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Rev. Wright and the Return of the Soundbite

The Rev. Jeremiah W. Wright launches a new wave of TV soundbites at a National Press Club breakfast Monday. (Gerald Martineau / The Washington Post)

By Jose Antonio Vargas
A crucial fight is afoot, and it's not only between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

It's between "soundbite politics" versus "soundblast politics," as blogger Micah Sifry of TechPresident explored a few weeks ago, when clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright first flooded the blogosphere. A 17-second soundbite of the now infamous "God damn America" clip was among them. Then days later Obama, responding to the Wright controversy, gave a speech and uploaded it in its entirety -- 37 minutes -- on YouTube. That was soundblast politics.

Soundbite: short, often catchy, free of context. Soundblast: longer, fuller, more nuanced and detailed.

And while news shows, especially on cable, repeatedly played Wright's soundbites, people turned to YouTube to watch Obama's speech. Within days, it became the most viewed video ever uploaded by a candidate on YouTube, which reportedly counts one view as a full viewing of the entire video. That video has been viewed nearly 4.4 million times. It seemed that soundblast politics was beating soundbite politics, to the benefit of the Obama campaign.

At least until Rev. Wright took center stage Monday during his speech at the National Press Club. A second wave of Rev. Wright clips flooded the blogosphere and this time soundbite politics, on cable shows and online, has taken the upper hand. The conservative blogosphere -- not to mention the mainstream media -- ate it up.

"Coverage of the Rev. Wright's recent remarks has been one of the few instances where the conservative blogosphere is in step with the media," said Matt Lewis, a blogger and director of operations at, the popular conservative site. "And, to make matters worse for Obama, Rev. Wright delivers soundbites so effectively. Clips of his sermons and speeches will be replayed over and over again, even when the story falls off the front page. Conservatives will be pushing it."

Immediately following Obama's press conference on Tuesday, in which he further distanced himself from his former pastor, the campaign uploaded a nearly 7-minute-long clip of that speech on YouTube. Within 12 hours, it was viewed more than 32,000 times. By Wednesday night, nearly 55,000. Moreso than any other candidate, Obama has used his YouTube channel to soundblast his message to his supporters. His channel, featuring 977 videos, has been viewed 13.7 million times -- far more than Clinton's channel (1.5 million) and Sen. John McCain's channel (642,000) combined.

In the end, which will dominate: Wright's soundbites or Obama's soundblast? And, given how much has been said about Wright's remarks, can even a seven-minute explanation from Obama be enough?

As they say in the world of soundbites, stay tuned.

This is the first in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to vargasj-at-washpost-dot-com.

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 1, 2008; 12:02 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , New Media , The Clickocracy  
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