The Obama campaign likes to hold up its online town hall meetings as examples of its social media prowess, pointing out this allows the president to reach millions of Americans all at once. But there’s probably a less respectable reason Obama prefers to engage with the public from behind the security of a computer screen – it’s safer that way.
It’s true many in the media have gone too easy on Obama, neglecting to press him on a lot of tough questions. But with online town halls, the president doesn’t even have to worry about the small chance a rogue reporter or earnest audience member will try to grill him on an issue. And he doesn’t have to worry he’ll get booed by the crowd, or embarrassed by protesters – the hand-picked audiences at his online town halls are always reliably friendly.
He also doesn’t have to worry he’ll get caught off guard by any of the questions, since the White House pre-approves them. Which is why we learned almost nothing new from the town hall today, and the most challenging question the president fielded was one that was promoted by congressional Republicans long before the town hall even started.
These online events are pure propaganda, and they’re becoming increasingly embarrassing for the reporters who cover them uncritically. If Obama wants to have a chat with some of his supporters over Facebook or Twitter, there’s nobody stopping him. But it’s just dishonest for media organizations to cover these as if they’re actual town halls that aren’t micromanaged from top to bottom by his campaign officials.