October 27, 2007

Edwards Wants Censorship?

John Edwards fights for social justice while ensuring that his campaign offices remain in tony neighborhoods. That formed the basis of a critique by a college student which aired on YouTube -- and started a fight between the Edwards campaign and the University of North Carolina. A UNC journalism professor now accuses the Edwards campaign of demanding the deletion of the video as a prerequisite for UNC's access to his campaign events (via Memeorandum):

In this rough-and-tumble campaign season, the major presidential campaigns have sought to leave no charge unanswered from wherever it may come. Even, it now seems, if the fight takes them into the realm of student journalism.

A journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is accusing aides of John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, of demanding that he remove from YouTube a student report critical of Mr. Edwards’s Democratic presidential campaign — and of threatening to block the university’s access to Mr. Edwards and the campaign headquarters near campus.

Mr. Edwards’s campaign officials said they did not level any such threat during what were clearly heated discussions with the professor and the student over her approach and over the central question in her report: Why has a campaign focused on poverty based its headquarters in an affluent part of Chapel Hill?

The student, Carla Babb, posted the report on YouTube as an entry to a video contest sponsored by MTV, giving the report the potential for national viewing. Ms. Babb had initially approached the Edwards campaign to interview a student working as an intern at its headquarters, but the piece changed focus after the initial request, taking a closer look at the location of Mr. Edwards’s campaign headquarters in Chapel Hill, in light of its poverty message, which had been a subject of a column in the university newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.

The video includes an interview with the columnist, James Edward Dillard, saying, “To pick that place as your campaign center, when you’re going to be the man who advocates on behalf of the poor, I just think, why not turn the media’s attention to somewhere where there are huge, huge problems.”

In one way, this demonstrates a key dynamic in the evolving definition of "media". Before YouTube and blogs, no one in a major campaign would have given a rat's patooty what a journalism student thought about Edwards' campaign office locations. Now, everyone has an equal opportunity to become a Keith Olbermann or Bill O'Reilly-style television commentator -- and campaigns feel as though they need to respond to everyone equally. With the MTV exposure, that magnifies the effect.

Except, of course, they don't have to respond at all, and certainly not to this degree. The availability through YouTube and MTV notwithstanding, the fact remains that few people would have seen this, and even fewer would have given it much credence. The reaction from the Edwards camp has made it much more compelling now, with the ham-handed pressure to silence Ms. Babb and force the professor into withdrawing the entry. They may have just given it first prize -- and MTV would be foolish not to give it extended airplay now.

This demonstrates why Edwards won't win any election, ever. His team shows its inexperience and its heavy-handedness at almost every turn. They have no idea how they come across, and that lack of self-analysis comes right from the very top. Edwards wants to pose himself as the champion of the downtrodden and the equalizer who will bring economic balance -- while building himself a 28,000-square-foot mansion that could house hundreds. He's a poseur, an affectation looking for substance, and when that gets exposed, his campaign attempts to censor those who point it out.

I guess these intimidation tactics work well in the courtroom. In the political world, it just looks like bullying.


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