The inside story of President Obama’s ‘planted’ Reddit AMA question

Obama Reddit AMA question conspiracy

The Internet sleuths at Reddit thought they’d landed on a juicy conspiracy that went all the way to the top of political power in the United States: One of the questions answered by President Obama during his AMA interview was, they say, clearly planted by his campaign.

Reddit user hmlee, who asked Obama about how he plans to ease the job crisis for recent college graduates, had created an account a mere 5 minutes and 39 seconds before asking an eloquent question that one user described as “a PR man’s wet dream.” It was just too good, they concluded. Too perfectly crafted — it must be the work of the Obama 2012 reelection campaign. After all, the president only answered 10 questions out of thousands. Why did he choose this one?

Hmlee, they discovered, was a former Department of Justice intern, and had links to President Obama’s election campaign in 2008. The pieces were, it seemed, all lining up.

Here is hmlee’s question, in full:

I am recent law school graduate. Despite graduating from a top school, I find myself unemployed with a large student loan debt burden. While I’m sure my immediate prospects will improve in time, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the future knowing that my ability to live a productive life — to have a fulfilling career, to buy a house, to someday raise a family — is hampered by my debt and the bleak economic outlook for young people. I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Many of us are demoralized. Your 2008 campaign was successful in large part due to the efforts of younger demographics. We worked for you, we campaigned for you, and we turned out in record numbers to vote for you. What can I say to encourage those in similar situations as I am to show up again in November? What hope can you offer us for your second term?

Here is President Obama’s answer, in full:

I understand how tough it is out there for recent grads. You’re right – your long term prospects are great, but that doesn’t help in the short term. Obviously some of the steps we have taken already help young people at the start of their careers. Because of the health care bill, you can stay on your parent’s plan until you’re twenty six. Because of our student loan bill, we are lowering the debt burdens that young people have to carry. But the key for your future, and all our futures, is an economy that is growing and creating solid middle class jobs – and that’s why the choice in this election is so important. The other party has two ideas for growth – more taxs cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we’ve put in place to control the excesses on wall street and help consumers. These ideas have been tried, they didnt work, and will make the economy worse. I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year. I don’t promise that this will solve all our immediate economic challenges, but my plans will lay the foundation for long term growth for your generation, and for generations to follow. So don’t be discouraged – we didn’t get into this fix overnight, and we won’t get out overnight, but we are making progress and with your help will make more.

Rather than speculate, I reached out the “hmlee,” whose name is actually Hilary Lee, a 26-year-old graduate of Northwestern Law in Chicago, to answer the burning question: Was she really a plant from the Obama campaign?

“Not in any way, shape, or form,” said Lee in an email. She explains that her only connection to Obama was as a campaign worker during the 2008 election. “But I have no affiliation with the campaign now,” she said.

So, what about that DoJ internship?

“I interned at the DoJ in a field office in Chicago for six months during law school,” said Lee. “My last day of work was in December 2011. I’ve never met the President, nor any member of his staff.”

Ok, fine. But what about the fact that she’d just created her account minutes before writing a question that was good enough for President Obama to answer in detail? How did she create such a well-crafted question in a matter of moments?

“I’ve used reddit for years, though mostly in a lurking capacity. On the date of the AMA, I wasn’t on my own laptop computer. Typically my account on reddit remains logged in / the details are stored in my browser — but that only goes for my own laptop,” said Lee. “I heard about the AMA a few minutes prior to it going live and couldn’t get my account to login. I knew that if I didn’t get a question submitted in a hurry, it’d probably get lost in the shuffle. So I decided to just create a new account. I typed up my question in notepad prior to copy/pasting it into reddit. I wanted it to be reasonably grammatically correct because I thought that would increase the likelihood of it getting answered. I am a fast writer though — I’ve written semi-professionally for SB Nation in the past, so I’m used to composing things on the fly.”

Alright then, well… that all sounds perfectly legitimate. So, sorry, anti-Obama redditors, it doesn’t seem as though we have a conspiracy here. Rather, we have a well-spoken, educated redditor who wrote a good question, and got lucky.

Lee said that she was “surprised” that Obama answered her question, and thought he did a “fine” job in doing so, even if he didn’t “get to the meat” of her question.

“I thought his answer was fine. I appreciated the honesty and detail. He didn’t really get to the meat of my question — but I didn’t expect him to,” said Lee. “He’s a politician. Even in a non-election year he’s not going to say anything really controversial, and he certainly wouldn’t do it mere months before this election.

“My hope was that if he chose to answer my question he’d have to think about what I was saying, at least for a few minutes, and that that might get the situation that I and many people my age are in right now more on his mind than it was before the day started.”

Image via Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock

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