Come voting day 2012, Americans will go to the polls in the second election in the era of YouTube — the video sharing site where gaffes live forever and politicians can spread their message farther than ever before.
"Just 15 years ago investigations of politicians and opposition research were largely limited to professionals with access to Lexis-Nexis or those who knew how to conduct a document search at the county courthouse," Jack Shafer writes at Reuters. "Digging dirt back then was like mining gold in the 1800s: labor intensive, and requiring both expertise and expensive tools. Widespread digitization and cheap information technologies haven't eliminated the professionals from political dirt digging, only lowered the barriers to entry."
Since 2005, YouTube and other video sharing sites have given voters a plethora of new ways to look at political candidates — to delve into their policy, their platform positions and their pasts. With the rise of new media, the ability to influence voters has spread to the masses, and campaigns face the danger of living or dying based on oft-repeated, often biased 30-second video compilations and soundbites.
Here's a look at some of the moments that have been used to define, lambast, or even mock former candidates during the 2012 presidential race.
YouTube captured the moment that pundits would use to criticize Texas governor Rick Perry's entire campaign after he dropped out of the presidential campaign on January 19. Ben Philpott and Emily Ramshaw of The Texas Tribune called it the "oops heard around the cable news world." At the Washington Post, Dan Balz calls Perry's run an "oops campaign never ready for prime time." Just one video of the clip has more than 433,000 views.
Former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. launched his bid for president on June 21. Prior to his announcement, he teased the event with ads showing a man riding a motorcycle. Mediaite called the ads "avant-garde mini-films of a man riding a motorcycle through a desert." The Time Swampland blog said the ads make no sense, "but you can't look away."
For Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, YouTube infamy came in the form of 8-year-old Elijah, who told her his gay mom doesn't need fixing. While Bachmann said she didn't hear what the boy said and told his mother as much, the Huffington Post described her as "dumbfounded," and said she shot the boy's mother "an icy look." One version of the clip has more than 3,825,000 views.
Although businessman Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign on December 3, two video clips gained popularity during his run. The first clip, filmed in 1994, shows Cain debating health care with then-president Bill Clinton, while the second featured Cain singing John Lennon's "Imagine," with the words changed to focus on pizza. The first video has around 110,600 hits on YouTube, while the second has more than 265,500.
On April 23, 2005, the first YouTube video was uploaded at 8:27 p.m.
Since that visit to the zoo, YouTube alone has grown to the point that 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, meaning nearly 8 years of content is uploaded every day, according to YouTube. For politicians, the rise of video sharing sites has become both a blessing and a curse.
"I can see the day that a complete documentation on every politician of note, produced on the Web in Wikipedia fashion, would make opposition research redundant," Shafer concluded. "When that day comes, well finally be able to see our candidates in full and see that nearly every one of them has flip-flopped; made a fortune from either honest graft or dishonest graft; mistreated, divorced, or cheated on a spouse; taken drugs; lied; cheated; violated taboos; told dirty, racist, or otherwise tasteless jokes; stretched the fabric of the campaign finance laws; associated with bad people; engaged in resume inflation; taken dubious payments; or otherwise transgressed — just like you."