House Gives Thumbs-Up To Members' Web Videos

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Members of the House, relax.

You will still be allowed to post YouTube videos of yourself on your official congressional Web sites, so all your interested constituents can click and see you pounding the podium and championing a bill for your district.

A low-profile House committee adopted rules last week that permit members to use video material from Web sites such as YouTube on their own official sites. It's a colossal step into the 21st-century world of online communication that came after leaders recognized that new technology was overtaking the rules of an 18th-century-vintage congressional commission that long governed how lawmakers may talk to their constituents.

The problem was that all the video sites that members were increasingly linking to their official Web sites to showcase their speeches -- on the House floor and in testy committee hearings -- came with advertisements. So lawmakers were violating long-standing rules that bar them from having any whiff of commerce in their communications with constituents.

That ended last week. The rule change adopted by the House mimics one introduced last month by the Senate that allows members to place Web content on sites outside the government's domain. As part of the change, viewers who want to view such video material -- along with ads picturing actress Brooke Shields touting Volkswagen's new minivan, or pop rocker Avril Lavigne -- will receive a warning that they are exiting the government site and that members of Congress are not responsible for its content.

Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, explained in a statement that the old rules "had grown more difficult to comply with as new communications and outreach technologies emerged." The translation is that more and more lawmakers were ignoring the rules as they linked their YouTube performances to their official Web sites.

"Over the past several years, we have witnessed an incredible pace of technological innovation and development," Brady said. "Today, we have taken an important step in ensuring that we can utilize these and future innovations to the benefit of our constituents."

On Thursday, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) praised the committee for choosing this path and rejecting an alternative proposal that would have prohibited legislators and their constituents from communicating with each other via Web sites that do not appear on a list of "approved" sites created by a government panel. He called the Internet a "powerful tool that gives Americans an unprecedented window into the daily actions of their government" and one that should be embraced by Congress.

"These new guidelines are a step in the right direction for a Congress that has been behind the technological curve for too long," Boehner said.

Those who wish to see a more complete archive of lawmakers' speeches can search them out directly on YouTube. Boehner's most popular performance is alternately titled "John Boehner Crying" and "John Boehner Gets Emotional, When Talking about America." In his House floor speech of May 2007, the Republican leader's voice cracked as he discussed the need to support the U.S. battle against terrorism.

"And after 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on?" he asked.

Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Mass.) -- chairman of the Franking Commission, which began looking into the issue and stirred up controversy by initially proposing "approved" sites -- has his own most viewed performance. Titled "Mike Capuano yelling at head of FAA," it shows him ripping into the acting director of the Federal Aviation Administration at a September 2007 House subcommittee hearing on airline delays and customer service.

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