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Who Made "Dear Mr. Obama"? A Pro-Am, It Appears

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, September 12 2008

Michael Brown, the man who made "Dear Mr. Obama," the viral video that is currently exploding on YouTube among supporters of John McCain and the Iraq War, is a professional film-maker with about a dozen years of experience under his belt running a company called Testimony Pictures. He's made one full-length feature, and lots of shorter videos, mostly for the Christian market. (You can find some samples of his work here and here.) But, he says, "I've never done anything like this before," and he is completely overwhelmed by the reaction to the video.

Over the course of a half hour phone call, he told me that he is independent of any political operation. "I don't know anybody in the McCain campaign, and they probably want to stay away from me at this point," he said. He said he made the video with his own money and equipment, and that the flood of attention it has garnered has been taking him away from "paying work." He's hoping to work on more political videos--including one that would tell more of Joe Cook's story, and says he wouldn't mind "some help" funding them, but worries if he might run afoul of rules governing independent groups like 527s that make ads mentioning candidates in the last 60 days before an election. I think this makes Brown a professional amateur, or pro-am, a guy who took his professional video making skills and applied them to a world that he's an amateur in, called politics. Welcome to the national stage, Michael!

"I'm not a political guy," he told me when I asked him if he had ever run for office or worked on a campaign. "I have two children. I love America. I want my kids to have the same freedoms I've had. I just want patriots in there [running the country]." Brown told me he identified as somewhere between a Republican and an independent, mostly voting R but noting that he had voted for Democrat Glenn Poshard against Republican George Ryan for Governor. Further discussion revealed that he was a strong supporter of the Iraq War, viewing it as a "struggle of good versus evil, and bringing freedom to Iraq." He blamed the media for not giving Americans a more balanced view of the war, and thus driving public sentiment to view it negatively.

Why did he make the video? "I was tired of hearing that the war was a mistake," he said. While he noted that President Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had certainly made mistakes, mentioning Abu Ghraib as one example, he said, "Nevertheless, Congress approved the war, and once that happens you stand together, make adjustments as needed, but stand together until the last boots come home." He told me he had drafted the script for "Dear Mr. Obama" before meeting Joe Cook, showed him a copy, and then the two of them worked together to put it more in Cook's voice.

Even though he has made a powerful and very partisan statement, Brown says he wishes there could be more dialogue across the partisan divide in America. He seemed genuinely rueful about having to turn off comments on the two YouTube videos he has posted to his "weneedmccain" channel. Seventy-five percent, he said, were supportive of Cook, ten percent were critical but respectful, but the last fifteen percent were so "rude, crude and nasty" that he felt he had no choice but to shut comments down. Noting that he has many liberal friends, he said, "We need to be civil...I like dialogue."

Well, it remains to be seen whether Michael Brown's work with Joe Cook will lead to more dialogue or not. But, judging from Brown's comments, it looks like his video is yet another example of how voter-generated content is the wild-card of Election 2008. When I first wrote about his video, it had 4.8 million views. In just a few hours, it's climbed to more than 5 million.