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Hope Will Not Be Televised: Obama YouTube vs. Clinton Clash

BY Ari Melber | Wednesday, January 23 2008

Great speeches don't matter if no one hears them. Barack Obama delivered a riveting speech about America's moral crisis this weekend, calling for a united movement to overcome the nation's moral deficit and mounting economic inequality. Political observers praised the address and reporters covered it -- 53 mentions in major papers -- yet it's been largely overshadowed by the escalating fight between Obama and The Clintons, which still dominates this week's media narrative. The candidates and reporters are focused on the fight, a defensible choice given both its impact and the undeniable news of a former U.S. President "spreading demonstrably false information," according to ABC News. But it turns out the public is focusing on Obama's speech anyway.

While cable news shows gorge on campaign sparring, Obama's uplifting speech is absolutely dominating YouTube. The 34-minute address from Ebenezer Baptist Church is currently the fourth most viewed video in the world on YouTube, trailing two Britney Spears clips. Not only is that unusual traffic for a long political address - people also like it. On Tuesday, viewers voted it the second most "favorited" video in the world. It also drew the second highest number of incoming links, a key indicator of web interest that drives Google page rankings. About 43 percent of viewers have come from links on Obama's social networking page, MyBO, which encourages supporters to share videos and information with their friends. Other viewers came from apolitical networks, both within YouTube and on other sites. At SomethingAwful, a popular general interest site that proclaims the "Internet makes you stupid," one user wrote that the speech was so good it was worth posting in a non-political forum, attaching the video and text. The single post drew more than 3,000 new viewers in a day.

The speech has now drawn over 268,000 views, after about 36 hours online. By contrast, a shorter, spicier clip of Clinton and Obama's debate clash currently has under 50,000 views, (after half a day), while a week's exposure gave Bill Clinton's Nevada complaints over half a million views on YouTube. But it's not only remarkable that so many viewers are choosing a long, serious speech over the political theatrics that dominate typical news. This kind of YouTube speech is also distinct because it enables voters to appraise a candidate directly, without any filters. News coverage is larded with polls and meta-analysis, while top bloggers increasingly talk strategy. Even the debates are often clogged with moderator framing and false premises. So despite our proliferating media, it's hard for most voters to hear directly from the candidates who would be president, unless you move to Iowa. (Or make C-SPAN your new appointment television.) But it looks like when the speech is available and the candidate is inspiring, people still want to listen.

This column is from The Nation.