Infiltrating the MTV Casting Call

The good news: President Obama is going to take questions from audience members at a live town hall event on Thursday, October 14. The bad news: You have absolutely no chance of being in the audience, and even if you did, your questions would be pre-screened and written for you.

The live, commercial-free town hall will air on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. EDT on MTV, BET, and CMT—the co-sponsors of the event. Two hundred and fifty slots were made available to young, attractive liberal audience members. For a chance to win one of the seats, all you needed to do was answer a few questions and send a headshot of yourself to MTV.

The call for audience members spread online quickly last week. MTV was seeking “males & females, 18+” with “diverse interests and political views” to sit in the audience and possibly ask President Obama a question. Two of my colleagues were completely honest on their applications and listed themselves as “conservatives.” Unsurprisingly, they didn’t make the cut.

I decided to be a bit more tactful. I listed myself as a “moderate,” which is a relative term and also casually mentioned I attended President Obama’s inauguration, which was true. As a kicker, I threw in another fact: I was Jewish. I was essentially hedging my bet.

A few hours later I received an email that read, “Thank you for inquiring about the town hall with President Obama. We would love to meet with you to get to know you a little better.” Success! The email continued, “Please note this brief in person meeting is meant to ensure that our audience represents very diverse interests and political views.”

 I went to The Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., for my interview and, upon arrival, was handed a questionnaire to fill out. The MTV folks also took a Polaroid of me—so that should silence anyone from claiming this casting call was not about looks.

When I was done, I waited in a large room with dozens of other young people. I turned to the people sitting next to me. After a few minutes of casual conversation, it was clear I was the only conservative in the room.

After about an hour of being shuffled from seat to seat, I was told to enter a large room with a single table and a single chair facing two women. They asked for my Polaroid and questionnaire and began the interview process.

“Where are you from?” one woman asked. “The Jersey Shore,” I replied, alluding to the MTV reality show. “Show us your abs,” she responded. I laughed, but I quickly realized she was being very serious. Needless to say, I did not comply.

“What whimsical question would you ask President Obama, like ‘What do you have on your iPod?’” the same woman asked. I tried to think of the dumbest possible question I could. “I would ask, ‘Mr. President, do you watch “Mad Men?”’ I think that’s an important question,” I responded, tongue-in-cheek.

“You’re not the first person to suggest that,” the woman said while writing my response down verbatim. “I like that question,” she added. In short, don’t be surprised if half of the MTV special is young people asking President Obama about his favorite breakfast cereal.

I left the interview convinced I did not get the part. Sure enough, over the weekend I received an email stating, “Unfortunately, we will not be able to extend an invitation for you to join our studio audience at this time. We will be sure to contact you if a space opens up.”

They did suggest I “tweet at President Obama,” apparently they will be taking questions from Twitter. Sure enough, those questions will be pre-screened as well.

A Young America’s Foundation recent study found that the President speaks on high school and college campuses on an average of once every 12 days. An astroturfed and scripted town hall set to air on MTV is not a far cry from that trend. The President is only speaking to those who agree with him.

When you tune in Thursday evening, keep in mind that every single moment has been produced and every audience member is hand-picked. Nothing of value will come from this town hall. It is yet another publicity stunt from a President who is running out of ideas.