Bill Clinton To Barack Obama: MTV’s History With Politics

Tradition continues with Obama's youth town hall Thursday.

“If you had it to do over again, would you inhale?”

With that one question posed to then-Governor Bill Clinton, MTV officially announced itself as a player in the political process. That was back in 1992, when Clinton was still a White House hopeful and MTV had just launched its “Choose or Lose” campaign to inform, educate and encourage young people to grow from electoral spectators into active participants. During a network-sponsored forum, a young woman artfully posed that question of Clinton’s prior marijuana use.

“Sure, if I could,” the presidential candidate replied. “I tried before.”

It was a disarming response from a talented politician on a hot-button issue. And it made clear that MTV could be a home for legitimate debate in a less stuffy, more youth-oriented way than was traditionally possible. Clinton went on to win the election, and he tipped his hat to the network on his way to Washington.

“I think everyone here knows that MTV had a lot to do with the Clinton/Gore victory,” he said.

In the years since, MTV has hosted a slew of other forums, welcoming candidates on both sides of the political spectrum, from Al Gore to John McCain. The tradition continues Thursday, when we join President Barack Obama for “A Conversation With President Obama.” During the one-hour event, which will air live and commercial-free on MTV and its sister networks, as well as MTV.com, the president will answer questions on a wide range of topics from the studio audience and from viewers who submit questions via Twitter .

As we prepare for the event, we’ve been looking back at the history of MTV’s involvement with politics. While we first made our mark with that question about inhaling, we didn’t stop there. Over almost two decades, MTV has been heavily involved in every presidential election and has partnered with campaigns such as Rock the Vote and Diddy’s Citizen Change. Tabitha Soren interviewed George Bush and Bill Clinton. Gideon Yago chatted with George W. Bush and John Kerry. Sway talked with Barack Obama.

“I think passing a law about people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time” then-Senator Obama told MTV News . “We should be focused on creating jobs, improving schools, getting heath care, dealing with the war in Iraq. Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants.”

From televised forums to intimate, sit-down interviews, the effort since ’92 has been geared toward one goal: helping young people engage with and understand candidates running for public office so they can have a voice in the political process.

As Diddy said, “We have the power, this election, to decide who’s the next president, but we have to get out and vote.”

Along the way, of course, MTV has put our own special stamp on politics. Who can forget that moment in ’94 when a young voter posed this most iconic of questions to Clinton: “Mr. President, all the world’s dying to know: Is it boxers or briefs?”

Hey, that’s just how we roll. Clinton understood this (“Mostly briefs,” he responded), as did every candidate who took the time to chat with MTV about issues important to young people. It’s a tradition we started in the early ’90s and that continues to resonate today, as President Obama joins us for this latest forum.

“When you look at the history of this campaign,” he said last year, “what started out as an improbable journey was carried forward, was inspired by, was energized by young people all across America.”

“A Conversation With President Obama,” a production of MTV News and BET News, will be hosted by MTV News’ Sway Calloway, BET’s April Woodard and CMT’s Katie Cook. The show will air live at 4 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. CT (and tape-delayed at 4 p.m. PT) on MTV, BET, CMT, mtvU, Centric and Tr3s. The show will also stream on MTV.com, BET.com, CMT.com and Tr3s.com and will be made available on-demand 30 days after its initial airing.