17 April 2008

They Have Become What They Despise

Sifting through last night's debate transcripts I'm struck by just how awful the questions were. The debate moderators just did a terrible, terrible job - focusing almost exclusively on the silly questions like who said what about Bosnia or bitterness when and who wears a flag pin and do you agree with this crazy statement that someone else said. The first hour of the debate was completely devoid of issues-based questions. Nothing about education, health care, the environment, the economy, or real foreign policy. Even the "substantive" questions were posed as hypothetical ideas designed to push a candidate into a corner. Just disgraceful.

But what really ticked me off was Charles Gibson's embarrassing defense of the pathetic flag lapel pin question - "it's all over the Internet."

Umm.... NO. It's not all over the Internet. It's not even close. It's barely a blip on the radar. Anyone who looks at Virtual Vantage Points "community clouds" pages for politics and issues can see what's all over the internet. For the past several months, liberals have talked about the war, health care, the subprime mortgage crisis, gas and food prices, the economy, and (not surprisingly) how bad the mainstream media is at doing its job. Conservatives have talked about taxes, terrorism, the war, immigration, and (again, not surprisingly) how bad the mainstream media is at doing its job.

Furthermore, there are dozens of prominent online communities talking about health care policy, education, child care, the environment, personal finance and taxes - and once again, how lousy the mainstream media is at doing its job. We follow them every week.

Not a flag pin in sight.

For years now we've heard top-tier journalists and pundits dismiss the "citizen journalists" of the blogosphere and social media as angry, ranting lunatics holed up in their basements, wearing pajamas and eating cheetos and furiously typing out irrelevant screeds and spreading gossip that no one should ever read.

Last night the traditional media had its chance to ask the questions that the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania really care about, and ask the candidates to discuss the issues that working families need to hear - and they came up with stories about sniper fire in Bosnia, some random sentence about bitterness, the rantings of a former pastor, some dude from the Black Panther Party, and flag pins.

I hope this debate serves as the wake-up call for the traditional media. This is why we can't yet say "social media" is "all media." When all media is truly social, the most prominent and important questions will be raised. That's why the YouTube debates were so effective and so important. It's only a matter of time - and not much time, at that - before they become the norm and not the exception.

The people will demand it.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not alone in my assessment. Though I don't know what planet David Brooks was on last night.

UPDATE II: Craig Fuller, GOP heavyweight and former Chief of Staff to George Herbert Walker Bush, gets it.

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