YouTube has changed politics utterly and irretrievably in the United States. There are many reasons for this, but a few are a bit more responsible than the others.
Let’s take a look at three key reasons why the political game in America has been forever altered by the rise and popularity of YouTube.
Allen’s Listening Tour
Armed with video cameras, trackers haunt each public event of an opposing candidate, recording every word and gesture. Trackers are there in case a candidate makes a gaffe similar to the one U.S. Senator George Allen (R-Virginia) made in 2006 which helped to sink his reelection campaign.
Here is the backstory: On August 11, 2006, Senator Allen appeared before a crowd of white supporters. His re-election seemed to be a mere formality. Allen had a double-digit lead over Jim Webb, his Democratic challenger, and some Beltway insiders were calling Allen the most likely Republican presidential nominee in 2008. S. R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old Webb campaign worker of Indian descent, was tracking Allen with a video camera.
Frank Rich of the New York Times described what happened next in his column entitled, “2006: The Year of the ‘Macaca.’” Rich wrote, “After belittling the dark-skinned man as ‘macaca, or whatever his name is,’ Mr. Allen added, ‘Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.’”
Sidarth’s video entitled, “Allen’s Listening Tour,” was uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 14, 2006. And according to Rich, “The one-minute macaca clip spread through the national body politic like a rabid virus. Nonetheless it took more than a week for Mr. Allen to recognize the magnitude of the problem and apologize to the object of his ridicule.”
Allen claimed later that he had no idea that the word, the term for a genus of monkey, had any racial connotations. Nevertheless, it soon became clear that Senator Allen was in serious trouble. And in November, Allen was defeated by Webb.
A More Perfect Union
The average length of a broadcast news story is 90 seconds. And according to the latest research, the average network sound bite from candidates in these stories has shrunk from 43 seconds in the 1968 presidential election to just 7.3 seconds in the most recent presidential election.
This brings us to the “Obama Speech: ‘A More Perfect Union.'” Uploaded March 18, 2008, the 37-minute, 39-second video has more than 6.8 million views. This video also has over 27,000 likes, fewer than 2,700 dislikes, generated more than 10,000 comments, a dozen video responses, and was favorited over 3,000 times.
Obama spoke in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008 at the National Constitution Center on matters not just of race and recent remarks made by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright but of the fundamental path by which America can work together to pursue a better future.
Just nine days later, the Pew Research Center called the speech “arguably the biggest political event of the campaign so far,” noting that 85 percent of Americans said they had heard at least a little about the speech and that 54 percent said they heard a lot about it.
Texas Governor Rick Perry’s stumble in last Wednesday’s CNBC debate — in which he took 53 seconds to come up with the name of a third government agency before giving up — was a top rising search that night and was the next morning’s most-viewed YouTube video in the United States, according to Ramya Raghavan, YouTube News and Politics Manager. Footage of the “oops” moment was viewed over half a million times in the 12 hours following the debate, and that number was still climbing this past weekend.
And I was popular where it matters the most. The following day, the Perry gaffe was the most-viewed video in both Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, two Iowa cities which are incredibly important to GOP hopefuls with the Iowa Caucus just weeks away.
Nationwide, the footage also sat atop the next morning’s Trending Video list and was the #2 most-shared in the United States, placing well ahead of Ellen DeGeneres and Lebron James.
So, if YouTube has changed politics utterly in America, then why are there three key reasons and not more or less?
Well, as the Brittish cleric says during the “Holy Hand Grenade” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three. No more. No less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then, lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it.”
Now who can argue with that?