Faced with sagging viewership of the State of the Union on television, the White House pushed hard this week to ignite some Internet virality around the president and his policies. Thursday, President Obama spoke with three YouTube "celebrities" who have a combined following of 13.8 million as a part of that effort. Around 22,000 people watched the live webcast concurrently, according to the YouTube player page.
The celebrities were not professional journalists. So Obama shouldn't have been too surprised when GloZell, a YouTube star known for antics such as taking a milk-and-cereal bath, asked him this question:
"I grew up in Florida and I have a lot of close friends who are Cuban Americans. And I've heard the stories of their families escaping ... to get away from the Castros. The guy puts dick in dictatorship. How do you justify dealing with the Castros?"
Other interviewers included Bethany Mota, known for her crafting videos, and Hank Green, known for being the brother of best-selling author John Green.
None of Obama's answers were particularly enlightening. For the Cuba question, he responded with his now boilerplate, "if you do something for 50 years and it doesn't work" explanation of why policy needs to change.
Green lobbed Obama an extreme softball, saying "Obamacare has worked for me." Mota asked about education affordability. Obama responded explaining his plan to make community college free. "That's awesome," Mota replied. She also asked him what superpower he'd like to have. "I guess the flying thing," Obama said. Mota's final question was a selfie request.
By forgoing the traditional news media in these interviews, Obama was able to broadcast his common talking points to a potentially new audience, with little pesky pushback from the interviewers. A smart move for White House communication, though not exactly conducive to the pursuit of journalism.