YouTube, other free media dominating political campaigns, but inaccuracies abound

The Takeaway

Republican presidential candidates have been using mostly free media to try to get up on one another and on President Barack Obama.

In fact, most of the campaign swings have been dictated by things said, or not said, in debates or by scandals that have cropped up through reporting. But there’s one other form of free media that’s also having effect: the YouTube video.

All of the candidates are putting together videos and uploading them to YouTube in hopes that not only will they seen by voters, but that they’ll share them often enough that they become news in and of themselves and get played repeatedly, for free, on TV channels.

“Because that’s a venue (YouTube) that attracts a different demographic than you might reach by paying to air your ad, you might reach targets you can’t reach otherwise,” said Kathleen Hall Jameison, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jameison said a new dimension has opened up with free ads being posted rapidly to YouTube, in that they come and go so quickly, sometimes they’re not fact-checked. For example, the Mitt Romney campaign posted an ad that makes it sound like Obama is saying further discussion of the economy will lead him to lose. In reality, that was very selective editing of a comment by Obama in 2008, when he was actually quoting his opponent, John McCain.

“You’ve had words taken out of context in political advertising that have been on-air throughout much of history, and words were taken out of context in broadsides in the 19th century too,” Jameison said. “So the question isn’t is this a new tactic, but rather when you hear something in the context of a visually evocative ad that’s moving very quickly, do you actually notice it’s out of context.”

Of course, Democrats are also taking part. They put together a 30 second ad to air on television that pushes people to watch a four minute video that takes many statements by Mitt Romney out of context.

“It’s out of context too,” Jameison said. “What we have this year is a real problem with statements being taken out of context in web video and then aired on TV.

Jameison is trying to review a lot of political video on the website, which tries to point out out-of-context statements in a funny way.

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