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YouTube: The Place for Politics?
From President Obama to the Tea Party to a "re-enactment" of the Proposition 8 trial, politicians and activists of all persuasions are turning to streaming video to make their point.
Tues., Feb. 2, by Tim Siglin

A few weeks ago, we covered the Supreme Court decision to keep streaming video out of the courtroom during the case surrounding the potential repeal of the referendum vote on California Proposition 8.

While the Supreme Court's temporary injunction against cameras and streaming in the courtroom turned into a permanent one, there was still enough news coverage to inform all but the most passionate on the subject.

Yet the political interest in the subject matter has been high enough that the case easily could have warranted the level of traditional broadcast interest, if visually compelling content were available.

In slower-paced times, this would mean a made-for-TV movie. In the rapid-pace of internet time, though, it's created an opportunity for several filmmakers to recreate the narrative from transcripts of the sessions.

"We want all Americans to have a chance to judge for themselves, based on the evidence that was presented," stated Los Angeles-based filmmaker John Ireland.

Ireland debuted the first of 12 scheduled "episodes" on YouTube on Monday, just three business days after the closing arguments occurred in San Francisco before Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker.

Each episode will cover a day of the trial, and includes parts played by Tess Harper and Adrienne Barbeau.

That streaming video has replaced the documentary (or even the made-for-TV movie) as the way to expand grassroots interest isn't only a path for filmmakers, however.

On the other end of the political spectrum, an event going on in Nashville, Tennessee, this week, has attracted a wide-ranging audience—many of whom will attend virtually via streaming.

Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, one of several groups aiming to turn this summer's grassroots efforts around healthcare reform into a national political bloc, has said the "national convention" from Nashville will be streamed this week.

"Obviously, we believe that the delegates and banquet attendees are going to enjoy the networking and the excitement of being here directly," said Phillips. "However, as we are all committed to grassroots activism, we wanted to share this event with those who could not come to Nashville."

Phillips, who says the convention is sold out except for the keynote speech by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, recognizes the role that streaming and complementary social media have played in the grassroots Tea Party effort. Palin has almost 1.2 million "friends" or "fans" on Facebook and often uses video clips to get her points across.

"With our team effort and the many friends we had in the new media," said Mark A. Skoda, founder of the Memphis Tea Party and convention spokesman, "we are hopeful that these millions of activists will participate with the local delegates through technology."

Even in mainstream politics, the White House, U.S. Congressional representatives and Senators are using streaming media to get the word out on various bills.

Last week, President Obama's administration launched a new White House iPhone app that will allow users to watch White House live-streaming video. Users of the free app were able to watch last Wednesday's State of the Union speech on their iPhones or iPod touch devices.

Around the same time, CitizenTube, the public service channel for Congressional video on YouTube, noted its year-end usage was up dramatically. According to YouTube, over 2/3 of House representatives (89% of Republicans and 74% of Democrats) have started YouTube channels to engage their constituents. The top four CitizenTube slots are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) taking the top spot, followed closely by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) a grassroots favorite. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. John Boehner (R-MI) round out the top slots.

CitizenTube is also pushing the ability for viewers to participate in a virtual press conference or press interview. Yesterday, President Obama participated in an interview on CitizenTube, after which he responded to questions submitted in advance by citizens.

The five days of open forum question posting generated over 11,000 questions for the event, which was live-streamed on CitizenTube.

According to a CitizenTube blog post, neither the president nor the moderator knew what questions would be answered ahead of time. "But what's clear from looking at the submissions is that they represent a broad cross-section of topics and concerns," the blog post continued. "When people are asked to weigh in on what matters most to them in an open forum, the result is a fascinating and informative look at the pulse of the country. It's this kind of transparency and direct access to information that we believe represents the promise of platforms like YouTube to improve our politics."

An on-demand version of the 35-minute interview, the President's first since the State of the Union, can be viewed here.

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