A recent article, published by Politico, signals that the White House received pre-screened questions for their immigration #AskTheWhiteHouse segment this past Wednesday. The event, which was publicized as a way to speak directly to the White House, received a lot of buzz via social media -- but turned out to be just a simple rehash of everything immigration advocates have heard up to this post.
Activists, and advocates alike, wondered if the White House would take on some of the "tough" questions that were presented to them, however, Skype had different plans for the interactions the vice-president would be subject to.
Questions were submitted via Skype, and some were taken from Twitter, but none of the real questions that some of us hoped would be answered was actually selected. Instead, we were treated to a variety of questions that were rather generic and posed no real challenge to the Obama administration's deportation record. In total, we heard from U.S. citizens, business leaders, bloggers, and one lonesome undocumented immigrant who was studying to become a lawyer in Florida.
What were the answers to many of the questions asked? Well, they were combinations of different words that spelled out the same message: Tell the Speaker of the House to bring the immigration bill up for a vote, and it will pass.
Questions that dealt with specific pleas were shuffled back to the same point, which both the vice president and Cecilia Muñoz answered in a hypothetical manner, always defaulting back that to the Senate's S.744 bill and declaring that that specific bill would solve their individual grievances.
Perhaps the most awkward interaction came from Skype's moderator, who disclosed that one of the questions submitted in fact came from a colleague of hers.
This was Anil Dash, the CEO of a New York-based tech startup, who asked the vice president about what the technology sector could do to help immigration reform. Mr. Dash asked about the technology behind E-Verify and what could be done to strengthen the program -- which has been under fire by immigration advocates -- to which he was offered a one-on-one phone call with the vice president to discuss what can be done to help the E-Verify system.
Was Mr. Dash's question prioritized? You be the judge.
Which brings us back to the main point: Online interactions with the president, or with the White House, for that matter, are just staged opportunities to deliver talking points. Nowhere in the discussion were the administration's record-setting deportations addressed, nor was the question of whether the president intended to halt deportations of parents of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries.
If Politico's article summarizing how the vetting of the questions was done did not raise your eyebrows, perhaps Angy Rivera's interaction with a similar online town hall will.
Earlier this year, the White House hosted a Google Hangout with President Obama, where individuals where prompted to submit questions online for the president to answer. In this particular occasion, where questions were also screened, Google approached Ms. Rivera to submit a question.
Rivera, who runs the popular Ask Angy blog, jumped on the opportunity, only to then be notified by email that the White House, not Google, was not able to approve her participation in the Google Hangout. Ms. Rivera reports that this email was later followed up with a phone call from Google, in which they clarified their position and stated that it was them, not the White House, that had made the call not to pass her question on to the president.
The nature of Angy's question? President Obama's deportation policy.
With this type of screening done to the questions of the people who are willing not only to reveal their immigration status but to challenge the administration, one must wonder: What exactly is the overall intention or benefit of digital spaces created for questioning political leaders?
Perhaps Skype and Microsoft were better off asking people to tweet at Speaker Boehner directly. After all, neither Ju Hong, the "heckler" who interrupted the president a couple of weeks ago, nor Erika Andiola, an immigration activist fighting her mother's deportation, was allowed to make a case to the vice president.
Whether it was Microsoft or the White House screening the questions, you can be certain of one thing: The White House has no interest in answering to criticism or challenging questions.
Meanwhile, deportations are set to continue over the holiday break.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post noted that the White House screened the questions submitted to the #AskTheWhiteHouse Skype Chat. The post has been updated to reflect that it was Skype, not the White House, who screened the questions.