And you know what? He has a point, and maybe not just about legacy media, either. Hank Green, one of the three vloggers chosen to interview President Obama by Google, found himself stunned to find he and his colleagues at the center of ridicule over the selection. Most of that ridicule was actually directed at Obama, but it used Green and his colleagues — especially Glozell Green and her bathtub of cereal — as foils, and not just a small amount of that ridicule came from New Media figures. Green lashes out at the credentialism, defending his legitimacy on the basis of audience as well as substance:
Of the people they asked to participate this year, I was the safest bet. I’m a 34-year-old white male with a graduate degree. My videos sometimes involve farting and humping things, but my most common topics are science and thoughtfulness.
Bethany Mota is a 19-year-old who is easy to write off as just another cute, fashionable girl. Though, as is often the case with people who get written off that way, there’s a lot of complexity there. She’s smart, caring, funny, and charming. She already has her own fashion line at Aeropostale.
Glozell Green is a 52-year-old comedian who has made a name for herself on YouTube with some outrageous challenge videos. Also, she is whip-smart, savvy, and has a laser-like focus on her goals.
Green expected to get some pushback from legacy media outlets, but seems most shocked about the pushback from New Media figures, such as Vice:
The middle road had a lot of negativity. CNN intro’d and outro’d every segment with Glozell in a bathtub full of cereal, as did ABC’s morning show. Some positive articles hid their praise inside of how surprised they were that they didn’t have anything nasty to say. Even new media companies like Vice were dismissive:
Think of it as a teeny-bopper AMA…The interviewers will be GloZell Green, who’s perhaps best known for sitting in a tub full of cereal; a 19-year-old who gives beauty advice named Bethany Mota; and Hank Green, a notorious YouTube ranter whose brother wrote The Fault in Our Stars.
The criticism has been especially rigorous on Twitter, where images of Glozell in the bathtub have proliferated, especially to compare Obama’s refusal to speak to Benjamin Netanyahu with his making time for Google’s vloggers. While that criticism has been aimed almost entirely at Obama, it’s clear that some of that relies on delegitimizing Green and his colleagues. Green has a response to that as well:
This is the real source of legacy media’s belittling and diminishing language around our interviews with Obama. They have degraded their own legitimacy so much that, to a lot of people, I (a 34-year-old former bio-chemist and current video blogger) appear to be a more legitimate source of unbiased thought and information than the [expletive] news?
The source of our legitimacy is the very different from their coiffed, Armani institutions. It springs instead (and I’m aware that I’m abandoning any modicum of modesty here) from honesty. In new media this is often called “authenticity” because our culture is too jaded to use a big fat word like “honesty” without our gallbladders clogging up, but that’s really what it is.
Glozell, Bethany and I don’t sit in fancy news studios surrounded by fifty thousand dollar cameras and polished metal and glass backdrops with inlayed 90-inch LCD screens. People trust us because we’ve spent years developing a relationship with them. We have been scrutinized and found not evil. Our legitimacy comes from honesty, not from cultural signals or institutions.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bloggers have been making similar arguments for legitimacy for at least the last decade. And we’ve done it largely on the same grounds — audience, exposure, honesty about our biases, and so on. We have argued against credentialism and disparate treatment from what Green calls “legacy media” (we usually use “mainstream media,” often capitalized) on the same exact basis. As some on Twitter noted, including in response to some of my barbs aimed at Obama over the decision to conduct this event, those of us in the New Media that took a few of the participants’ lighter moments and used them as a club with which to beat Obama missed the larger picture — that a few newer New Media figures used the opportunity to ask a few tough questions of the President, which hasn’t been happening with regularity from the legacy media.
That said, not everything Green argues holds together. He defends his hug of Obama over ObamaCare as just being honest, which it is, but hardly differentiates from the bias Green blasts in the legacy media. He also defends the selfie, which is more of a style issue. I’ve mostly refrained from having my picture taken with politicians of late, and am not of the selfie generation (although I’ve been known to indulge occasionally with friends). It looks a little suspect to have this kind of moment with an interview subject in an effort that you want to have taken seriously, but YMMV. None of this lets Obama off the hook, though, for pre-emptively dodging Netanyahu because of supposed schedule limitations while engaging in Google’s self-promotion — but the criticism would be better tempered by focusing on that.
Be sure to read all of Hank Green’s essay, which changed my perspective on the issue. Instead of playing into credentialism, we should be cheering the results, even if we don’t necessarily see eye to eye with the trio that were chosen in this case. We in the New Media have more operationally in common with Glozell, Hank, and Bethany than the differences in style — and we should remember that.
Update: Plus, as Tony Katz notes, Glozell et al have the voters. That explains why the White House opened its doors to the trio, too.