Why did President Obama do a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything'?

President Obama did a Q&A with users of the social media site Reddit Wednesday – a way of upstaging the GOP convention and reaching a demographic he needs to win in the fall.  

Steve Helber/AP
University of Virginia students and supporters cheer President Obama during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday. He targeted the same demographic with a Reddit appearance the same day.

President Obama made a surprise appearance on a popular Internet social forum today, popping up on Reddit to take questions from users via a forum known as Ask Me Anything, or AMA.

Reddit users were at first astounded that the president of the United States had landed in their midst. After site administrators confirmed that the person with the username “President Obama” was in fact POTUS, all heck broke loose.

Questions poured forth, from serious inquiries about how to handle college debt in a down economy, to the identity of Mr. Obama’s favorite toothpaste and his attitude towards (the late rock star) Freddy Mercury and (current actor) Neil Patrick Harris.

Users get to pick their questions in AMA, so the silly stuff went unanswered. Among other things, Obama told Reddit that his toughest decision as president had been the approval of the surge of troops into Afghanistan.

“The decision did help us blunt the Taliban’s momentum, and is allowing us to transition to Afghan lead.... But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget,” wrote Obama.

Answering a query about the dangers of money in politics, Obama opined that the flood of cash from "super political-action committees" threatens to drown out the voices of “ordinary citizens.” He said that over the longer term the US might need to mobilize a “constitutional amendment process” to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

He came out in favor of space exploration and Internet freedom without explaining exactly what he meant in either case, noted that Michael Jordan is his favorite basketball player, and, in breaking news, said that the recipe used for White House-brewed beer will soon be released.

He closed by answering a question about life balance, saying that it’s hard when you have presidential responsibilities, but at least his commute is short.

“By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience – NOT BAD!” he concluded.

Why did Obama take the time to answer a few general questions in this manner? Gee, you don’t think it had anything to do with counterprogramming the GOP convention, do you?

The Reddit session will allow Obama to break through the coverage of the GOP in a crucial segment of voters – young, electronically-connected – in which Democrats need to do well in the fall.

Plus, of course he enjoyed the Reddit question experience. Would you rather answer questions shouted at you by the White House press corps in a mass session, or pick what you want to answer in a quiet room and then peck away on a laptop?

The whole thing is another example of how the Obama administration in particular, and politicians in general, are increasingly bypassing the established channels of the mainstream media to find new and less-filtered ways of getting out their message.

It’s no accident that Obama this week also gave an interview to Glamour Magazine. First Lady Michelle Obama is set to appear on David Letterman’s show tonight. The MSM doesn’t like it. But in the new wired world the old rules are changing, and establishment Washington reporters don’t have the leverage they once did.

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