CNN Hypes Musician Playing 'Occupy' Song at Obama Dinner

Multiple times on Tuesday, CNN touted a musician who quietly played a song about Occupy Wall Street at an APEC dinner attended by President Obama and other world leaders.

Hawaiian musician Makana performed in the background during Saturday's APEC dinner and wore a t-shirt that read "Occupy With Aloha." He sang softly and repeated the song over and over that was a tribute to Occupy Wall Street protesters. "We'll occupy the streets, we'll occupy the courts," Makana sang in a brief clip provided by CNN.

American Morning co-host Alina Cho called the artist a "very brave musician" and CNN's Brianna Keilar reported that Obama was "unwittingly serenaded" by the man. Keilar's report ran during the 6 and 7 a.m. hours of American Morning and re-surfaced during the 2 p.m. hour in the afternoon.

American Morning co-hosts Christine Romans and Alina Cho admitted that Makana's message probably didn't resonate with the President. "I doubt they knew. I doubt they were listening, quite frankly," Cho said of the President and the First Lady.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 14 at 7:32 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

[7:32]

ALINA CHO: Well, an Occupy Wall Street protester's really pulled a fast one on the White House. He actually got to play his protest song in front of the president and 18 other world leaders at APEC. Our Brianna Keilar spoke to this very brave musician.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN White House correspondent: Christine and Alina, as President Obama and 18 other heads of states and their spouses dined on Saturday night at the APEC leaders' dinner, they were unwittingly serenaded by a musician for almost 45 minutes as he sang a song about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

(Video Clip)

KEILAR (voice-over): That's Matthew Swalinkavich (ph), or as he calls himself, "Makana," Hawaiian for "the gift." He's a well-known musician here on Oahu recognized for his talents playing Hawaiian-style guitar. Saturday night at the request of the White House, he played during the APEC leaders' dinner for President Obama, 18 other heads of states, and their spouses.

[Music Playing]

MAKANA, musician: (Singing) We'll occupy the streets, we'll occupy the courts –

KEILAR: A song about the Occupy Wall Street movement probably wasn't what the White House had in mind. During the dinner, as Makana provided background music, he unbuttoned his shirt to reveal an "Occupy With Aloha" t-shirt underneath, and played a protest tune.

MAKANA: When I started playing it, I was very shy about it. I didn't just start pelting it or be like, everybody stop and listen to me. It was total opposite, it was like very subtle.

KEILAR: But then Makana played it over and over. He says for more than 40 minutes in all.

MAKANA: It didn't go over bad, so I kept playing it. I felt like it was the only song I should be playing and I should really play it a lot. I don't have any other means of exercising my voice to shape policy that affects my life other than singing and writing songs.

KEILAR: Cell phone video recorded by Makana's sound technician shows some leaders turning to look at him, but others appeared not to notice at all, he said.

(Video Clip)

MAKANA: So I just came from playing the world leaders' dinner at APEC.

(End Video Clip)

KEILAR: Makana, who opposes the trade goals of APEC, planned his protest in conjunction with some anti-APEC organizers who edited this video together and helped him publicize what he'd done on the website Apecsucks.com and on a fake Twitter feed about the summit. Makana first played for the Obamas at the White House in 2009. His second performance here in Hawaii is likely his last.

MAKANA: When I thought, wow, you know, they're never going to invite me back if they find out, or – hold on, I thought to myself. So what?

(End Video Clip)

KEILAR: Makana said President Obama was on the other side of the tent from where he was performing, and from what he could see the President appeared to be engaged in conversation throughout much of the dinner. And it was unclear if he realized he was listening to a protest song. The White House declined to comment on the incident. Christine and Alina?

CHO: Alright, thank you. I doubt they knew. I doubt they were listening, quite frankly.

CHRISTINE ROMANS: The President was in an intense conversation with someone else. They were all talking about how to get the world out of a hole. Maybe they didn't notice.

CHO: It was elevator music to them, but anyway.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center