Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Some celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks and cookouts. Herman Cain celebrated with cartoon dinosaurs and a declaration of his own: “We are not stupid.”
This is the stuff of CainTV, a new website launched by the former Republican presidential candidate on Independence Day. Billed as an “online network of programming,” the site is a curious mix of content that goes above and beyond the high-water mark for weirdness Cain had set with the “smoking” television ad, and the web video where they shoot a chicken out of the sky.
That’s saying something.
CainTV’s programming includes some of what you’d expect: videos of Cain speaking about topics like the American Dream and Warren Buffett’s secretary (although it’s spelled “Buffet” on the website). “They think we are stupid,” Cain says at the beginning of each video. “We are not stupid,” he says in closing.
But CainTV also includes videos of a homeless man named Lewis Brown whose “mouth don’t write no checks my ass can’t cash.” The first episode in the series features Brown explaining the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Biblical terms.
In one of the blogs, there is a recipe for “Whoopie Pies.” In a cartoon intended for children, a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex (née “Tex”) hatches from a red, white, and blue egg; then he learns about Thanksgiving. Need a review of the new Rush album? They’ve got that too.
There’s “Gunless Moments in History,” which is exactly what it sounds like. There’s “Kivi,” in which comedian Kivi Rogers attacks political correctness with a barrage of one-liners (“I’m not sayin’ nothin’ about the Italians, I’m just tired of people picking on them. But the Sicilians, they can suck my ass.”) There’s even a series called “Simple Science Moments,” which features an unidentified man explaining how batteries work.
It’s as if someone reverse-engineered the Steve Brule bits from Tim & Eric into serious educational videos.
“Simple Science Moments” falls under the “Informative” channel of CainTV. There are two other channels: “Inspirational” and “Intertainment.”
“While the material on CainTV may be diverse, it has one thing in common,” said Kathy Hoekstra, communications director for Herman Cain. “Boldness.”
Unfortunately, a bit of that boldness is no longer with us. In an e-mail, Hoekstra told WNYC that Lewis Brown, the homeless man who was the subject of the “Street Smarts” video series, died of a heart attack last year, well before the site's launch. Brown had been discovered by California-based videographer and CainTV blogger Chris Burgard, who saw Brown on the street one day.
“This was a case of taking bold action and giving voice to a man who may never have had an opportunity to do otherwise,” Hoekstra said. Brown was not paid for his role on CainTV, which is funded through a subsidiary of The New Voice, Inc., Cain’s private business.
While Lewis Brown was found on the street, many of the writers on the blog roll – which includes a chef, a restaurateur, comedians, media producers, and the anonymously-handled “Momma Bear” and “Preacher’s Kid” – were the “result of relationships that were made during the campaign,” Hoekstra said. “When we reached out to them to blog, they answered.”
CainTV doesn't have any plans to become a full-fledged television channel, and is happy to live online, Hoekstra said. Indeed, Cain has proven extremely capable of generating viral web content, whether the people sharing are genuine supporters of his message, or detractors tweeting with a “Can you believe this?” mentality.
But page views don’t judge, and traffic’s been steady so far. Hoekstra said that there have been 11,000 unique visitors to the site in its first 24 hours. “And on the July 4th holiday, to boot.”
Correction: This article originally stated that Lewis Brown died during the week prior to CainTV's launch. This was inaccurate. He actually passed away in 2011; CainTV only learned of his death last week.