WASHINGTON — Google was directly involved in choosing the questions President Obama was asked by three YouTube stars last Thursday.
One of the personalities, Hank Green, the creator of educational science videos, wrote Sunday that Google pushed him to ask tougher questions in his post–State of the Union interview with Obama.
"After I sent Google my first list of questions, they got back to me pushing me to drop the soft balls," he wrote on the website Medium.
A Google representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Green's assertion. On Friday, a Google official told BuzzFeed News the company helped the stars select questions that didn't overlap those of the other stars, but didn't generate the list of questions.
"The questions came from the creators and their audiences via their YouTube channels and other social media sources," the official said.
Both the White House and Google said Obama's team did not vet the questions beforehand last week, or in any interview that Google has participated in with the White House.
Though the three big YouTube names who interviewed the president, Green, Bethany Mota, and GloZell Green, are not employees of Google, they are closely tied to the company's platforms for their lucrative digital reach. Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in October 2006. Company reps helped get them to the White House for the YouTube interviews with the president, and Google corporate marketed and promoted the campaign.
In the days after the YouTube interviews, the White House was criticized for going around the professional press corps and turning to three famous vloggers for the high-profile post–State of the Union sit-downs with the president. The YouTube interviews were the most elaborate iteration of a six-year partnership between the Obama White House and Google to help engage Americans not usually found reading or watching the news after the State of the Union. In the past, Obama has sat for Google+ Hangouts, taken questions submitted through social media read to him by a Google employee, and other avenues.