Google Video, actually (but YouTube is the Xerox of online video). Before I saw it in the paper, a friend notified me of Gerald Ford's death by IMing me the 1996 Tom Brokaw "Gerald Ford Dead Today" sketch from Saturday Night Live. It's not the first time I've heard the ironic commentary before I even heard breaking news; a few of my friends habitually send me topical references and one-liners instead of just passing on breaking news (re: Sonny Bono: "It was no accident, the tree was planted"). But in the case of Ford, I knew more about that five-minute skit than about the former president. Not because he left office long before my birth, but because his legacy seemed so limited.
I knew he'd pardoned Nixon, that he appointed Rumsfeld to his cabinet and Cheney to his staff, and that his post-presidential career mostly consisted of golf. I was vaguely aware that he looked like Kelsey Grammer. But it wasn't until I checked Wikipedia that I knew he'd never been elected as Vice President, that he authorized Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, or that he oversaw a swine flu incident much like this year's bird flue scare. (And okay, after the video I checked to see if Taft was really mauled by wolves. He wasn't.)
But as soon as I learned those details, I was back to videos. I'd heard that Chevy Chase did a hilarious Ford impression. Turns out that in his impression, Chase doesn't actually imitate Ford; he just uses him as a peg for clever slapstick (which, as my editor Rachel Sklar noticed, is nothing like Ford). Again, a five-minute SNL sketch that may stay in my mind longer than Gerald Ford.
Ford is the first former President to die in the YouTube age (the last to pass away was Reagan in 2004, before YouTube was even invented). But precious little video of him has made it online. While current news spreads online in minutes, historical news footage hasn't caught on the same way historical comedy has. Instead of seeing the real Ford, I got to see jokes about Ford.
So what did I learn from my online research? The same thing I learn when I watch Monty Python skits or Family Guy clips: If news lengthens its half-life in the YouTube age, it'll only be through the Daily Show. History is brief but sketch comedy lives forever.