A Philosopher's Blog

YouTube-CNN Presidential Debate

Posted in Politics, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 21, 2007

CNN and YouTube have joined forces to present a new type of debate. People will post their questions to the candidates on YouTube and then the candidates will answer some of them.

As with any question and answer session, there is the problem of determining which questions should be answered.

One possible approach is to use the YouTube method of ranking videos. Using this method, the questions would be selected democratically-the questions that the most people wanted answered would be the questions asked.

However, this method is not being employed, Instead, CNN will select the questions that will be asked. The reason is given by executive producer David Bohrman (Newsweek July 23, 2007 p 37). When asked about why CNN is not following the democratic model of YouTube, he said: “It’s dangerous. With the anonymity of the Internet, you can cross the line. There is a small, good gatekeeper function we still need to play.”

On one hand, this is a reasonable idea. After all, the questions selected should be ones that are relevant, coherent and not absurd. Also, there is the obvious concern that people will post ridiculous videos and these will be selected because of their humor value, sex appeal, vulgarity or some other factor that is not appropriate. For example, I suspect that questions asked by two models wrestling in pudding would probably make the top ten. A video of a person covered in tin foil and asking what the candidate will do about the aliens in his head would also probably do very well. While such videos have their place, it is not in the context of a serious political debate. If this is allowed, then people might start asking candidates questions and expecting a show of hands for an answer-as opposed to a meaningful response.

On the other hand, an essential feature of democracy is that people get to make decisions. The idea that a small number of people get to decide what is asked and what is not seems rather undemocratic. Further, if people are allowed to select the actual President (well, assuming that is how it actually works) then it would seem that they could also be trusted with selecting the the questions to be asked. If not, perhaps we should reconsider the notion of having elections.

Bohrman’s words are also quite telling. He notes that such openness would be “dangerous” and that a “small, good gatekeeper” is needed. While I would not accuse him of being a fascist or an authoritarian, those words certainly do ring with the echoes of such political views. After all, Mussolini took a similar view when it came to liberty-the state should decide what liberties people are to have and it only strips them of dangerous and useless liberties…for their own good. Perhaps we should be grateful that the people at CNN are protecting us from dangerous and useless questions (as interpreted by their “small, good gatekeeper”). Perhaps they shall be gracious enough to render a similar service come election day.


One Response

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  1. Paul Levinson said, on July 22, 2007 at 9:06 am

    The debate process, though imperfect, is still a step forward. Half a loaf of more democracy is always better than none. http://paullevinson.blogspot.com/2007/07/youtube-cnn-democratic-presidential.html

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