Kirk Caraway: The online video war for the White House

You know that old line about how the revolution will not be televised? They're right. But it will be on YouTube.


This is the first election where online video is having a huge impact on the campaigns. Go to YouTube and sample the videos praising or dissing any of the candidates. Look at the numbers of people who are viewing these videos. In total, they challenge the viewership numbers of many TV channels.


And while many of us skip over the 30-second attack spots on TV, millions of people are seeking out these online videos, paying close attention to their content, commenting on them, and sharing them with their friends. It's the kind of engagement you can't buy on TV.


Last week, the John McCain campaign put out follow-up to the Paris Hilton/Britney Spears commercial, again attacking Barack Obama for being a celebrity. News channels, newspapers and political blogs picked up the story about this new ad, showing it on TV or linking to the Web video.


The funny thing is, the campaign didn't buy any airtime to run the commercial. They didn't have to. Once they got the media buzzing about it, the video was spread far and wide online, for free.


But those who live by the online video sword can also be skewered by it as well.

Another new McCain ad showed a host of prominent Democrats praising the Republican nominee. But within hours of that ad's release, the Obama campaign released a response ad showing those very same Democrats strongly criticizing McCain. The Web makes it easier to counterattack as well.


Perhaps the most entertaining and empowering aspect to all of this is that anybody with access to a computer and the Internet can create their own videos. The funniest video ad of last week was Paris Hilton's response to the McCain ad, which featured her not only slamming the Arizona senator for being really, really old, but explaining an energy policy that sounded better than either of the candidates. Perhaps the next president can appoint her to be Secretary of Energy because, according to her, she's hot.


Jed Lewiston is no Paris Hilton, but he has garnered a lot of attention attacking McCain, President Bush and other Republicans. His reports are being seen by hundreds of thousands of people. Who is he? Some high-powered pundit? No, he's just a guy living in Las Vegas who collects and edits video of these politicians and posts them on YouTube and his Web site. There are thousands of Jed Lewistons out there, doing the same thing, and they are changing the face of political campaigning.

It's very easy to create your own online video. Politicians who find themselves on the receiving end of these videos might say that it's too easy.


Sen. McCain has been bitten by the online video monster more than a few times this year, even as his campaign has used the medium very skillfully. The admittedly computer illiterate candidate doesn't seem to understand that he can't just change stances on previous positions and not get caught at it. That might have worked in the pre-Google days, but not anymore.


While some prominent Democrats are complaining that the Obama campaign isn't striking back at the McCain attack ads, his online army of supporters are filling the void. They are piecing together McCain's statements and showing his flip flops on taxes, oil drilling, Iraq, you name it, using his own words. It's turning out that the best person to use to attack John McCain is John McCain.


The phenomenon of online video campaigning is so new that many campaign professionals haven't yet figured out how to use it. But they are learning. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point they start ditching their high-dollar media consultants and let their supporters make the ads, with the most popular ones getting picked up for use on television.


Of course, by that time, candidates might not waste their time on television.

We are just at the beginning in terms of online political campaigning. By 2012, we'll probably look back at this time and shake our heads at how primitive it all seems.

In the meantime, if you've got something to say, say it. If you think you have a better idea for a commercial than your favorite candidate, then get on your computer and make it. Who knows, your creation could be the spot that wins the election.


- Kirk Caraway of Carson City writes for Swift Communications, Inc. He can be reached through his blog at http://kirkcaraway.com.

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