Editor’s Note: Leonard Hyman is a government nerd and former Google Public Policy Fellow who lives in Los Angeles.
President Obama made the rounds in Silicon Valley over the past week, possibly looking to make amends with some of the Democratic Party’s wealthiest supporters while trying to cement his legacy among the millennial generation that embraced him as the ‘digital President.’
He had a number of goals he needed to accomplish, including announcing a new plan to coordinate on cybersecurity, defend his reputation on consumer protection, and sell Obamacare — all at least somewhat dependent on a tech community that has soured on the President after he downplayed the NSA spying controversy and opposed higher privacy restrictions.
Obama tried to make good by handing over the reins on cybersecurity to the Department of Homeland Security. That means the minds behind body scanners at airports will be spying on us instead of the NSA.
Looking towards his long-term legacy, Obama also hit online news outlets for sit-down interviews, including Ezra Klein and Matthew Iglesias at Vox and Ben Smith at BuzzFeed.
The conversations didn’t cover the tech issues that have been so controversial, instead focusing on issues ranging from America’s growing economic inequality to political polarization. In an interesting role reversal, news outlets like CNN and Reuters are quoting Vox and BuzzFeed for a change.
For the President, the trip has already been a success, since he’s used the tech industry to get in another HealthCare.gov plug. In a charming —and oh-so-shareable — BuzzFeed video, Obama makes silly faces in the mirror, plays air basketball, and reminds us of the imminent health insurance deadline. (February 15, by the way.)
Naturally, some of the journalists in the old guard have been tut-tutting BuzzFeed. Saying that giving the President a platform for his agenda while at the same time doing an interview may be “sacrificing their journalistic independence.” His press team, on the other hand, says their job is “to reach audiences where they are.”
The media circus was all a lead up to The White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford. Where Obama announced a new “cyber threat plan” so tech companies would work hand-in-hand with the government sharing private information.
Tim Cook offered remarks at the Summit before the President’s keynote, but Yahoo, Facebook, Google and Microsoft all declined to send their CEOs, which may or may not be a snub in reaction to Obama’s stance on NSA spying and encryption issues. The tech community believes that Uncle Sam’s intrusions on their customers could be undermining their business.
It may be a snub, or maybe they’re hanging out with Bieber.