Obama Gets a Taste of 'The Human Microphone'

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.

Presented by

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.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Politics

Just In