CNN/Google/YouTube Debate Is Not A Radical Departure From The Norm. Discuss.

The flight to Charleston, South Carolina being two hours delayed, this column will miss a private reporters' lunch featuring the two founders of YouTube. Later tonight, after the debate, Google will fete reporters after deadline at Charleston's Visitor Center Bus Terminal (which apparently is nicer than it sounds). Apparently, the event features live music from an artist with the last name of McCain.

This debate is supposed to be new and innovative and a radical departure from the norm. Maybe.

For one thing, giant corporate sponsors are plying reporters with food and drinks. That's the norm of the presidential debates. Since when do companies sponsor primary debates? Are we going to see a GOP debate sponsored by Bank of America?

The best way to contextualize today's debate is to see it as a joint production of two giant media conglomerates -- Google (YouTube), Time Warner (CNN) -- a slightly flashier variant, in other words, of the usual.

Ostensibly, the press is supposed to focus on the wonder of citizens submitting their own questions through YouTube. Some of the questions will be unique, and it's always a good thing to vary the voices involved in vetting the candidates.

The trouble is that the rate of technological progress advances so quickly, our expectations and beliefs about what's "new" and "innovative" revise themselves automatically, and YouTube is no longer "the latest" in campaign technology.

With some exceptions, the campaigns have mastered the art of using YouTube to saturate opposition research and few, if any, independent YouTube submissions have changed the course of the primaries since George Allen's Macaca video was broadly disseminated by the Webb campaign. Maybe it's too early, or maybe those who are paying attention today already suffer from YouTube Oversaturation Syndrome.

In any event, Google is a dominant and vertically integrating force in the media universe today. It plans to try and take over the lucrative but esoteric practice of media buying, just as it has revolutionized web-based advertising and marketing.

With the Democratic Party and CNN's assent, this debate is an attempt by Google stamp their brand on a technology they did not invent and an openness they are struggling to endorse. That's smart of them.

Sam Feist, the executive producer of CNN's Situation Room, and Robert Yoon, CNN's chief political researcher, are helping Anderson Cooper select and order the questions. So the same "corporate media" that comes in for criticism is serving as somewhat of a filter.