YouTube to Flex Political Muscle With CNN Presidential Debate

In a major change to most stodgy political debates, YouTube and CNN are teaming up to let regular YouTubing Americans ask the nation’s most influential politicians the hard-hitting questions.

YouTubers have been posting videos of themselves asking questions that CNN will select and present live to viewers and the Democratic Party candidates vying for the party’s presidential nod. CNN’s Anderson Cooper will moderate the two-hour debates and pose follow-up questions Monday evening at 7 p.m. EST.

“YouTube enables voters and candidates to communicate in a way that simply was not possible during the last election,” said Chad Hurley, CEO and cofounder of YouTube. “For the first time in the history of presidential debates, voters from around the country will be able to ask the future president of the United States a question in video form and hear the answer.”

As of press time Monday, YouTubers had posted 2,989 video questions.

“These debates take the bold step of embracing the ever-increasing role of the Internet in politics,” said Jim Walton, CNN Worldwide president. “The inclusion of the massive online community enables these debates to engage more viewers — and potential voters — than ever before.”

More on YouTube

YouTube plans to feature special debate coverage on its “You Choose ’08” platform and its Citizentube political channel before and after the debates.

Immediately following the debates, YouTube will offer user questions and candidate answers on its site, where people can interact with the content through YouTube’s community features. The idea, of course, is to extend the life of the coverage and foster additional debate throughout the YouTube user community.

For its part, CNN will air the debates live and simulcast them on CNN.com, CNN International, CNN en Espanol, CNN Radio and CNN Airport Network. CNN.com’s Election Center will also cover the debates and will cover the entire debates in streaming and downloadable formats.

The Republican presidential forum will also be hosted by CNN and YouTube. That debate is scheduled for September 17.

Interesting Ideas

Will YouTubers’ questions results in a more dynamic, lively and nationally-compelling debate? In so many previously televised debates, dry moderators have asked predictable questions that politicians are ready to reframe and spin into the questions they want to answer. Will the politicians be forced to be more candid this time?

“I certainly think it will be different from a stylistic standpoint,” Kari Chisholm, president of Mandate Media and author of the Politics and Technology Blog, told TechNewsWorld. “With YouTube citizens sitting in their living rooms on the couch with their kids or in their kitchens, it will be visually different than the stodgy moderators wearing a tie.

“The question to me is, will the questions themselves will be different? CNN will choose the questions, and I suspect they will try to do something a bit different, but I also suspect they will stay within the issues that we have come to expect presidential candidates to talk about — the war, healthcare, economy, education, the environment. … We may see one or two cultural fun questions, sort of like the MTV-Bill-Clinton-boxers-or-briefs question.”

Chisholm would like the political debates to get to a point where CNN — or whichever organization is sponsoring a big debate — would use some grassroots-selected questions. Of course, this might mobilize every special interest group into launching their own campaigns to influence the vote on the questions, but Chisholm doesn’t see that as a bad thing — it’s just politics in action.

“If the ‘Save Darfur Coalition’ folks, for example, got ramped up to get a Darfur question in there, that’d be fine,” he noted.

The Value of Silly Parodies

“Anything that gives more attention to our political process is a good thing for democracy. I even think videos like the Obama Girl videos [on YouTube], as silly as they are, help make this presidential election a cultural phenomenon,” Chisholm explained.

“Even if people are paying attention at first to a silly parody video, it gets them thinking about the election and the choices they are going to have. I see it all as a good thing — there’s no reason politics can’t be fun, wacky and part of the cultural fabric of this country,” he added.

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