I couldn’t believe my ears, so I listened again and again to Mitt Romney’s speech entering the presidential race. He muffed it. He said Iran when — we hope — he meant Iraq. Listen yourself:
Well, let’s hope he knows how to pronounce “nuclear.”
I’m appearing on CNN Sunday at 7:30 to talk about the YouTube campaign with, I believe, Robert Greenwald, co-creator of The Real McCain, an internet video show and site that aims to show John McCain’s inconsistencies. I made a little video about it and the trend we are sure to see this season with the inconsistency police nabbing politicians on their flip-flops, namby-pambying, pandering, and lies. This is all the more powerful when seen on video and all the more possible because everything a candidate does will end up on video. As I say at the start of my video, in 2001, grandpappy blogger Ken Layne famously warned media that “we can fact-check your ass.” And now, with The Real McCain, YouTubers warn politicians that their asses are getting fact-checked, too. Here’s my piece:
Here’s the devastating video by Greenwald and Cliff Schechter:
There’s tremendous power here. With Outfoxed, his movie about Fox News, and his latest film about Wal-Mart, Greenwald learned the power of viral distribution — and that was before YouTube. Now he can get his story spread far and wide by sympathetic voters on the internet. As of today, the McCain video has had 155,000 views on YouTube — that’s the size of the audience for an MSBNC show — not to mention coverage in papers and on TV. This is a powerful, demonstrative, visible tool. Cliff Schecter — who blogs at CliffSchecter.com — writes on Huffington Post:
We don’t have FoxNews. We don’t have Rush Limbaugh (which at least means less progressive cash spent on buckets of honey-glazed wings and Schedule IV narcotics). But we have something almost as powerful, if recent events tell an accurate story. We have synergy. Coordination. Call it what you will.
I found it curious that Greenwald and Schecter as Democrats were going after a Republican already. So I emailed them to ask why. Is it to show that McCain isn’t the moderate the press paints him to be? Is it to get rid of the moderate and force the Republicans farther to the unelectable right? Schecter — who, it turns out, is writing a book about McCain — responded:
I chose McCain . . . very simply, because his level of hypocrisy rises above that of all the others, whether Democrat or Republican. He runs on the fact that he is a “maverick” a “straight talker” a “principled independent.” It is simply not true.
He has switched positions on Bush’s tax cuts, the number of troops needed in Iraq, evolution, ethanol subsidies, Jerry Falwell as an “agent of intolerance,” lobbying reform, even recently on campaign finance reform (presidential matching funds). . . .
I decided it was incumbent upon me to do this, because he is handled with such kid gloves by the media–see Joe Klein’s most recent blog at Swampland, where he says nobody can argue that McCain has not been consistent on the war, something that could not be more false. In fact Chris Matthews has joked that the media is “McCain’s base.” Anybody who watches and reads the fawning coverage, knows this to be true.
I asked Greenwald what it took to do this. He said they did a lot of print research and then went looking for the video; most was not on YouTube. That will change through the campaign, I’ll bet. Greenwald says he’s getting tips from the public and he promises to do more.
Candidates, be warned: You will choke on your forked tongues.
: By the way, I’m going to be following the YouTube campaign in greater depth on a new blog and vlog. More on that later.
: I’m now told I’m appearing without Greenwald. Too bad.
: LATER: Greenwald emails that he’s not a Democrat but independent. Corrected. But as the bete noir of Fox News and Wal-Mart, I’ll just bet he’s not in the GOP inner circle.
: LATER STILL: Greenwald says that he has had 220k views on YouTube and on the RealMcCain site.
: Corrected: Yes, it’s “fact-check” not “check.” Thanks, correctors, for checking my checking.
The hiring and then mufflling of bloggers by the Edwards campaign has to make you wonder whether whether campaigns and conversation are incompatible. Or perhaps we just better get used to honesty — in the form of bluntness and transparency and frankness — as a new phenomenon.
When you hire a blogger, you hire someone who lives — thinks and speaks — in public. You hire someone who responds to conversations without the veils of spin and PR and plastic discretion that politicians must learn.
In other words, on our blogs, we all say things that might offend someone. Truth is, in life — in bars, in restaurants, in offices, on the phone — we all do that, only now there is a public and — usually — permanent record. So now when a campaign hires such a person, it has to gird its crotch for the inevitable finding-of-the-offensive that will occur in this, the age of offense. And then, as the Times points out this morning, it has to figure out what to do. Firing people because they once said something that might have offended someone won’t work; there’ll soon be no one left to hire except people who have nothing to say and have never said it. Censoring them post facto won’t work; it violates our ethics in blogs to try to erase your old words; it is a lie of omission. What the Edwards campaign tried to do was hold onto the bloggers but make them choke on crow to satisfy the chronically offended. That trick won’t last for long.
Why don’t we just get used to the idea that people say things that might offend others and that soon we will all — campaign workers and campaigners alike — have such things on the permanent record. Blogs, Facebooks, MySpace pages, YouTube videos — you might say that they will haunt us. But I prefer to think that they will force us to be more open, more honest. Maybe then we’ll have no choice but to have a real conversation.
The revolution will not be televised. It will be YouTubed. The open TV of the people is already turning into a powerful instrument of politics – of communication, message, and image – in the next US presidential election. Witness: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Edwards; Republican Sam Brownback; and more candidates just announced their runs for the White House not in network-news interviews, nor in big, public events, but instead in their own online videos.
The advantages are many: the candidates may pick their settings – Edwards in front of a house being rebuilt in New Orleans; Clinton in a room that reminds one of the Oval Office. They control their message without pesky reporters’ questions – Edwards brought in the video-bloggers from Rocketboom.com to chat with him; Brownback, a religious conservative, invoked God and prayer often enough for a sermon; Clinton was able to say she wants to get out of Iraq the right way without having to define that way. They are made instantly cybercool – I’m told by the Huffington Post that liberal hopeful, Representative Dennis Kucinich, is carrying around a tiny video camera so he can record messages in the halls of congress; and Democrat Christopher Dodd has links on his homepage to his MySpace, Facebook and Flickr sites, making him come off more like a college kid than a white-haired candidate. But most important, these politicians get to speak eye-to-eye with the voters.
Internet video is a medium of choice – you have to click to watch – and it is an intimate medium. That is how these candidates are trying to use it: to talk straight at voters, one at a time.
Clinton said she was launching a conversation as much as a campaign and wished she could visit all our living rooms, so she is using technology to do the next best thing, holding live video chats last week. Beats kissing babies.
Of course, this can also be the medium of your opposition. When former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney joined the race for the Republican nomination, conservative detractors dredged up video from a 1994 debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in which Romney espoused downright liberal stands on abortion and gay rights. They used YouTube as a powerful weapon. So Romney used YouTube to respond. He appeared on a podcast made by the powerful blog Instapundit and the campaign videotaped the exchange and put it up online, a story that was then picked up by major media.
But beware making a fool of yourself. This is also a medium ripe for ridicule. There is a hilarious viral video of John Edwards preparing for a TV appearance and primping like Paris Hilton, set to the tune of “I Feel Pretty”. Every campaign nervously awaits the embarrassing moment that will be captured and broadcast via some voter’s mobile phone; it was just such a moment that lost one senator his election and with it the Republican majority in 2006. Hours after Clinton YouTubed her video announcement, there were parody versions trying to remind us of the scandals of her husband’s administration. I, too, fired up my Mac and made a mashup comparing and contrasting Clinton’s and Brownback’s videos, counting her issues and his references to culture (read: religion), life (read: abortion), and family (read: gay marriage).
And there lies the real power of the YouTube election: candidates won’t be the only ones making use of this revolutionary new medium. Citizens will too. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a survey revealing that much of the electorate is not just watching but is using the internet to influence politics: in the 2006 US election, 60 million Americans – almost half of internet users – were online gathering information and exchanging views, Pew said.
More than a third of voters under the age of 36 say the internet is their main source of political news – twice the score for newspapers.
More significantly, about 14 million Americans use the “read-write web,” in Pew’s words, to “contribute to political discussion and activity”, posting their opinions online, forwarding or posting others’ commentary, even creating and forwarding audio and video. They aren’t just consuming information, they are taking political action. And now that almost half of America is wired with broadband, they increasingly consider watching internet video to be watching TV. So the influence of YouTube will only grow.
We should only wish that this will diminish the negative influence of old TV with its battle and sports narratives of frontrunners and underdogs, with its simplistic soundbites (though there’ll be plenty of that on YouTube, too), and its nasty campaign commercials (though YouTube will have its dirt as well). But, hey, revolutions take time. And we are watching the seeds of one sprout right before our very eyes.