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Viral Videos and the Alabama Elections

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In Saturday's New York Times, Gail Collins gives a summary of viral videos that have gone around over the past month leading up to Tuesday's Republican primary. Collins mentions a couple of videos that were so over-the-top and attention-grabbing that they've become the talk of the internet. As someone who's watched these videos closely - and covered both Tim James' and Dale Peterson's ads - I do wonder what kind of impact the national scrutiny will lend to the Tuesday polls. After all, it's Alabamans who will have to decide which candidates they think will best represent them. Seeing these ads run on national broadcasts has to fill local voters with a mixture of pride and disbelief.

Either way, this recent wave of viral sensations has brought Alabama into the spotlight. But after reading Collins' column, I am still left with questions about whether this type of campaigning is effective to get elected or is just a vehicle toward unwanted attention. Could these candidates be sending the wrong message to their constituents? Collins doesn't try to guess how people in Alabama will respond. Rather, in one of the few parts of the column where Collins chimes in with her own perspective, she states "It's extremely popular," telling us about Peterson's commercial. It's her way of telling Americans who haven't seen it to see what they've been missing.

Casual observers from other states get a good laugh after discovering the online campaigning that's happening in Alabama. She toes the line as a casual observer, posing as an everyday American who was sent these videos under subject lines like "Check this out!" Collins doesn't spend any time in her piece analyzing the political draw or divisiveness to these ads, instead settling for a viral round-up without added comment or value. Yes, she is right to acknowledge that a strange trend has developed with these ads; but she fails to offer a prediction about how the commercials could help or hurt the candidates.

We turn to lots of different websites each day to help curate the discussion about what's happening in the world, especially in our country. The New York Times does an excellent job following fads and trends that emerge. Writers for other sections of the paper cover those topics well. Gail Collins, on the other hand, should dedicate her column to articulating, speculating, and anticipating how what is reported on A1 or B16 impacts and influences Americans. That's what we turn to the Op/Ed section for, after all. In this case, however, the viral videos spoke so loudly that the columnist's voice got shut out by the sound of gun rights and xenophobia.