Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


A Dose of Reality

By Shawn Healy
I watched Monday's CNN-YouTube Democratic Presidential Debate with great interest. After all, I am a political junkie who can't turn away from a newspaper profile of a candidate, a campaign ad, and certainly not a debate when eight contenders to be the next leader of the free world share the stage on the same evening. Moreover, my research interests as an academic trend toward examining the impact of new media options on political knowledge and civic engagement. On Monday, old politics (standard candidate forum) met cable news (CNN, still new when compared to the three networks), and intersected with the epitome of new media, YouTube. The results were encouraging.

Overall, the questions asked by voters in 30-second sound bytes were pointed and made it difficult for the candidates to stick to their standard stump speeches and talking points. Although the Iraq War was mentioned, it didn't dominate the debate. Democrats were forced to deal with uncomfortable issues for their constituency, namely high taxes and gun control. John Edwards was forced to explain his opposition to gay marriage, mainly a product of his religious beliefs. To his credit, he said that he struggles with the issue and may be moving closer to his wife, a public advocate for gay marriage.

Two women asked why they couldn't get married. An African-American man asked about the candidates' positions on slavery reparations. He predicted they would dodge the issue, and asked for straight talk. Another asked if Barack Obama was black enough for the African-American community, and if Hillary Clinton registered similarly on the femininity scale.

The questions were also creative, from a snowman and his son asking about global warming, to a musical ballad about taxes, to a man who equated a gun with parenthood.

The candidates themselves submitted their own YouTube videos, although they were overly rehearsed and appeared as little more than clever (some not so clever) campaign ads. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd perhaps came closest to catching the spirit of the new media revolution.

Stepping back for a minute, I commend CNN for embracing this new media option, for it represented a welcome departure from standardized questions scripted by prominent members of the media elite. True, Anderson Cooper fit the bill of the latter, but he was little more than an intermediary for the public at large. The questions represented a diverse audience that trended young, hopefully appealing to a group otherwise alienated and excluded from the process. Here's hoping that other media outlets join CNN by incorporating such citizen journalism into future debates as November 2008 approaches, and also into their broader coverage of the election. I know that I'll be tuned in on Constitution Day (September 17th) when CNN reprises Monday's date with the Democrats with their GOP rivals.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good one

10:52 AM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at