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Media Savvy: Liberalviewer is watching

A stay-at-home dad's snarky postings on politics and media are a YouTube hit.

By Sam McManis - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Check out LiberalViewer's YouTube postings by clicking here.

By now, we've all had time to snicker at Time's selection of "You" as its person of the year and to prepare mock acceptance speeches as we stare narcissistically into the magazine's mirrored cover.

Still, humorless media traditionalists may scoff: Honor those get-a-life YouTubers who post videos of Mentos and Diet Coke experiments, and of friends badly lip-syncing songs?

But that's not it at all. If you want to understand the thinking behind why the editors at Time -- and others -- believe that user- generated content is transforming the media landscape, allow us to introduce you to a Sacramento man who could proudly bear the person of the year mantle.

He goes by the YouTube user name LiberalViewer, but in real life he is Allen Asch, 41, a stay-at-home dad and a former public defender in Placer County and Missouri. He's also done some pro bono legal work for the American Civil Liberties Union.

These days, when not taking care of his 6-year-old daughter, he spends time in his LiberalViewer persona, bloviating via YouTube about the news of the day and the mainstream media's coverage of same.

He produces the videos on his laptop and records the narration in his bedroom closet so he can be "surrounded by soft clothes to get the right sound. A friend who's a DJ taught me that."

So what started as a closeted endeavor has turned into a public activity with a burgeoning fan base.

In six months, LiberalViewer has posted about 60 videos that range from two to six minutes in length. He takes clips from news programs that he records on TiVo -- sources span the ideological spectrum from Fox News Channel to C-SPAN to "Democracy Now!" with a heavy dose of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" mixed in for comic relief -- then adds voice-over commentary, graphics and, in the margins outside the video, extensive sourcing for all his opinions.

Each video begins the same way, with the voice of his daughter announcing, "The LiberalViewer presents ..." followed by the subject covered. After making his points, the videos always wrap up with two questions for the audience to mull.

Then the upload ends with this clever closing: "I YouTube, You Decide," after which his daughter gives a playful giggle.

Now, you might think the influence of this anonymous vlogger would be nil in the amorphous world of YouTube, which gets about 100 million views a day.

But LiberalViewer's videos have been viewed 881,489 times (as of Monday morning) since he began his endeavor in July. He has 1,578 subscribers, and the user-comment section is packed with passionate opinions for and against his points of view.

Among the subjects -- some weighty, some wacky -- that LiberalViewer has tackled are the Supreme Court hearing free-speech cases, religious hypocrisy by Christians and Muslims, a deconstruction of President Bush's "surge" speech, a sincere tribute to the troops on Veterans Day, a look at Karl Rove's Svengali-like influence in the White House and coverage of the Sacramento radio station's water-drinking contest that resulted in a contestant's death.

His most pointed commentary is reserved for the media.

LiberalViewer has taken Fox News Channel to task for what he considers deceptive editing of interviews to warp a subject's meaning. He's mused about the blatant product placement in ABC's docudrama "The Path to 9/11," and he even used extended coverage by Sacramento's own Channel 3 (KCRA) of a cat stuck in a tree to lament the victory of "soft news" over real reporting on local TV news.

"I didn't plan to be here when I started (the videos), so I'm not really sure where I'm going with it," Asch says. "It's strange what's happened. I even have a couple of groupies who are really into my videos and post all sorts of comments."

One big fan is Anthony Raymond, a YouTube user from Plymouth, N.H., who says in an e-mail that he stumbled onto LiberalViewer's videos two months ago.

"I wasn't searching for a liberal blog or anything, but I was quite pleased with what I found," Raymond says. "While I tend to lean conservative, I found LiberalViewer's take on the media to be dead-on. Certain news corporations -- Fox in particular -- are too concerned with punditry and care less about decent reporting, and LiberalViewer exposes these absurdities quite well.

"He does not bash political ideology but rather criticizes political leanings in the media. ... The finale of 'I YouTube, You Decide' proudly states that his opinions are not necessarily the truth, and that viewers should remember to think for themselves."

That's one way LiberalViewer separates himself from other posters on YouTube's popular "News & Blogs" category. Another difference is that he does not appear in his videos -- ever.

"The reason I don't appear on my videos is that the idea was to make them as a viewer," Asch says. "They aren't about me. Most of what you see on YouTube is people with their faces right up in the camera, talking about what they're feeling."

Indeed, Asch says he started posting simply on a whim. And it wasn't until he had a few videos under his belt that he adopted the LiberalViewer persona and developed the graphics and format.

"I'm a political junkie," Asch says. "I've watched news shows for a long time, especially those Sunday morning shows. I started capturing shows onto my hard drive because I didn't have space on my TiVo anymore. Then I started making clips. These were clips I thought were worth making some sort of commentary on."

And yes, as his online name implies, he leans to the left of the political spectrum. Although, in a recent posting, he veered from the majority of the YouTube community by not advocating an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Rather, he called for a way to leave the war-torn country without further damaging it.

Asch says he cannot be easily categorized. And he is quick to reframe the word "liberal."

"When you look it up in the dictionary, liberal doesn't mean left-wing," he says. "It's that you believe in progress, reform and civil liberties, that you're open-minded and tolerant."

But what he most assuredly does not want to be called is a budding video auteur, saying, "I've got the limited amount of skills."

Even so, he became popular, fast. The third video Asch posted -- showing how Fox News manipulated video of U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., when Wexler appeared on "The Colbert Report" to make the politico look bad -- received more than 200,000 views on YouTube; Asch figured he had better get serious and "start making stuff worth the attention I was getting."

It sure beats his previous gig as a public defender -- not exactly a glam job for an attorney.

"Being a stay-at-home dad is a good job, too," says Asch, whose wife is a obstetrician.

He likes that his daughter participates in the making of the videos.

"That was the deal we made," he says. "I let her talk and she gives me the time to do it."

Asch produces one or two videos a week, depending on his creative muse.

"All these years of watching TV has prepared me for this," he says, laughing. "It's also getting a lot easier to find and capture video on the Internet."

Or, he could just go to "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" and produce tongue-in-cheek analyses of what Comedy Central's faux pundits are reporting.

LiberalViewer has a series of wry videos pretending to "expose" Colbert as not being true to his "conservative truthiness ideals." And, just as Colbert is playing a part, so, too, does LiberalViewer pretend that everything Colbert says is sincere punditry.

Not everybody is in on the irony, though.

After posting videos titled "LiberalViewer NAILS Stephen Colbert" and "Does the Stephen Colbert Character Know the Word Mocks Him," the hate comments filled up the user responses. One was a video response by "SpaceGeek12," in which someone whispers into the camera, "Psst. It's a TV show."

LiberalViewer says the negative comments don't bother him.

"I used to help moderate the ACLU message board so I'm used to hate comments," he says. "I don't delete anything from my comments section. When I have time, I try to engage people in a conversation. Sometimes, I've brought some conservative viewers around."

One who has gained insight from LiberalViewer is Scott Cramer, a Sacramento resident.

"I like LiberalViewer because he's not way out there on the fringes," Cramer says in a phone interview. "He's balanced in his reporting."

Reporting? Can we consider LiberalViewer a journalist?

"He's an alternative source for news," Cramer says.

An alternative who is getting lots of attention, perhaps enough to be worthy of a person of the year title.


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