Digital Age Reshaping Politics
With the emergence of websites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, social media is changing the face of political communication. On Thursday, March 4, Paul Steinhauser, deputy political director of CNN (Central News Network), presented several concrete examples of how these websites have transformed the world of television news broadcasting. Steinhauser, who has been with CNN for 23 years, was brought to the Hill by the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement.
'So much, so much has changed in the last six or seven years,' Steinhauser said. 'All the rules that we knew, that we followed, that the campaigns followed, have basically been thrown out the window. And why? Basically because of new technology, social networks'YouTube. It's totally changed the way campaigns operate [and] the way we, in the media, cover the campaigns and how we cover political events.'
YouTube was created in 2005 and since then, Steinhauser has seen a major shift in how the average American follows news and politics. About half of Steinhauser's lecture was dedicated to showing a wide range of YouTube clips that have attracted significant attention from the public.
One such clip was a video of US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) on a 'Straight Talk' tour during the campaign for the 2008 presidential election. During a question and answer session, a member of the audience asked the Senator when the US Military expected 'to send an air mail message to Tehran' with regard to the nuclear program in Iran. McCain responded by changing the words to a popular Beach Boys song, 'Barbara Ann,' saying instead, 'Bomb bomb bomb, Bomb bomb Iran,' according to The Huffington Post.
In another video, Vice President Joe Biden appeared on C-SPAN (Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network) in 2006 talking about his strong ties to the Indian-American community in Delaware, where he was formerly a US Senator. 'I've had a great relationship,' he remarked. 'In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.'
Although both of these incidents took place a year before the presidential election of 2008, they have shown that 'you've got to behave yourself,' as Steinhauser said. 'If you're running for office nowadays, anybody, everybody has got a camera. If they don't have a camera, they've got a cell phone and that's good enough. Everything you say, anything you say, can be and will be used against you by your opposition'It can be just the slip of the tongue.'
While nothing indicates that either McCain's or Biden's comment had a significant impact on the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, these cases do demonstrate how a year-old comment is not necessarily left in history, especially with YouTube as a new device of documentation.
Another key change in political news coverage is that moderators no longer lead the debates. In the 2008 presidential debates, the majority of the questions came directly from the American public and were submitted online. 'The star of [the] debate was average Americans, you, me, anybody,' Steinhauser said. 'The questions were different in a way, more heartfelt, different than what the experts, the so-called experts, would ask. And I think because of that, the answers from the candidates were more real.'
Last month, a similar form of public political participation took place when YouTube launched a question and answer session with President Barack Obama. It was entirely online and the discussion was guided by questions submitted by members of YouTube.
Facebook and Twitter have also changed the face of politics, Steinhauser explained. For example, government leaders and candidates running for office can continuously update their 'fans' about recent changes in their campaign. Social media also serves as an efficient way to raise money for these campaigns.
When Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, resigned in 2009, she fell off the mainstream news radar. However, Steinhauser is able to check her Facebook page at least four times each day to stay up to date with any important news that might break. He also monitors the Facebook pages of important political figures and each morning he 'line[s] up [his] Tweet deck' to see if the politicians have anything of interest on their profiles.
What's the bottom line to this new social media? 'The campaigns don't control the message sometimes,' Steinhauser said. 'Anybody can'It has allowed Americans, citizens, average citizens, to become more involved in the political process and I think that's a good thing. It lets people'maybe have a chance of getting a question to the President of the United States, which is pretty cool.'
If you missed Steinhauser's lecture, it is available as a podcast on the Goldfarb Center's website at http://www.colby.edu/goldfarb.