How Does GMA Love YouTube? Let Us Count The Ways

Some television news producers are falling in love with the free -- if decidedly unnewsworthy -- content on the Web.

Ah, television news’ infatuation with YouTube goes on (wherein lazy producers fill air time with amateur video, hoping to pass it off as “news”).

ABC, for one, is beyond smitten.

Good Morning America now runs what looks like a recurring segment called “YouTube Videos of the Week.” The segment, as teased by Diane Sawyer on Tuesday, is designed to answer the pressing questions, “What is everybody watching? What is the [YouTube] video people cannot stop watching?” In other words, for several minutes GMA rolls footage of a handful of homemade videos that GMA producers found on while GMA hosts (over)react with bemusement, distress, or whatever the appropriate emotion might be. What could be easier? Perfect morning TV news show filler (The Today Show could pad its entire fourth hour with this stuff)!

Back on January 10 — before he took off to report from Iraq — GMA’s Chris Cuomo introduced the segment as follows: “This morning, dancing cops, a man who can’t stop [giggling], and a baby you have to hear to believe. You guessed it. It’s time for our ‘YouTube Videos of the Week.’” One video, Cuomo explained, “features a lovely little child, 20 months, named Bella” sitting in her high chair, grinning and passing gas, as filmed and posted on YouTube by her proud dad. Cue the footage and all Cuomo and his co-hosts had to do was narrate:

Cuomo: That [sound] is not a door opening. That is a barking spider, one of the rarest animals ever seen.

Diane Sawyer: But how many times has a baby smiled, smiled and smiled, and you thought, “She loves me?”

Cuomo: Yes. Yes. Only to learn…gas. But you know what? As silly as it seems, 2.6 million people have watched that. The parents put it online just as a gag for their friends, bingo, big hit.

Tuesday’s “YouTube Videos of the Week” included, among others, a “stunt parakeet” named A.J. who, GMA’s Sam Champion explained, will perform “all of his exclusive stunts on Friday” on the show. Meantime, viewers got a taste of A.J.’s talents via YouTube footage (a tiny green bird playing dead on someone’s beige living room rug and rising up on command), as the GMA on-air talent talked among themselves:

Sam Champion: “This is one talented parakeet. If you’re frustrated over, you know, you just can’t make the dog do it, the parakeet can do it…Now, other things he does, AJ the parakeet, he can play golf. Yeah.

Robin Roberts: AJ the parakeet? Do you have to say it like that?

Champion: AJ, AJ the parakeet. He can play golf on a parakeet-sized golf course…We will have this exclusive, though, on Friday…

Diane Sawyer: Can’t miss that one. And I love the way AJ pops up, looks around…

David Muir: There’s a doggy treat there somewhere. A birdie treat.

How does ABC love YouTube? Let us count the ways.

Not only does YouTube supply GMA with regular filler (“Videos of the Week”), it fights crime! So viewers learned on January 14, when reporter Heather Nauert filed a report for GMA on how “YouTube is now becoming one of law enforcement’s favorite new crime-fighting weapons.” No, Nauert reported, “YouTube might not be ready to replace good old-fashioned police work,” but assorted police departments around the country have closed in on robbery suspects and the like by posting surveillance video on YouTube and watching the tips roll in.

One day later, ABC’s Nightline ran a piece about another YouTube accomplishment: shaming A-list American movie stars who “have a yen for the yen.” Used to be, ABC’s John Berman explained, that Hollywood types could make secret money-making “Japan junkets,” whereby they would earn millions hawking Japanese products in commercials that never saw the light of day stateside. “So, what has changed?” asked ABC’s John Berman. “Well, like we said, back in the 1980s, you could only see something like this” — footage of Cameron Diaz shilling for a cell phone company — “in Japan. Well, suffice it to say, I am not in Japan. No. This is my office, my computer, and that is YouTube.”

Is there anything YouTube can’t do?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.