MTV VMAs Dead Wrong on DNC

Kevin Hart hosting VMAs (Kevin Winter/Getty Images); President Obama andMichelle Obama at the DNC (The Washington Post)
Kevin Hart hosting VMAs (Kevin Winter/Getty Images); President Obama andMichelle Obama at the DNC (The Washington Post)

(The Root) — Last week the Democratic National Convention kicked off in the Queen City, Charlotte, N.C. The much-anticipated event had a lineup of political rock stars, namely former President Bill Clinton, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and, of course, President Obama and his wife. Actual rock stars Foo Fighters, music icon Mary J. Blige and actresses Kerry Washington, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria lent their celebrity to the DNC on Thursday, the last day of the convention.


Imagine my surprise to learn that CBS/Viacom had scheduled the broadcast of MTV's 2012 Video Music Awards on the same Thursday evening that President Obama was scheduled to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for his candidacy for the 2012 Democratic presidential ticket.

You may recall that 20 years ago, Rock the Vote launched a movement to "engage and build political power for young people in our country." The Rock the Vote campaign has been wildly successful, registering more than 5 million young voters through grassroots organizing, the innovative use of technology and leveraging pop cultural and celebrity connections to mobilize and motivate young voters. Rock the Vote became a household name through public service announcements featuring celebrities that played routinely on MTV, VH1 and BET, all stations currently owned by CBS/Viacom.

How is it that a network that has done so much in the past to help young voters could do so poorly now by counterprogramming against the final night of the DNC in which President Obama accepted his party's nomination? What happened to helping to inform young voters about the election process and motivating them to register to vote? Since when does MTV air the VMAs on a Thursday night, anyway? What message does it send to potential young voters when an awards show is scheduled at the same time as the convention of a major political party two months before Election Day?

The message is that watching MTV is arguably cooler than participating in politics. For the record, watching the RNC and DNC is an important part of the political process in this country. The conventions serve as an opportunity to see rising stars in the political parties (some of whom have radically different ideas), hear from legendary politicians who have played historically significant roles in the parties, hear from fellow citizens about why they support their party of choice, hear directly from the candidates chosen by the delegates and, most important, gain clarification on each party's political platform. Can you say "Bill Clinton"?

MTV tried to correct the oversight by moving the time of the VMAs' broadcast to run from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET so that it would not be in direct conflict with President Obama's speech. The network also has promoted Fantasy Election '12, its new effort to engage millennials and combat "election avoidance."

The 2011 VMAs aired on Sunday, Aug. 28, and drew more than 12 million viewers. This year's VMAs drew only 6.1 million viewers. Since MTV programmers clearly don't do calendars, then hopefully they do math.


President Obama's DNC convention speech set a Twitter record with 52,756 tweets per minute. However, MTV did manage to have huge numbers on social media, as well: The VMAs' hashtag (#vma) was the top hashtag on Thursday night, followed by two VMAs-related hashtags (#voteonedirection and #votebieber) with #dnc2012 coming in fifth place.

Yes, it's possible to be interested in politics and pop culture — Rock the Vote proved that. Just because young people often text, tweet and watch TV and listen to music at the same time does not mean that they should be left to their own devices. (Pun intended.)


I won't join the conspiracy theorists, but I will say that political conventions are major events that should receive deference from awards shows. Young people deserve better, and MTV should do better because it knows better.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.


Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.