Review: MTV-MySpace Candidate Dialogue

BOTTOM LINE: Live polling of Edwards' answers enlivens presentation, but adds little substance.

A Presidential Candidate Dialogue with John Edwards
MySpace and MTV
7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27

The presidential campaign got another questionable new-media tweak with the first "dialogue" from MTV and MySpace featuring John Edwards at the University of New Hampshire on Thursday. The hour-long forum was streamed on MySpace and, and also aired on MTV.

Edwards was asked questions live by online viewers -- a twist on the pretaped variety offered by CNN and its collaboration with YouTube -- as well as instant audience polling on MySpace.

The audience could choose among three positive options ("Good ideas," "Understands reality," or "Answered Question,") or three negative options ("Wrong Ideas," "Out of Touch," "Dodged Question").

The percentage clicking on each was displayed online and tallied on site by The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. No wonder Edwards -- a liberal candidate visiting a liberal college in a liberal state -- scored well.

Of the audience voting in the non-scientifically conducted poll, 69% said that Edwards has "good ideas," when asked "What do you think about Senator Edwards' response(s) to ALL of the questions in this Presidential dialogue?" One percent said that he was "out of touch." Another 5% said that he has "the wrong ideas."

Welcome to your Sally Field moment, Senator Edwards. They like you. They really like you.

Leaving aside the marginal utility of such a real-time scoring system (only useful if all candidates are tracked in the same manner over several appearances), I found myself remembering fondly Bill Clinton's early appearances on MTV. I say fondly because those appearances were remarkable for demonstrating the power of connecting to the young voting demographic.

But these days, it's as if we can't see beyond the youth demo. We can't help but connect to it in everything we do. And so every display of technological prowess -- and you're fooling yourself if you think this was anything other than a marketing gimmick -- shines with a veneer of pandering.

How long until all the candidates are jockeying for increasingly esoteric techie firsts? Hillary first to podcast from a donkey! Obama first to Facebook from an iPhone!

But here's the catch: This campaign season and all the video that's been generated so far, it's all been for show. It feels more like we're field-testing our technology instead of our democracy. Nothing of this matters. Nothing except November 2, 2008.