Reddit Sleuths In Action: Highlight How Obama Answered A 'Planted' Question [Update: Or Not?]

from the but-let's-talk-about-rampart dept

Update: There are some good points raised in the comments, showing that the woman in question has responded to the claims and insist that she wasn’t a plant.

We were a bit disappointed in how President Obama handled his recent Reddit AMA, giving mostly canned politician’s answers to a community that tends to expect a bit more human emotion. It was no Woody Harrelson debacle, but it did seem like a missed opportunity. And, now, some Redditors are suggesting that parts of it were actually stage. Some internet sleuthing pointed out that among the only 10 questions that Obama chose to answer (out of hundreds that were asked almost immediately) was one from someone who appears to have been planted by the administration. The evidence:

  • Profile created mere hours before minutes after the AMA was announced, and literally six seconds before asking a well written, paragraph long question (approximate typing speed assuming it was typed after creating the account? 1570 wpm)
  • Created a profile 5 minutes 39 seconds after the AMA going live, when servers were having a fit.
  • Asked question explicitly requesting ways to recruit the youth that Obama relied on last election (many of whom are disillusioned with him, for all the reasons she presents herself as being subject to)
  • Is literally only 1 of 10 questions answered.
  • asked by one hmlee who (according to some internet detective work):
    • has only one comment in her history, total
    • Posted a blog entry supporting Obama
    • lists herself as working/having worked as an intern at the Department of Justice

So, is it possible that she heard about it on her own, created an account, and typed up an eloquent question that is a PR man’s wet dream all within less than 6 minutes? Yes, it’s possible. It’s just not particularly likely.

It isn’t that surprising that the administration would plant questions, though it is a bit surprising that they thought they’d get away with such a blatantly obvious planting. Why not find a supporter who was an actual Redditor and have them ask the question? Either way, we’ve pointed out that the key to a good Reddit AMA tends to be showing off your human side. Responding to planted questions with politicians’ answers doesn’t seem to qualify.

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Comments on “Reddit Sleuths In Action: Highlight How Obama Answered A 'Planted' Question [Update: Or Not?]”

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Michael Long (profile) says:

Here is Lee’s full explanation:

I am not an Obama plant. I have no affiliation with the campaign. I worked for them in 2008, but I haven’t done anything for them in 2012 — mainly because I was busy finishing law school, looking for a job, and studying for the bar exam (priorities, you know). As to the connection to the Department of Justice — yes, I interned there during law school for six months. My last day of work was in December 2011, so I haven’t had any connection to the federal government for quite some time. And the idea that asking a question of Obama (even if some considered it a softball question) would somehow curry favor with the DOJ is… well, ludicrous. Though I wish it were true because I could still use a job.

And the mystery about the account is relatively simple as well. I’ve used reddit for years — though mainly as a lurker. On my own laptop, my reddit account is typically logged in with the information saved in my browser. When the Obama AMA occurred, I wasn’t on my own computer. I couldn’t get my normal login to work and knew that if I didn’t get my question submitted in a hurry it’d get lost in the shuffle. So I just created a new account.

As to hearing about the AMA in the first place, I got a gchat from a friend about two minutes prior to it starting who told me that it was happening and to keep an eye on reddit’s front page for it to post. I guess you could consider the question a little bit of a softball, but that was intentional, in as much as I wanted to get it answered. I knew that the President, being a politician, wouldn’t answer an argumentative or controversial question. Similarly, my question was more likely to get answered if it was at least reasonably grammatically correct. So I typed it up in notepad, proofread it once, and submitted it. Pretty simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You’re kidding right? Politicians answering plant questions in supposedly open forums is so far from ridiculous it’s something that’s actually happened in the past. To declare suspicion of a question like that ‘ridiculous’ given the timings is hopelessly naive. The reality, as it turns out, isn’t that far off anyway. It’s an Obama supporter with some much stronger ties than average to the administration asking a soft-ball question.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

” Politicians answering plant questions in supposedly open forums is so far from ridiculous it’s something that’s actually happened in the past.”

Well, if Obama knows the questions ahead of time and he simply selects an easy question this is a little different. If you pick a random person in front of an audience you may not know what question they will ask and so it’s more advantageous to plant a question. If, in this situation, he is first presented with the questions and he gets to choose which question he wants to answer ahead of time, with many questions to choose from, he can simply choose a convenient question. No need to plant a question.

IP Lawyer says:

The Update is not Enough

Mike, seriously, this needs to come down or have a strikethrough for the entire post.

What happened is that some Ron Paul supporters on reddit got mad at Obamas AMA, created an hysteria, and then reputable news organizations stepped in to prove that the allegations are 100% false. By having this headline up, and google searchable, however, you perpetuate the bullshit.

This is a huge coup for reddit, and it is important that the mainstream media takes reddit seriously. Instead, however, you are feeding them ammunition — which is entirely fictional — to discount what is arguably the most powerful and relevant online community in America.

Sincerely, do us all a favor. Change the headline of this post or offer a blanket retraction. Because this is just bullshit.

Wayne says:

” It isn’t that surprising that the administration would plant questions, though it is a bit surprising that they thought they’d get away with such a blatantly obvious planting. “

I like how a small list of flimsy evidence immediately leads to a guilty conviction. I think I am pretty much done with Techdirt, you guys have really lowered your bar for intelligence and rational thought. It is amazing how Obama seems to bring out the worst in everyone.

Coyne Tibbets says:

Every politician in recent memory vets questions from the press in advance. Reads from a teleprompter. Passes questions to the press or to supporters that they want to be asked (as in this topic). Reviews the tapes of their interview, to approve the cut. Buys advertisements that are portrayed in the media as documentaries.

It’s just today’s spin machines in action; which each successful politician requires in order to offset their opponent’s spin machine.

So what is this story really about? Looks to me like it’s a rooster crowing, “Caught another one.”

Big deal.

SD says:


The explanation raises more questions than answers

Such as admitting “I worked for them in 2008”

Perhaps someone from the campaign recognized her screenname, or she was luckily or randomly picked out of thousands and had nothing to do with the selection?


Even if the question wasn’t planted, knowingly asking softball questions is a shameful thing for a journalist/blogger to do.

Like we can’t already get those answers from campaign ads, stump speeches, candidate web sites, many mainstream media interviews, etc.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


“I knew that the President, being a politician, wouldn’t answer an argumentative or controversial question.”

He is supposed to be incharge, and if he is unwilling to try to answer questions that aren’t softballs he really isn’t worthy of the position.
He is more afraid of media spin than pissing off voters, seems like a stupid game until you remember that the system is rigged anyways.

Anonymous Coward says:

People are really out of touch with politics in the 21st century if they are surprised or even care that planted questions exist. There’s far less ethical things going on in politics these days!

Politicians take money from lobbies and then make laws that favor these lobbies. It’s legalized bribery.
Politicians smear each other on unimportant points (such as ‘bad’ youth decisions; e.g. smoking pot) rather than focusing on the stuff that really matters.
Politicians lie to the public, whether it is about the stuff they will do if elected, their past actions as elected officials or the actions of their rivals.
Politicians and the government are not transparent enough. How can you actually vote when you don’t know the truth? We might as well use a randomness generator to pick our officials.
Politicians try to censor votes by targeting neighborhoods, towns and communities that are strongly in favor of rival politicians or parties. Canada recently had the Robocall Scandal where the conservatives made phone calls to known liberal households informing them that voting bureaus had been moved to another location (when it actually wasn’t the case). Apparently the same has been going on in the USA for a while.
And of course, since there’s hardly any control on money in political elections, those with the most money will get more exposure regardless of how good their ideas are. Limiting the funding of a campaign? No can do.

And yet you guys are making a big deal that out of 10 questions one might have been planted? And you’re actually debating whether it was planted or not as if it’s the biggest thing to worry about right now?
Something tells me whether Romney or Obama gets elected in October, your country won’t get better.

mary says:


Romney lies continually. He does not care about people his wife needs to stop fooling herself and take him to a phychari he cyhanges his thoughts from day to day sometimes in the same day 47 issues showed me just where he stands I wrote him off as he has done the 47. Republicians are pretty desperate to want him in the white house and america would be at a lost

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