Jack Dorsey of Twitter asks Obama very weak questions (AskObama, Will Wilkinson, Steven Norton, Kara McGuire, Dorrine Mendoza, Raman Chadha, Karl Smith, Kim Quillen, Drew Cline)


Earlier today, Twitter Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey conducted the "AskObama" interview with Barack Obama in which - instead of doing a public service and holding Obama accountable - Dorsey simply promoted his company and asked Obama a series of very weak questions. A reporter from the mainstream media - which has likewise failed to ask Obama any questions that are even slightly challenging - said "this was an almost entirely news-less affair" [1].

The very weak questions Obama was asked are at [2]; if anyone can't predict almost exactly how Obama answered those questions [3], they haven't been following along with all his other bloviating opportunities. After those were asked there was a lightning round with comments about Obama's answers, those are at [4]. The "curators" who were in charge of choosing some of the questions and who enabled Obama to skate yet again are listed at [5].

There was only one immigration-related question, and it asked whether Obama supports visas for startup entrepreneurs. While Obama doesn't appear to have thrown political capital behind something like the Startup Visa Act of 2011, does anyone in their right mind think that Obama would have a conceptual opposition to such a bill? And, of course, such a bill might help Dorsey's investment portfolio or the bottom line of his associates.

As for Obama's supposed opponents (such as those in the tea parties, #tcot, and #GOP), they continued to help him. Almost all tweeted either stupid jokes or nonsense (samples at [6]).

Past Examples
For dozens of examples of similarly weak questions that were asked of Obama and others in the past, see bad questions, popular voting systems, CNN, debates, Youtube corporate, Google corporate, Facebook, and Steve Grove. For the other side of things, see my guide to asking politicians tough questions and the question authority plan.

My Failed Attempt to Make this Work
Note that six days before this event I posted a plan to make AskObama work, but I didn't get any help with that from anyone who'd benefit from Obama being held accountable. I also suggested the following question to each of the curators (except Wilkinson):

"Why was Cesar Chavez such a strong supporter of #immigration enforcement? What was his specific goal?"

Assuming whoever asked that forced Obama to answer that very question, it would force him to admit that his policies are the opposite of Chavez' (or, it would force him to turn on a Chicano icon). It would also bring up the topic of doing immigration enforcement in order to free up jobs and improve working conditions in those jobs currently mostly done by illegal aliens. Instead of trying to box Obama in to answering a tough question or two, all Dorsey and the curators did was present him with puffballs.

What You Can Do
As for what you can do about this, tweet @Jack. Then, tweet him again and again, and let him know that you know that he's just the high-tech equivalent of a carnival shill. And, do the same with the "curators", who are listed at [5]. And, if you're in the tea parties, #tcot, #GOP, or just support immigration enforcement, send this link to your leaders (broadly defined) and ask them why they didn't help me hold Obama accountable but instead just helped him yet again.

7/12/11 UPDATE: From this:

In some cases, participants weren't quite sure why they were selected. Times Picayune business editor Kim Quillen was surprised, she says, when she was approached by Twitter last week to act as a curator. "Gee," she recalls thinking, "I'm not really huge in the Twitter sphere." (Follower count: 1,100.) But Twitter offered Quillen an explanation, she says. "One thing that they complimented me on was that I was kind of a friendly presence. I wasn't picking fights with anyone." More than that, "they said that they were looking to reach outside the Beltway, to people who were communicating through Twitter on the economy, had a decent number of followers, and were exhibiting, I guess, good Twitter dynamics -- retweeting to people, interacting, and engaging."

So, Twitter chose at least one person specifically because they aren't aggressive and don't ask tough questions. And, another curator (kara_mcguire) is a "personal finance columnist, MN Parent columnist, coupon clipper, saving mama, financial literacy advocate", which doesn't exactly indicate that she's an investigative reporting bulldog.

Contrast that with how I and just a few others do things: aggressively asking tough questions designed to hold politicians accountable.

Twitter just wanted to put on a show, without having Obama asked any tough questions.

[1] Chris Cillizza says (washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/

As predicted, this was an almost entirely news-less affair that allowed Obama to talk about what he has done and what he plans to do in office. He almost never went off his message script — pushing Republicans to compromise on tax increases for “millionaires and billionaires,” emphasizing the need for comprehensive energy and immigration reform and making sure people know that the economic stimulus money wasn’t wasted.

As I mentioned earlier, Twitter did a good job of making it as interactive as possible, but the whole town hall would have benefited from more back-and-forth between the president and the moderator. We didn’t learn anything new today. But President Obama and Twitter got some very nice media exposure for what was largely an event devoid of news.

[2] The questions; read them and weep (note that one is from John Boehner and another is from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and thus over 10% of the questions were from those who already had the ability to ask Obama questions):

"In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep?"
"What mistakes have you made in handling this recession and what would you do differently?"
"Tech and knowledge industries are thriving, yet jobs discussion always centers on manufacturing. Why not be realistic about jobs?"
"Higher ed is necessary for a stronger economy, but for some middle-class Americans it's becoming too expensive. What can be done?"
"Mr. President, will you issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling pursuant to Section 4 of the 14th Amendment?"
"Immigrant entrepreneurs can build companies and create jobs for U.S. workers. Will you support a startup visa program?"
"Will you focus on promoting alternative energy industries in oil states like Louisiana and Texas?"
"Mr. President, in several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this?"
"How will admin work to help underwater homeowners who aren't behind in payments but are trapped in homes they can't sell?"
"After embarking on a record spending binge that left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?" (Boehner)
"Small biz create jobs. What incentives are you willing to support to improve small business growth?"
"My question is, can you give companies a tax break if they hire an honorable discharged veteran?"
"Was it a mistake to fail to get Republicans to commit to raise the debt ceiling at the same time tax cuts were extended?" (Kristof)
"What changes to the tax system do you think are necessary to help solve the deficit problem and for the system to be fair?"
"Is free-market an option? Obama on homeowners underwater: have made some progress, but plus needed looking at options."
"Public education here in California is falling apart, not graduating enough skilled workers or smart citizens. Privatization looming?"
"We definitely need to get more vets into jobs, but when are we going to support the troops by cutting oil dependence?"
"So will you raise taxes on the middle class at least to President George W. Bush levels?"
"Now that the space shuttle is gone, where does America stand in space exploration?"

[3] Obama's stock speech answers to the questions:

[4] These are the responses from Twitter users regarding Obama's answers that Dorsey read; they're even worse than the questions:

"Cut defense contracting, end war on drugs, eliminate agribiz and big oil subsidies, invest in public campaign financing."
"Stop giving money to countries that waste it -- Pakistan. Keep military, share the wealth between branches, and don't cut education."
"We need to raise taxes, period."
"Cut military spending on oil subsidies and keep education investments."
"Cut subsidies to industries which are no longer in crisis or are unsuccessful, cotton, oil, corn subsidies from ethanol."
"I would cut defense spending."
"I'd cut costs by cutting some welfare programs. People will never try harder when they are handed everything."

[5] These were the curators; contact them with your thoughts:

@willwilkinson Will Wilkinson
@steven_norton Steven Norton
@Kara_McGuire Kara McGuire
@AssignmentDesk1 Dorrine Mendoza
@RamanChadha Raman Chadha
@ModeledBehavior Modeled Behavior (Karl Smith and perhaps others)
@KimQuillenTP Kim Quillen
@DrewHampshire Drew Cline

[6] buzzfeed . com/mjs538/