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What's the Opposite of 'Mainstream'?

Sean McCormack of the State Department invited the real people outside the press corps to question him via YouTube.
Sean McCormack of the State Department invited the real people outside the press corps to question him via YouTube. (Images From Youtube)
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By Al Kamen
Friday, October 31, 2008

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has long had it up to here with some in the mainstream media -- the regulars who cover the department and travel with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice-- complaining that they're constantly pushing to be "edgy" rather than just reporting the news.

To get around the MSM "filter," the State Department, along with other agencies, has gone to the Internet, presenting online chats, Q&As and blogs.

Last week, McCormack took the department into the YouTube world of "vlogging," or video blogging. He inaugurated the venture with a brief video, done in amateur YouTube style, with a jerky camera and the top of his head generally lopped off. It showed him entering the briefing room with the camera focused on his tie before it eventually got most of his face in the frame.

"Hi, I'm Sean McCormack," he began. "I'm the spokesman here at the U.S. Department of State. I'd like to invite you to try something that's going to be a little bit new, a little bit different and hopefully a whole lot of fun. . . . The idea is that you would be able to ask questions of me directly by posting video on YouTube.

"So, what you need to do in order to participate in this," he continued, "is go to the State Department channel on YouTube and click on this video. . . . It's pretty easy.

"This should be a lot of fun. I know it's going to be fun for me. I get to hear from the press corps every single day and give them answers. This is an opportunity for me to hear directly from you and for you to hear directly from me with answers to your questions, whatever happens to be on your mind. So give it a try."

All we can say is: Be careful what you wish for.

"Good [pause] morning, Sean," said one fellow in a dimly lighted room wearing a black scarf with images of ghosts on it. "This is William Theuer of Anchorage, Alaska. I'm excited by the prospect of this digital diplomacy concept. . . . My question would be what implications for national security and foreign policy will we confront as we examine our response to climate change and the climate crisis. I'm especially interested in what solutions there would be for areas of the high latitudes."

A bit later, he vlogged again. "This is William Theuer of Anchorage, Alaska, again. I'm a bus driver, as you may know," he said. "And I'm concerned about the welfare of Mansour Osanloo. He's the president of the syndicate of bus drivers in Tehran, Iran, and I'm wondering what we're doing as the United States with our friends and allies in the region to secure his release." This is a relatively obscure but nonetheless significant issue.

Then Peter Dow weighed in from Britain, seated in front of a wall of news stories and photos of Rice.

"Hello, Sean, and hello to the American people," Dow began. "Thank you very much for saving us, the people of Europe, from the Nazis. We sacrificed together for freedom and we love you very much, more than you know.

"No individual helped us more than the British computer scientist Alan Turing [picture of Turing appears], who decoded the Nazis' military secret signals. Yet after the war Turing was harassed by officers of the United Kingdom state and driven to suicide."


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