Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obama's mysterious dinner with tech executives


For technology spectators, a dinner on Thursday evening with President Obama and a dozen Silicon Valley executive seems like a scene straight out of an Agatha Christie novel: a pile of questions and very few answers surrounding the dinner and its guests.

Who determined the seating arrangement? What did they all eat? How did Steve Jobs look? Did Mark Zuckerberg really wear a jacket and not his signature hooded sweatshirt? And of course, what did this group of tech executives talk about?

But just like any secret dinner in a good mystery novel, spectators are left with many more questions than answers.

The New York Times reached out to several of the attendees with the hopes of finding out more, but most did not respond or declined to comment. Oracle, Netflix, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, whose chief executives were all in attendance, had nothing to share. Steve Westly, one of the guests at the dinner, said via a spokesman that he was "unwilling to express the specifics of the dinner as it was a private event."
Still, with scraps of information, the Internet was buzzing Friday:

Searching Twitter for the term "fly on the wall" resulted in a thousands of people saying they would like to have been in disguise as a fly on the wall at the dinner.

The blog Search Engine Land dissected an image that was released by the White House, pointing out who sat where. Mr. Jobs and Mr. Zuckerberg were the lucky two who sat next to President Obama.

The San Francisco Chronicle followed the money trail while reporting on the dinner and listed the political contributions of each guest. The Chronicle also cited people who believed that the agenda was not to discuss innovation in Silicon Valley, but instead "suggested that the president was paving the way for his 2012 re-election campaign."

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, issued a statement about the President's trip to Silicon Valley, and although he didn't share too much about the dinner, Mr. Carney insisted the event was meant to discuss new investments in Silicon Valley.

"The president specifically discussed his proposals to invest in research and development and expand incentives for companies to grow and hire," Mr. Carney said. Referring to the dinner attendees, he said, "The group also discussed the importance of new investments in education and the new White House initiative Startup America, a partnership with the private sector aimed at supporting new startups and small businesses."