There was a time—say, in January—when getting an interview with President Barack Obama was the biggest fish a budding new media behemoth could reel in. But now we have way too many of those fish.
On Monday, the website Mic—the news source for people too smart to read Upworthy, but not smart enough to read anything else—unveiled a 14-minute video interview with President Obama, conducted by editor-in-chief Jake Horowitz, who you might know from... something? Possibly. Do you read Business Insider?
In any event, the video focuses on the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. The compromise is briefly explained via sleek graphics and charts. Obama tells us why the deal is good, and we see Horowitz nod his head very seriously to make it clear that he is interviewing the president. Then Obama fields questions from two millennials and one 30-year-old, and he explains why their concerns are invalid.
What is gleaned from this interview? I have no idea. Barack Obama is very optimistic about the treaty he has negotiated. The president needed to sell this major piece of international policy, and that is what he did. The main thing you get from this interview, especially if you access it via Mic’s special landing page at mic.com/obama, is that Mic was able to land an interview with Barack Obama.
Will anyone remember anything said in this interview? Of course not. The more important question—for Mic, certainly—is whether anyone will remember that Mic secured time with a sitting president. Alas, the point at which Mic can get an interview with Obama is exactly the point at which interviewing Obama is no longer novel or meaningful.
This has been the year of the special Obama interview. Back in February, Obama played kingmaker by granting time to both BuzzFeed and Vox, with the latter racing its video out to beat its competitor by a day. The net result of these interviews (plus this) was that Buzzfeed and Vox—and Ben Smith and Ezra Klein and Matt Ylgesias, all one-time anti-establishment upstarts—got to hold a ruler up to their blood-pumped dicks in public. The New York Times drably reported the meaning of it all, which is that both websites are certainly important. Mission accomplished.
Vice, which has been running up the score in the new media valuation game, has gotten several opportunities to whip out its gnarled, diseased dick, too. In March, co-founder Shane Smith got face time with the president, though that is not an abnormal occurrence for people who can afford $23 million mansions in Santa Monica. Obama also participated in a “roundtable” on the “cost of education” hosted by Smith, whose company launders goodwill on behalf of Bank of America. In July, Vice accompanied Obama to a federal prison in Oklahoma—it will broadcast that special in a few weeks.
Not every one of Obama’s carefully curated interviews has been functionally worthless—Marc Maron and Grantland’s Rembert Browne both got good quotes out of the president. But in the cases of BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice, and now Mic, the interviews have merely been transactions. Obama can parcel out prestige, and the websites can offer some cool. It is, if anything, a logical pairing. The trades only require a facade of substance, and that’s a charade all parties are happy to facilitate.
But, with one year and change left in the Obama presidency, the returns on a grand sit-down with the leader of the free world have greatly diminished. In its first 24 hours, Mic’s Obama interview was watched less than 10,000 times on YouTube (see update below). The market, it appears, is fully saturated with Obama’s goodwill.
All that said, the Obama administration is free at any time to respond to Gawker’s repeated requests for an interview. Now, that would be a cool moment.
UPDATE (1:20 p.m.) James Allen, VP of communications at Mic, emailed to argue that Mic’s internal numbers tell a less embarrassing story about the play count of their interview. He says that the number displayed publicly on YouTube is deceptive because of how Mic presented the video on its site:
Because we used a custom image on the landing page that a user clicks to start the YouTube video, all of those views are not included in the public YouTube count. Using a custom image makes for a much better aesthetic and experience but does not register as a YouTube view because it’s not their native play button. We chose a better user experience instead of just focusing on making sure we hit a certain view count on YouTube.
Here’s a breakdown of the 155,000 views (noon today, 48 hours after publishing):
23K via Mic’s custom play button
14.5K via YouTube play button
118K via Facebook play button
Here’s a breakdown of the view count as of yesterday at noon (24 hours after publishing):
121.6K total views16.6K via Mic’s custom play button
We’ll take your word on the count via YouTube play button
95K via Facebook play button