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Set the Debates Free!

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So, you missed the first Democratic presidential debate on Thursday night. Maybe you had better things to watch, or maybe you don't have cable so you couldn't get MSNBC. You probably figured you could catch it later online or on C-Span or something. You want to be a good voter, but it's hard for Joe Biden to compete with Dr. McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy.

Bad news. Although the debate was carried on MSNBC, it's not available from their website, it's not being rerun on C-Span, and  nothing but small snippets of the highlights are available on YouTube. The video of the debate is the copyrighted property of the Democratic National Committee and they seem not to be in any great hurry to make them easily available to the general public. What's more, the same will probably be true of future debates from either party.

Professor Lawrence Lessig — the champion of Creative Commons licensing — thinks that the presidential debates ought to be available as a free download from YouTube. It seems like a good idea to me too. The DNC and RNC don't seem to share that belief. They apparently seem to find an informed electorate somewhat threatening. Or perhaps, based on the performance of their candidates on Thursday, maybe they don't want us to see too much of them. They're kind of creepy.

Lessig has authored a letter to the leadership of both the RNC and DNC urging them to make this and future debates available for download online, either through YouTube or another free service. Many internet luminaries have signed on to support the idea that these videos should essentially be released without copyright because they belong to the public or the nation, rather than the parties or the media industry. Among those supporting this idea are Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Kim Gandy (NOW), Karen Ackerman (AFL-CIO Director), Fred von Lohmann (EFF), Michelle Malkin, Glen Reynolds (Instapundit), Mike Krempasky (RedState). In other words, just about everyone involved with disseminating news and information through the web, regardless of political affiliation.

You may have missed the puncturing of the pomposity of Sen. Joe Biden, the heated exchange between Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the insane rantings of former Senator Mike Gravel (did you even know he was running?), but you can at least find clips of them on YouTube through the links provided here. That leaves about 45 minutes of debate you'll never see unless Professor Lessig and other concerned internet users can get their message through to the leaders of our political parties.

You can help by letting the parties know you use the internet and vote and would like to be able to view the debates online. Ask them why they're so afraid of an informed electorate.

To contact the RNC use the links on their website or try making a fuss on their blog. The DNC offers a convenient contact page, but their blog doesn't permit you to comment on any of the topics, so it's not much use.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Acecool

    Gravel was on insane to the ignorant. What he said was refreshing and truthful. His words resonated with many people. If you doubt that fact just look him up on youtube. You’ll notice that he has 120,000 views with mostly positive comments.

  • Interesting.

    Apparently, the Dems are not proud of what took place last Thursday, and the Reps are afraid theirs isn’t going to be any better.


  • Acecool, Gravel was preaching to the choir and doing it with some extreme rhetoric and a crazed gleam in his eyes. That’s great for you and a few others on the extreme left who have no grip on the real world at all. It did bump him up from 1% in the polls to 2%. The fact is, that even after this debate most people don’t even know he’s running. Kucinich holds the same position – and is probably even more insane and has crazy positions on more issues – but he at least has name recognition.

    And Clavos, commentary from a number of sources after the debate – and I’m not talking Republicans here – has leaned towards describing the entire performance as an ensemble as an embarassment to the party. What the debates made clear is that there isn’t a single democrat who’s really a viable national candidate.


  • I don’t have the web resources to do it, but I’d be inclined to go all pirate on this debate. That is, I’d be thinking about getting a copy of the video from somebody’s Tivo of the event and posting the whole damned thing. Call it “fair use” in the clear public interest and defy the DNC to sue you. How would they come out in that ensuing circus, even if they managed to prevail legally?

    Same would go for the RNC, of course.

  • Even if they did file suit, bet you’d find any number of attorneys willing to defend you Pro Bono; starting with the ACLU.

  • Alec

    Dave – Great post. It is very telling that the Republicans and Democrats are more concerned with controlling their message than with communicating with the widest possible audience. TV Networks, bloggers and other media sources should very pointedly note that the debates cannot be downloaded for free. I wonder why the candidates of either party who get a lot of positive response from the Internet and bloggers are going along with this foolishness. Any presidential aspirant with half an ounce of sense in his or her head would try to get around this stupid restriction by having downloadable town hall meetings.

    I am also amazed to think that these fools don’t realize that fully downloadable debates and other campaign material is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying huge amounts of money for radio and TV time (on the other hand, Internet media outlets are missing out on an obvious business opportunity if they don’t currently charge for online political ads).

    Lastly, I presume that the networks coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions will be skimpy at best. Again, rather than copyrighting and restricting access, both parties would be smart to get as much of this stuff on the Web as possible.

    The political cowardice and stupidity with respect to this issue is astounding.

  • Arch Conservative

    “Dave – Great post. It is very telling that the Republicans and Democrats are more concerned with controlling their message than with communicating with the widest possible audience.”

    Telling? Yes.

    Surprising? No!

    First of all a debate is like a job audition so the potential candidates should should be asked questions by the people that are going to hire them, the American public, not their cronies in the media who lob softball questions and don’t press them on anything.

    Of course this will be just as true of the Republicans in May as it was of the Democrats last week.

    It’s unfortunate that we as citizens do not have a method to force all of the candidates into a debate in which all of the questions are asked directly by American citizens in the audience and are not rehearsed, cherry picked puffballs to which the candidates can get away with giving lightweight, glossy, sugar coated, made for TV sound-bite answers to.

    Another point is that we don’t really need to h ave all the people who have absolutely no shot at all of winning in the debate. Yeah it’s great that we allow people like Mike Revel to speak their mind too and sometimes they have valid points but we all know he’s never going to be president and we would all be better served if he stayed home so that we could learn much more about the 3-4 Democrats that have a real shot so that we may make our decision based hearing more from the candidates than the 1 minute answers they were restricted to by last week’s format. That means Kucinich, Revell and Dodd have to go. Biden and Richardson are on the bubble.

    The same goes for the GOP. It’s been said they are going to have 10 candidates in the first debate. Aside from Guiliani, Mccain, Romney, Thompson who else is a legit candidate right now? Maybe Huckabee and Brownback but still that’s only 6.

    As a Republican I want more of an opportunity to hear John Mccain tell me why he’s not just a water carrying puppet of the current administration and why he thinks it’s such a great friggin idea to apply the Geneva convention to terrorists who would themselves never abide by it in their treatment of American civilians, hear Guiliani tell me why social conservatives should elect him, hear Romney tell me why he flip flopped on abortion and why I should be down with Mormonism, and hear Fred Thompson say something.

  • Even if they did file suit, bet you’d find any number of attorneys willing to defend you Pro Bono; starting with the ACLU.

    Before you could even get the ACLU on the phone the EFF will send Mike Godwin (or someone equivalent) to your house with his briefs down around his knees – or something like that. Hell, they’d probably collaborate with you on getting the release of the video set up.


  • Anytime you see a government pass laws against “terrorism” you can be sure that government is in the process of doing things for which “terrorism” is the only recourse.

  • Dean, that may be the single stupidest damned thing I’ve ever seen anyone write.

    Terrorism is inimical to civilization, not just to oppressive government, and acts of terror are not just carried out by noble freedom fighters.

    You’re essentially saying that acts like the 9/11 WTC attack were justified by the actions of the US government. If you believe shit like that you’re so far out of the normal realm of civilized discourse you’re not worth talking to.


  • Hmm. Does anyone have a Tivo recording of the debate you could cut to a DVD for nefarious usage? Enquiring pirate minds want to know!

  • I wish I did, Brother Barger.

    I would post it on YouTube in a heartbeat.

    I WILL record the Republican “debate.”