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

Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Mobile

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Godzilla,’ Brightburn,’ ‘Triple Frontier,’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's the first trailers for Brightburn and Triple Frontier, among other previews.
Home Theater

What is Terrarium TV? Here’s everything you need to know

Terrarium TV offered a way to watch movies & TV for free, but now after a troubled existence, the app's developer has shut it down, and offered an ominous message to users on his way out.
Home Theater

It took Tom Cruise to raise awareness of this troublesome TV setting

Tom Cruise, in an unexpected PSA tweet, asks you to turn off motion interpolation on your TV, but stops short of how to do it. Here's more on the topic, along with links to a guide on how to rid your TV of the dreaded "soap opera effect."
Business

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.
Computing

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than ever, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.
Social Media

Snapchat facial recognition could soon power a new portrait mode, code suggests

Digging into Snapchat's code suggests a handful of upcoming camera features, including a portrait mode. The feature appears to use facial recognition A.I. to blur the background. The code also suggests an updated camera interface.
Computing

Google+ continues to sink with a second massive data breach. Abandon ship now

Google+ was scheduled to shut its doors in August 2019, but the second security breach in only a few months has caused the company to move its plan forward a few months. It might be a good idea to delete your account sooner than later.
Social Media

Walkie-talkie voice messaging finally comes to Instagram

In its latest grab from messaging apps, Instagram now lets you send walkie-talkie style voice messages. Apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and iMessage have offered the feature for some time.
Social Media

‘YouTube Rewind 2018’ is about to become its most disliked video ever

YouTube is about to achieve a record it really doesn't want — that of "most-disliked video." Yes, its annual recap of featuring popular YouTubers has gone down really badly this year.
Social Media

GIF almost anywhere with Giphy’s new keyboard and sticker maker

We all love GIFs, but not every app supports them. Fortunately, the new Giphy' keyboard brings GIFs to any iOS app that supports multimedia. The update also comes with a new tool for creating animated stickers.
Social Media

#ThrowbackThursday is only the start: Instagram hashtags for every day of the week

Not getting your hashtag fill with #ThrowbackThursday or #ManCrushMonday? Here's a list of some of the more popular Instagram hashtags, so you can outfit your next post with the proper tag, regardless of what day it is.