Ouch! The Edwards campaign suffered a minor PR blow this week after attempting to silence a college-produced news report that was critical of the campaign. Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times piece:
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.
A couple of thoughts: First, I have to give the Edwards campaign credit for understanding how even a seemingly insignificant news report produced by a college student can impact a national presidential campaign. Clearly, the Edwards folks (under Joe Trippi‘s leadership, I’m sure) understood that information distribution systems like YouTube (especially combined with the power of MTV) can make such a negative product widely seen. That’s exactly why they sought to have it taken down.
Unfortunately for the campaign, they might have been a bit too bullish in trying to silence the story. While batting down bad stories is standard-practice during political campaigns, it’s becoming increasingly harder to do so with things like YouTube around. Also, political reporters love the whole Edwards-is-a-hypocrite-for-supporting-the-poor story lines. It’s too bad, because I think Edwards is a strong, serious candidate who deserves to a chance to be heard. I also give the campaign credit for being the first to set up a headquarters in Second Life. (yes, I know it got vandalized, but still)
If you care, here’s the original report that started all of this: