Tonight marks the much hyped debut of the CNN YouTube Debates, in which ordinary citizens run the show by asking the candidates questions via videos which they’ve posted on YouTube. It sounds like the making of revolutionary, true voter generated debate… except for the fact that CNN honchos have vetted all the questions in advance.
So, it seems unlikely that any full-on YouTube freakery will make the cut. (We could find out once and for all who had a sense of humor.) But whether forcing the candidates to answer questions that have been “personalized” through the experiences of real people will trigger any true authentic responses is anybody’s guess.
The debate is being hosted by The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. Candidates will be squaring off against a giant video screen, which will play a couple of dozen questions that were culled from the more than 2,000 videos that were submitted.
I’ll be watching and liveblogging the debate from the home of one of my new BFF’s – the administrators of a Facebook group called “I’m a Girl and I Vote!” so stay tuned.
I’m optimistic. Anything that changes the current nature of political debate, certainly televised debate, would be progress. But I gotta wonder if the medium itself isn’t part the problem. Anyone who has been one of a handful of citizens who have shown up at a middle school basement in the dead of winter to hear a Presidential hopeful sling chili and press the flesh has seen the low tech version: Candidates facing real questions from real people, often with a remarkable degree of authenticity. It feels like a real conversation – the good, the bad and the profound – because it often is. Showing up matters. Getting rid of the journalists may be a good first step – I admire the impulse. But perhaps losing the blinking lights, the logos, the urgent music, and the silly American Idol vibe might not hurt either.
But one issue is still nagging me. Does it matter more who asks the question or who chooses the questions that are asked? It might have been nice, as a hat tip to the participatory promise implied by a wired world, if the “people” got to choose the questions by voting for them online, rather than simply letting the usual suspects frame the debate.
How CNN chose the questions.
Check out the submissions on YouTube.