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Friday, July 27, 2007

No To YouTube Debates

It appears that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani will take a pass on the GOP-version of CNN's YouTube debate format. Hugh Hewitt and Patrick Ruffini take opposing sides debating the wisdom of this decision over at Hugh's blog.

My first instinct is to applaud MR and RG for snubbing this show. Where do we draw the line when it comes to these so-called "debates"? How much longer before we have some kind of reality game show type debate?

On the other hand, as conservatives, we have to accept the burden of swimming in the culture as it exists. We all want two hour debates moderated by reasonable people covering the most important topics, but that's probably not something most people are going to watch. And the point is to reach the people and win their support. You go where the people are - you don't throw up a tent somewhere and ask them to come to you.

There is also the matter of "winning" the under 35 age group as voters. Does an unwillingness to embrace this debate format send the wrong message to this YouTube generation?

What strikes me as phony is that this format is actually a betrayal of the entire YouTube movement. YouTube is, for the most part, uncontrolled; anyone can throw up a video and if it's good, it will be spread far and wide. There's no "gatekeeper" who passes judgment on the worth of the product. It's video for the masses, unfiltered by the self-anointed elite. By interposing themselves between the submitted videos and the debate candidates, CNN turns the process into just another town hall debate, albeit with a very large meeting hall.

A true YouTube debate would have videos chosen on the basis of their popularity on YouTube. That would reflect the true spirit of YouTube. That wouldn't necessarily make the questions ask any better - it might even make them worse. But it would at least dispose of the filter that makes the current format a sham.

I also question the notion that this "dis" of the YouTube crowd is politically damaging. Do conservatives really spend their time creating videos for YouTube? Isn't YouTube primarily the playground of liberal artists? Perhaps you're losing a few college-aged kids who might be of a conservative bent, but if you're 30+ years old and you spend a lot of time putting up self-created YouTube videos, what are the chances you're a conservative? I just don't see it.

I guess I lean toward Hugh's position. The YouTube debates are a gimmick - they may give off the aroma of something unique, but in reality don't reflect the "future" of presidential debates. In the hands of CNN filters, they're likely to work against the interests of the GOP candidates, particularly, as Hugh Points out, in that the MSM will be able to present the most unfair questions and then wash their hands of them by pointing to the YouTuber as the culprit.

I will add, however, that I don't mind seeing the GOP candidates taking hostile fire. As they'll be seeing it 24/7 as president, I want to see how they handle the abuse.

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