, childred, and minds. As we live in a culture tht is now based ( and has been for a whiile ) on fear, contempt, media propaganda…mind control.

    Yes , and the money is being sucked from the poor and midle class by the ruling elite. It is as if the debts are being called in just before leaving town. Enough corporate controled politics,…. we need a fair capitalist act!

  • Anonymous

    The senators statement in Shooter is more FACT than fiction it’s not about Shietes or Sunnies.Democrates ,Republicans.it’s about the HAVES and HAVENOTS,our government is lost with NO direction,Lies,Curruption,child molesters,womanizers,does anybody watch even our censored news,it is about the oil,the Iraqies cant decide how to split the profits and give the moneychangers thier gross share,thats why were still thier,we got to git thier cut….
    Nobody wants it to END look how many are getting filthy rich,munitions companies,oil,Hallibuton,security contractors are they like Mercineries but legal?
    They cant even do anything about 12 to 20 million illegal aliens,that are sucking up plenty of benifits off the rest of us…The deficit grows,social security shrinks,medicade,medicare?? IS ANYBODY OUT THERE ON OUR SIDE???Follow the money flow and you’ll see who runs the world and it ain’t the GOVERNMENT they bought them !!!

  • smtwngrl

    “The questions themselves have impressed even the biggest names in CNN: “There are questions that we, the journalists, we, the mainstream media, would never think to ask in the presidential debate,” [CNN Senior Vice President David Bohrman] said.”

    Interesting. 🙂

    “At one time it appeared that Ron Paul’s cash-on-hand for the campaign, raised almost entirely through the Internet, exceeded the cash-on-hand figures for McCain (McCain’s fundraising numbers later came out to be higher than expected, though).”

    Right. McCain has more cash on hand…$3.2 million. That is, he has more COH if you don’t take into account that $1.2 million can only be used in the general election, and only if he gets the nomination…and if you also don’t take into account that he has $1.8 million in debt.

  • Anonymous

    I wish Google News would filter out poorly written “blogs” like this one from appearing as headlines on their “News” site.

  • Anonymous

    Much like the electoral college mystifies people so does CNN picking out ‘appropriate’ questions.

    I think in an ideal democracy, which perhaps we should strive to achieve, there would be no feeling of necessary restraint applied upon society by it’s most influential members. The feeling being that if we were all genius businessmen or scholars that democracy would function better.

    Face it, Democracy gives power to the people and realistically that’s just not always the best answer. In many instances a panicked or uneducated public can do far more harm in a very short time than a diligent leader who puts the nation first and the people’s impulses second.

    That IS truth behind managed democracy. To ensure rapid change does not destroy the nation the tradition we have is to somewhat buffer the people from their ability to cause drastic change. The fact that we are a republic more than a democracy should make it clear to people that while they ultimately have power they do not necessarily get to wield it any way they want.

    I’m all for a true democracy but as far as I know only Ancient Greece was able to achieve a stable direct democracy in which all citizens voted on each issue and served public office. Perhaps in todays electronic world this is now again possible or at least a direction we should move toward. If for instance we get 80+ percent of the public on the internet we can start to have more realistic polling abilities where hundreds of millions of people actually respond instead of rely on statistics and generalization.

    So, CNN picking out questions probably isn’t that big a deal. It’s not as if CNN really has any exclusive rights on political debates. If the market doesn’t like the debate or CNN’s choices in questions then the ratings and overall popularity of the program will suffer. Since CNN is a businesses they are going to have to let some biting questions through, but at least pick out the ones that a rooted somewhere in reality and guarantee a level of civility for the candidates. If the candidates want to spend their time answering the hard questions, they don’t really need CNN because most media stations will air any hard hitting statements simply because that gets ratings.

    Even Fox aired Clinton’s outburst against their own journalist. That’s just good businesses. However, don’t be surprised if you notice the inequalities of American representative democracy playing out in similar ways in corporate america, media, and just the basic culture of the nation. The basic premise is that the public is really not quite bright enough to let fully run itself and that government protects the public from making bad or hasty decisions. I would guess this is at least partially the case but likely the fears of giving too much control to the mob and realizing the silent majority doesn’t vote for a reason (because it’s too dumb).

    In general there probably isn’t a much better answer because why else would less than half of the country even BOTHER to vote. Can we really keep telling ourselves that it’s truly that difficult to get out and vote. What good will it be to have a bunch of people vote who know almost nothing about the topic? Why not let monkeys vote because all they are doing in the end is pressing buttons more or less without much real information on their candidate. Even the, so called, educated voters don’t seem to really know all that much about the people they vote for.

    So there is a realistic problem there. When the country was formed voting numbers were very very low and that more or less represented the few educated and wealthy among the general population. That means the country really was guided and formed by wealthy elite groups some businessmen some academiccs, but none of them just your average Joe. So, you have a traditional of elitism among politicians in America and you have probably the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world by far. So, you can’t say elitism doesn’t work, because more so than democracy our nation has been guided by wealth and academics. We’ve still not even reached a point at which half the people bother to vote. Our supposed majority is only representative of around 25% of the people. Democracy in my mind doesn’t really work when less than half of the people are the entire voting public. We can argue they do nothing because they are content, but looking at the crime rates and news I doubt that. They aren’t content and they don’t vote. Figure that out and tell me how that mindset works with democracy because all I can see is a downward spiral for an apathetic democracy. We just better hope our wealthy leaders can manage to save our dumb non-voting asses once again.

    The solution is don’t follow leaders. Think for yourself and demand what you want from life because you are the people. If you don’t like CNN’s choices, don’t watch their station. If you don’t like bi-partison politics, vote independant, but never sit at home pouting that your ideal candidate doesn’t happen to be running this year. You just do the same exact thing you do when a commercial comes on. Filter all that crap out. Nobody really cares about Obama Girl it’s just funny to watch idiots making videos of themselves and the personal video service thing is still a pretty new concept so it has a lot of hype. It’s great the Dems are using it and showing clear signs they want real people to at the very least feel more involved and without the chore of having to write a letter or email because in the end what’s a better forum for ideas than a collection of humorous video clips of people who trying to become famous. Well, it was a nice try at least.

  • jsdisher

    What you say makes sense, but by and large, these debates, regardless of party affiliation, are really just so much fluff. Most often, when a candidate is posed with a question, the response has little-to-no similarity to an answer! It’s as though each candidate has a carefully rehearsed line of spin to be delivered in allocated segments conveniently divided by “questions.” Aside from giving each candidate the opportunity to demonstrate just what command of the podium he or she may possess, these debates are really just the ideal forum to put one’s best face forward for public critique.

  • Hercules

    I hope that your wrong about the YouTube/CNN debates. Anderson Coopers show last night was indeed a gust of hot air. And why would a “vice president” of any thing be delegated the responsibility of picking which questions get asked? But in all fairness. CNN implied that some the questions might just come out of “left field.” Whatever that means. I also was amused when Mr Cooper spoke of an image of candidates practicing in mock debates to prepare their responses. Why would they have to prepare to be honest? Either you’re honest or your not honest. It’s that simple. When I saw Ron Paul in Iowa. He walked up to the podium empty handed. No prepared speech. Just one tiny memo pad size piece of paper that he used as an outline. He connects with the people. He looks them straight in the eyes. And after the speech anyone could walk right up to him and ask him anything they wanted to and get a straight answer. And they did just that. Can anyone just walk up to Rudy, Hillary, Obama, Mitt or Edwards and ask them anything and actually get a straight answer? That’s the difference in the candidates. The so called “top tier” candidates are classic politicians. Ron Paul is a Citizen Statesman. He’s one of us…….

  • John Alantar

    Seems just like you need the Ron Paul audience to ride some sort of journalistic wave is all..as otherwise you are a fart in the wind, so you light up fires online, its just about trying to get your name out there in the end,..you’re a fraud.

  • ryanwiley

    Basic principles of rhetoric show us that the questions chosen along with the time alotted can determine the outcome of such a debate. If CNN chooses the questions and who to ask them to, they could easily make one cadidate look like a fool and another look like a patriot basking in the light of freedom. Certain questions require more then a sound bite and others beg for them. This is an example of why at an early point in the race with the field not close to being narrowed down, debates are not the best forums for determining the viability of the candidates. The media should consider a new method… say giving the candidates a generous, alotted amount of time to explain fully his or her approach to governement and the principles guiding that approach instead of picking issues here and there. Our model over the past century has built to the point where the candidates that get shown the most coverage are those that are well liked and can give quick simple answers instead of those that can articulate a fully developed platform of government.

  • Anonymous

    Its hard to ignore that the idea that democracy is a good and effective system for choosing leaders sits in a very uneasy opposition to the idea that experts must limit people’s choices. Which is it going to be? Are we going to admit that people are smart enough to choose or are we going to stick to the notion that experts know better?

    The Internet and especially YouTube may not be what it once was, a frontier of early adopters, the highly literate, well-informed media junkies and science buffs, but it still probably represents a collection of somewhat above average people and if those people tend to favor a candidate that mainstream reporters prefer to ignore and often forget to invite to their debates then doesn’t that say something very significant about how democracy is being suppressed?

    So what if people start to go-in for a fad of debating politics while costumed as vikings? If real issues could be addressed that way that would otherwise have been suppressed, it would seem to me to be a win-win situation. The debates would become more relevant to people as well as more fun.

    I think that the tension between the preferences expressed on the internet and those expressed in the mainstream media shows a kind of long-tail effect, following Chris Andersen’s analysis of the music and movie industries by his theories it should seem odd if only two brands continued to satisfy everyone in a broadband and media-rich world where people don’t have to form their opinions from the limited lines of an editorial page constrained by the logic of mass-production. And if this is true, then prepare for those candidates who would have been considered second-tier or third-tier in the old days to be taken more seriously in the future.

  • Anonymous

    Is it not clear to all that nothing has changed ?
    U-Tube based `debates’ may sound innovative, but still, BigBro, via one of their surrogates, CNN, still runs the show. My simple question would be WHY the major networks still demand cash for political advertising ?
    They make all these whining excuses, like operating expenses, etc., but the bottom line is that they are really the 4th branch of the US govnt, and need to control & manipulate the political process in order to ensure their own survival, which in turn perpetuates the eternally corrupting system of money-based rather than intelligence-based politics . In the process, we all become LESS free, deluded by the internet into believing the opposite.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t seem fair to suggest that because Ron Paul is so popular on the internet, his supporters should be censored. Does it make any sense to show more videos from Rudy supporters, even though they’re few and far between? This manipulation would give the public the misconception that Rudy is as popular or more popular than Ron Paul is on the internet. Is that what real journalism is about? If pundits at CNN want to say, “The only reason there are a lot of Ron Paul questions is because he’s only popular on the internet,” let them say it. It’s not very convincing, but to censor questions so that it APPEARS as though he is only as popular as the next candidate, would be a grave injustice, in my opinion.

    Of course by replying to your article, I’ve caught myself in a Catch-22, proving that Ron Paul’s supporters are loyal and willing to step up to his defense, but also, perhaps in doing so, prove, according to your standards, that we, by our mere presence and by our voices, are a threat to democracy, because there’s more of us than some people would like. Don’t censor us for wanting to spread our beliefs. CNN should do it’s job.

    On a side note, what do you have against Vikings?

  • Jared

    Citing Ron Paul supporters as the reason for CNN screening and sanitizing thier YouTube questions contradicts the whole purpose of having a YouTube debate.

    If YouTube is such a powerful force/tool for political change, to the point where CNN is structuring a whole debate around it, then how can a majority opinion on YouTube for particular questions be considered invalid because it came from a Ron Paul supporter? I am a Democrat, but I am leaning toward Ron Paul because the front-runners in the Democratic party are starting to appear just a bought and sold as the Republicans.

    How do us real people out here in the real world (the people on the Internet are real) get to have the questions we want answered if the filtered world (CNN, FOX, etc) screens them for us?

    If YouTube really makes the political difference that CNN and others claim to admit, then how can you at the same time dismiss the consensus opinion of its users as being non-representative? Maybe they don’t represent unmotivated, apathetic, and oblivious segments of our population, but I bet you those types will not watch the debate anyway.

  • RonPaul2008

    I dont know what is so “radical” about Ron Paul’s views and I don’t know why the mainstream media keeps saying that he doesn’t stand a chance. Is freedom such an impossibility that is seems radical to support and fight for it? If in fact Dr. Paul wouldn’t stand a chance is because the mainstream media keeps discrediting him and his supporters. There are plenty of people that support Dr. Paul and it’s not just on the web. There are several meetup groups all over the country with members that are trying to bring Ron’s message to the streets. I guess freedom is an exciting notion, wouldn’t you think?

    GO RON PAUL!!!!

  • Ron Paul would easily be the best U.S. President we’re had since the 1700s. Elect Ron Paul President in 2008!

  • mememe

    If some dude in a viking helmet wins enough votes for his question to be included in the debate then so be it, let him ask. Politicians need to see how screwed up the world really is anyway.

  • Everyone on the right thinks that the media is run by a bunch of leftists, and everyone on the left thinks it’s run by a bunch of conservative GOP’rs. If the two sides could hear eachother through their own shouts, they might see the tragic irony in it.

    This is just the first go around of Internet debates done this way, and it’s a step in the right direction. There will always be room for improvement, and removing CNN as the final arbitrator would be a great start.

    Stop focusing on proving “the other side” wrong (whomever it is you spew venom at on an hourly basis and is, in your mind, the cause of all the world’s suffering). This is great progress towards having people more involved in our government, and having the general public more active in government. Bravo.