TOPICS > Politics

Campaigns Push Messages on YouTube to Save Money, Target Voters

May 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As part of an ongoing series on how candidates use social media this election season, Ray Suarez and journalists Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of discuss how President Obama and Mitt Romney use YouTube to bypass the "gatekeepers," or mainstream media, and get constituents to watch their campaign videos.

MARGARET WARNER: And to the presidential race.

Reports of a proposed attack ad campaign lit up the Internet today.

We go to Ray Suarez with our regular Daily Download segment.

RAY SUAREZ: And we turn to our regular look at the campaign as it plays out in social media and on the Web.

For that, we’re joined by two journalists from the Web site — that’s with a hyphen. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor chief and formerly with USA Today Live and Gannett Broadcasting. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

And, Howie, a story that was burning up the digital pathways fizzled election this afternoon when billionaire Joe Ricketts, who had promised to run a multimillion-dollar ad campaign attaching President Obama to his old pastor Jeremiah Wright fizzled. He couldn’t pull the trigger on the campaign.

HOWARD KURTZ: This unfolded in the classic old media way, Ray, The New York Times obtaining a detailed copy of this plan to make Jeremiah Wright an issue, as he had been in 2008.

But it was just after 6:00 in the morning that David Axelrod, the Obama senior adviser, went on Twitter and posted his reaction. It was stunning. “Will Mitt stand up, as John McCain did, or allow the purveyors of slime to operate on his behalf?” And that speeded everything up, almost at a hyper-speed pace.

RAY SUAREZ: Along with the raw story, Lauren, we had the entire media strategy right there to be read from beginning to end online as well.

LAUREN ASHBURN: It was a 54-page professionally bound color photograph document that laid out exactly what the plan would be.

And by this afternoon, we had a statement from Joe Ricketts that said, this is not a campaign that I’m going to endorse and — or run. And it went back and forth on Twitter with those remarks, and then the author of The New York Times piece coming out and saying don’t forget, though, on page 26 of this 54-page document, it says, “With your preliminary approval at the New York meeting, here’s this report.”

HOWARD KURTZ: I do have to note that although this was leaked by somebody who was opposed to this and clearly was trying to sink it, the Times did note — The Times interviewed the head of this super PAC, this pro-Romney super PAC, who didn’t reject it out of hand, said it was being actively considered.

Of course, now the pressure got so great that not only did Joe Ricketts say, I reject any such approaches to politics, but Mitt Romney in an interview with a conservative online publication didn’t waste any time in saying that he would repudiate this, even though technically he has no control over it.

LAUREN ASHBURN: But what’s so interesting this is that Joe Ricketts didn’t have to spend a dime. I mean, he has all the publicity he wants.

He’s bringing back Jeremiah Wright, tying him to Obama, bringing up a 2008 story. If you remember , in 2008, President Obama — or president would-be, right — Obama said at the time, I am outraged at all of the comments that Jeremiah Wright had made.

And so it’s bringing it all back, all back from that campaign four years ago. But no one paid a penny.

RAY SUAREZ: And it reminds you of how quickly these things happen now. That document in the old days would have simply been described to viewers, listeners, readers. And now you can read it for yourself if you have the stomach for it. But there it was.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, that’s true.

And I think people become more engaged when they have the actual document themselves. It used to be that only the gatekeepers had the document. Now it’s placed on Twitter, on Facebook, on The New York Times website. Everybody can take a look at it and starts all of these — this commenting.

HOWARD KURTZ: That’s the point. Everybody can not only take a look at it. Everybody can go on Twitter, on Facebook, any other social media site and weigh in. And that undoubtedly helped convince the Romney campaign it didn’t even want to wait one news cycle before knocking this thing down.

RAY SUAREZ: Both campaigns have been active online this week. What have you got for us?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, we’re talking about video.

In terms of video, it seems like the Obama campaign is still trouncing the Romney campaign. As you have said many times, Romney didn’t have the resources to put into Web videos and Web ads. He was busy fighting in the states. . .

HOWARD KURTZ: Trying to win the nomination.

LAUREN ASHBURN: . . . trying to do it.

But take a look at this graphic that we have put together here on YouTube Politics, shows that the Obama campaign videos — this is in millions — the people who watched as of last week, President Obama’s videos, 185 million views, and Mitt Romney’s, 6.8 million. That’s a pretty, pretty stark contrast.

HOWARD KURTZ: And the latest Obama Web video, which we will talk about in just a moment, also has a companion Web site, if you can put that up.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Yes. Here it is.

HOWARD KURTZ: And so the Obama campaign creates this with all kinds of information about Romney’s tenure when he was the head of Bain Capital, and that company was a takeover company. It was buying steel plants in this case and other places.

Sometimes, jobs are created. Other times, jobs were lost. Guess which one the Obama campaign is focusing on?


HOWARD KURTZ: The steel plant in Kansas City where people’s jobs were lost.


And we were — if you look here, you can see the play button. They also put the videos on this Romney Economics Web site to make it very easy for people to see both the two-minute version and the six-minute longer version, where very heartfelt pleas by people who worked here, saying, if Bain hadn’t come in, if Romney hadn’t been here, we would still have jobs and we wouldn’t have lost our pensions.

HOWARD KURTZ: Could we see an excerpt of that?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Oh. Why don’t we go to the videotape?


RAY SUAREZ: I think we can.

MAN: It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us.

MAN: It was like watching an old friend bleed to death.

MITT ROMNEY (R): As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, it breaks my heart.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, let’s remember that if you had to buy the national time to show this to 185 million people, that would be expensive. This is cheap.

HOWARD KURTZ: The Obama campaign told me it has put this — a version of this ad on the evening news in five states. That’s a drop in the bucket. It didn’t cost them very much.

Putting it on the Web, driving it out through social media, creating the website is a very inexpensive and effective way of trying to bring back something that’s been an issue dogging Romney since he ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994. And that’s the record of Bain Capital and where some people whose firms were taken over went bankrupt, lost their pension plans, in some cases lost their health care and lost their jobs.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, in talking to Ed Gillespie today, who is an adviser, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, his point in all of this is to bring it back to President Obama’s record of the last three-and-a-half years, saying this has nothing to do with what Mitt Romney did or didn’t do in his time at Bain Capital. What we need to focus on — we meaning the Romney campaign — is how the president has done in the last three-and-a-half years and the 23 million people who have gone out of work.

HOWARD KURTZ: Either out of work or are looking for work or have dropped out of the work force.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Lost their jobs.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, it’s early yet with that big bulge for Obama video views. But the Romney campaign also is trying to describe the president’s record economically and using film in the same way.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right. And we do have a clip of that to show you.

NARRATOR: Millions of Americans are struggling under the Obama economy. Here are a few of their stories.

MAN: When the economy went bad, a month after my divorce, I lost my job, I lost my house.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, can you get tougher online than you can in a commercial in broadcast environment?

HOWARD KURTZ: I think so because you don’t have to have the candidate coming out and saying, I approve this message.

But what’s really fascinating to me, Lauren, is the way in which both of these campaigns are trying to tap into the anger and the frustrations of the pain of the economy, except Romney wants to do it on the economy of the last three years, blaming it on Barack Obama. The Obama campaign wants to say, you’re running as a businessman. Here’s what you did when you ran Bain Capital, focusing on a very different era.

LAUREN ASHBURN: I think what’s interesting about the videos that we’re seeing — and coincidentally — or, incidentally, rather, on Mother’s Day both of them did Mother’s Day videos honoring Ann Romney, honoring Michelle Obama.

Same reaction, though. President Obama has the video down. He has the people who — watching videos captivated by his videos. Mitt Romney isn’t there yet. He’s making the effort to create these very well-produced documentary-style videos. He’s starting to get — the campaign is starting to get the hang of it, but it just hasn’t. . .

HOWARD KURTZ: Are you saying he seems less personal?

LAUREN ASHBURN: No, I’m just saying it hasn’t caught on. The videos coming out of the Romney campaign haven’t really grabbed hold of the followers.

RAY SUAREZ: Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of the Daily Download, good to see you both.

HOWARD KURTZ: Same here.