One day later, here’s a summary of what some smart folks have been saying about last night’s CNN-Youtube debate. First, tonight in the Times, Katharine Seelye interviews, without substantive comment, the man responsible for the controversial (among some bloggers) video selection process, CNN bureau chief David Bohrman:
“We vetted people if we had any real doubt about them,” he said. …He also said he had tried to modulate the pace and tone of the questions, and used the video from the good ol’ boys from Tennessee _ who asked whether Al Gore’s possible entry into the race would hurt anyone’s feelings _ as “comic relief….To complaints about the quality of the audio and the video, Mr. Bohrman said: “It’s not TV yet. It’s YouTube. They were small. I’m amazed we were able to make them be about 10 feet across. You saw what you needed to see.”
Seelye fails to ask why the need for comic relief– and does not point out that those of us watching at home were not able to read the two or three Pennebaker-esque videos that relied on written placards.
Catching up, John Palfrey enjoyed the debate, calling it
a big step forward for the way campaigns are covered. The producers deserve a lot of credit for the innovative format they introduced. The videos they chose were terrific: authentic(-seeming, anyway) voices from ordinary voters speaking directly to candidates. The final video, about “the candidate to your left,” was a brilliant parting shot. The effect was at once to empower voters and to render more human the candidates. I loved it. Well done, CNN and YouTube/Google.
Calling it “their debate,” Jeff Jarvis was disappointed:
CNN selected too many obvious, dutiful, silly questions.
Anderson Cooper didn’t pace the debate; he tried to trip the runners.
The videos were too tiny to be given justice.
The candidates’ videos were just commercials.
There were far too few issues.
There were too many candidates.
The candidates gave us the same answers they always give.
I have no doubt — no doubt — that we, the people, would have done a better job picking the questions than CNN did.
I have no doubt that we would have heard far more substance without CNN and TV cameras in this. This should have been a debate held online: candidates answering questions directly without the need for CNN, Anderson Cooper, or their questions.
We end with the usual horserace blather of the TV commentators.
A terribly wasted opportunity, this was.
Writing In the Hill, Frank Donatelli is also skeptical, though in a manner different from Jarvis:
I found this more of an attempt by CNN to increase its ratings rather than a serious way to improve the quality of the debate. Why exactly is the video question better than having a live person in the studio actually asking the question himself?
I agree with his Obama-nalysis:
He’s always good, but never great, in these forums. He has so far failed to give definition to the “new politics” cause that is fueling his insurgency.
And with these thoughts from Glenn Reynolds:
It was pretty good – except for the candidates’ YouTube efforts, which were predictably lame. Probably the best debate so far, though some will say that’s damning with faint praise.
The Tribune’s Steve Johnson also liked it:
It was a bad night for news anchors and Washington bureau chiefs, the traditional interrogators of would-be holders of American high office…instead of being this campaign season’s version of a candidate playing saxophone on a talk show, the few dozen amateur questions that co-sponsor CNN selected from among almost 3,000 posted to YouTube led to a relatively lively and informative two hours. The inaugural effort to harness the wide net of the Web to craft questions for would-be presidents offered further demonstration of the Internet’s rapid ascension to a place of prominence in American politics….While CNN’s question choices weren’t always the very sharpest — there were dozens of better-worded questions from atheists than the one the news channel picked — they didn’t allow YouTube users to game the system, either.
The Wall Street Journal‘s review:
though CNN and YouTube encouraged creativity, most of the three dozen chosen videos featured questioners simply looking into a camera. At times, the format and occasionally offbeat videos seemed to overshadow the candidates, and leave them struggling on occasion to answer unexpected queries.
The Washington Post said it:
featured sharp and sometimes witty video questions and often equally sharp exchanges among the candidates on issues ranging from Iraq and health care to whether any of them can fix a broken political system…[It] underscored the arrival of the Internet as a force in politics. The citizen-interrogators generated the most diverse set of questions in any of the presidential debates to date and challenged the candidates to break out of the rhetoric of their campaign speeches and to address sometimes uncomfortable issues, such as race, gender, religion and their own vulnerabilities.
Writing later, Dan Balz picks up on what was perhaps the debate’s most revealing policy exchange:
Stephen Sorta of Diamond Bar, Calif., asked the candidates if they would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea during their first year as president.
“I would,” Obama said. “And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.”
It was an answer that sounded good as campaign rhetoric and one designed to please the legions of Democrats who dislike the president. But it was not the kind of realpolitik answer one might expect of a seasoned chief executive.
Clinton had the benefit of answering after Obama and made the most of the opportunity to draw a contrast with her rival — without mentioning him by name.
“Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year,” she said. “I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes.”
On that question, the advantage went to Clinton — reminiscent of the first Democratic debate in South Carolina last spring when she handled a question about how she would respond to another terrorist attack more aggressively and directly than Obama.
Ann Althouse appreciated HRC’s bright fashion sense:
She’s wearing an orange jacket textured with curving, scalloped lines. It reminds me of a chair we had in the 1950s, but it actually looks rather pretty and definitely sets her apart from the guys who absolutely are not free to wear orange suits. She speaks in a solid, stern voice that has nothing to do with wavy orange patterns. She speaks in a straight, navy blue line.
She also draws a conclusion from the different responses to the “would you meet with Kim Jong Il et al” question:
this is the precise point in the debate where I conclude — I’d been toying with the conclusion — that Clinton is the superior candidate. [my unscientific surveys reveal that Althouse is one of many coming to this determination.]
I thought Rev. Reggie Longcrier’s question led to the most interesting personal insights. John Edwards really seemed to think this one through: