Politicians beware - Internet prolongs blunders

  • World
  • Saturday, 04 Nov 2006

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the Internet age, political blunders never die. They don't even fade away. 

Ask John Kerry. 

Senator John Kerry is shown saluting the delegation at the Democratic National Convention, in Boston, in this July 29, 2004 file photo. Clips of controversial comments made by Kerry were posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.com and viewed tens of thousands of times. (REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)

The Democratic U.S. senator, who lost the presidential election in 2004 to President George W. Bush, drew Republican fire for saying college students could "get stuck in Iraq" if they didn't study hard. 

Kerry later apologized. He said it was a "botched joke" aimed at Bush, not at U.S. troops as Bush and other leading Republicans insisted. 

But interest in his remarks did not wane after a few days, as it might have years ago. Instead, clips of Kerry's comments were posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.com and viewed tens of thousands of times. 

"This is a new era," said Kerry's spokesman David Wade. Kerry's office posted its "counter footage" on YouTube as soon as Kerry responded to Republican attacks. 

"Cable (TV) made news move at the speed of sound. The Internet makes news move at the speed of light," Wade told Reuters in an e-mail. 

Kerry is only the latest target of video clips. 

"Virtually anything anyone of note says is going to be public and repeatable and visible. There is almost no margin for error among public people any more," said Stephen Hess, a former presidential speechwriter and professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. 


Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia felt the impact of YouTube earlier in the campaign. 

At a political rally Allen pointed to a young man working for rival James Webb's campaign and called him a "macaca" -- an African monkey and sometimes a racial slur. 

Allen said he didn't know it was a slur and apologized. But the video of his remarks spread quickly on the Internet and boosted Webb's campaign. The clip is still being viewed months later. 

Political campaigns are sending out more and more video clips or links to YouTube postings to boost their candidates or share negative comments made by their opponent. 

"Winning campaigns will leverage user-generated content to push stories into the mainstream media and drive opponents off balance," Wade said. 

Even when a professional camera crew is not on hand to catch a politician's mistake, it will likely be caught on video by someone at the event. That video can then easily be uploaded onto the Web and shared quickly. 

Political experts say the proliferation of videos clips, even those taken by amateurs armed with no more than a cellphone camera, has shaken up traditional politics and forced politicians to watch what they say. 

But gaffes are inevitable, particularly near the end of a grueling campaign. 

Phil Noble, the founder of PoliticsOnline, a political Internet site, said YouTube is unique because of the speed at which it became a factor in political campaigns. 

"With YouTube you can put something up in 10 seconds, and within a week the whole world sees it," he said. 

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