Obama Gets a Taste of 'The Human Microphone'

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Hecklers borrowed a technique from Occupy Wall Street to interrupt the president's speech at a New Hampshire high school



Every president is occasionally met with hecklers. Usually it's a single person who shouts out a grievance in the course of a public appearance. We have understandably mixed feelings about these acts. Crowds gather to hear the speaker, interruptions are rude, and although we'd all love for the president to confront our particular concerns in a public forum, a norm whereby everyone just shouts out their thoughts would make public oratory practically impossible. On the other hand, presidents seldom face the citizenry in an uncontrolled setting, and a disruptive audience member is at times the only way a leader is made to address difficult questions.

In the video above, recorded earlier today, President Obama is interrupted while addressing high school students in New Hampshire. He's an adept speaker and has little problem reasserting control: The crowd is on his side, chanting his name to signal that they disapprove of the interruption. Still, I think it is a noteworthy incident, because it's the first time I've seen a president interrupted by the human microphone, which came into widespread use during Occupy Wall Street protests, when protesters were forbidden from using amplifying devices.

It is surely not the last time the human microphone will be used in this way.

Even in this brief clip, it's easy to see how the method changes the dynamic between speaker and heckler. It puts them on more equal footing, both because the heckler's voice is amplified in volume, and because the people repeating the words show that more than one person values the interruption. So, a rare prediction: Even if Occupy Wall Street protesters leave their encampments and move on to whatever is next, expect human-microphone heckling to pop up everyplace from city-council meetings to college-basketball games to the 2013 inaugural address.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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