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Presidential hopefuls face trial by YouTube

London Telegraph | March 14, 2007
Alex Spillius

YouTube, the video-sharing website, is fast becoming one of the most influential forces in the US presidential campaign as users expose gaffes or reinforce the credentials of candidates outside of the control of their own teams.

All three major Republican candidates have been embarrassed by clips on YouTube, which contains countless visual segments supplied primarily by anonymous members of the public and is visited by millions every day.

The videos, usually filmed on camcorders or taped from television, have been used to highlight candidates' hypocrisy, U-turns, or merely to emphasise the strength of their views on divisive issues such as abortion.

Rudy Giuliani, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, has been unnerved by clips citing his commitment to abortion, which is abhorrent to large numbers of conservative voters. Worse still, in an excerpt taken from a failed mayoral campaign in 1989, he advocates free abortions for the poor.

"We can't deny any woman the right to make her own decision about abortion because she lacks resources," he says to applause at a function.

Mr Giuliani, who supported abortion while New York's mayor from 1994-2001, has now adjusted his position to say he "hates" abortion, but believes in a "woman's right to choose".

His Republican rival Mitt Romney is even more exposed.

In a clip from 2002 he tells an interviewer: "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose." On a recent clip on the website he declares himself "pro-life".

Frank Luntz, a leading US pollster, said: "It's the ultimate in accountability. These people have said what they said and it can't be denied. YouTube is going to be the most powerful component in 2008. Until now the 30-second campaign ad was king. From now on YouTube owns the ground and it will make its way to Britain in the next general election. I'm sure a major candidate here will see a campaign derailed because of it."

The political usefulness of YouTube, which was bought by Google for £1 billion in October, reflects the growing importance of the internet in general, as candidates seek more online donations, and try to reach 147 million internet users in the US through email, podcasts and online forums.

Matt Stoller, an editor at the liberal blog MyDD.com, said the influence of websites soared when items were picked up by major TV networks and newspaper pundits.

"Bloggers and campaign teams understand the technology. It's mainly used on Right-wingers because they change their position."

So far the strongest blows have indeed been landed on Republicans, reflecting the fact that the three main candidates are too progressive for many core supporters.

The worst that has been posted on the website about John Edwards, a leading Democrat candidate, is a two-minute clip of a make-up artist fixing his hair.



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