Monday, April 22, 2013

Think Tank Watch Interviews "The Panel Crasher"

Following is a Think Tank Watch interview with The Panel Crasher, the anonymous blogger who is documenting his quest to get free food at events around Washington, DC, including think tank events.

Q: With 394 think tanks (and thousands of other groups/associations) in Washington, DC, do you have a particular strategy in terms of which event to crash next?

A: The only real strategy I have is to mix it up and to try to go to panels at obvious meal times. I try to avoid anything at like 11am or 3pm, because that usually just means cookies. When I look at what's going on at the good time slots, I eliminate places where I know people. Then I try to predict which panel will be the most interesting or potentially hilarious. Sometimes I'll look up the panelists in advance for instance. I've also started to think that small more politically extreme groups (like the Family Research Council) will be less likely to have rigorous check-in procedures and be more focused on meeting their head count. They'll also probably be the most absurd. 

Q: Would you return to a think tank you've already been to or are you more interested in quantity of think tanks to crash?

A: I'm primarily interested in getting free food with minimal hassle, hearing an interesting or silly discussion, making Bruce Willis jokes online, and making some people laugh. Second to that, I have found it pretty interesting to explore new spots like the FRC or Hudson Institute where I hadn't been before. As I look to the weeks ahead to register for upcoming events, I really am amazed by how many think tanks, foundations, associations, councils, groups, institutes, and centers there really are in this town. As best I can, I'm going to try and hit as many new places as possible, but I'm not against returning places if the spread looks good and the panel looks funny.

Q: Any think tank you are now dying to crash?

A: People have tweeted at me about the Peterson Institute, Cato, and Heritage. I'm interested in hitting all of those, especially Cato. They had great events on the Hill. Some of their staff have also tweeted me, so I feel like I'm less likely to get any hassle. They're libertarians after all.

Q: What goes through your mind as you are about to crash a think tank?  Do you get an adrenaline rush?

A: Adrenaline rush is a bit strong. I'm going to eat sandwiches with a couple old boys in suites and listen to people talk about tax policy after all. I'm not stepping in to the Octagon.  Since I got called out at AEI though, I have started to get a bit nervous when I first go in and try to take pictures of the interns and food. I've been a bit less ballsy than I was during the first two crashes. 

Q: Outside of panel-crashing, what is a typical day of eating like for you? 

A: Since I've been unemployed I try and skip breakfast and wait for a lunch panel for my first meal. Then I either try and find a dinner reception or hope my girlfriend wants to cook for me. When I can't mooch off her or the panel scene, I cook myself frozen chicken and vegetables from Safeway. Cheap, easy, and healthy. I legitimately cook only that meal for myself.

One thing I'm looking forward to is an upcoming dinner with Anthony, who writes the Dining With Strangers blog ( It's a pretty interesting blog concept where he seeks out weird/interesting people he's never met, takes them to dinner, interviews them and takes their picture, and then writes a little interview/restaurant review. He liked my blog, we flirted a bit on Twitter, and now we're having dinner. It's really a classic tale of hetero boy meets hetero boy on the internet, hetero boys go on a date, then hetero boys blog about each other and probably never speak again. A tale as old as time.

Q: Do your parents, relatives or others close to you know about your adventures?

A: My parents, brothers, friends, and old colleagues are all aware. My friends and former colleagues were originally my intended and only expected audience, and they've really enjoyed the blog. I spread the word via my DC friends and network, so a fair amount of people are enjoying being in on the secret while respecting my anonymity.  My parents are foreign, and are parents, so they understand not a single one of the pop culture references on the blog. Some of the media attention has made it seem a bit more legit, but lets just say they're "concerned."

Q: Instead of going to grad school, have you considered becoming a full-time event crasher/blogger.

A: Crasher? No. Fat, caffeinated and stupid is no way to go through life. Blogger? Maybe. If I thought I could make a living making boner jokes on the Internet I would have done it a long time ago.

Q: You've commented on how boring most think tank talks are.  Any suggestions to make them less boring?

Q: Yes. Provide barrels of rotten vegetables for people to throw at panelists when they go on too long or say something you disagree with, like in old movies. That would be awesome. Also, stop bringing in one token dissenting voice amongst four just so you can preach to the choir under the veil of "balance." Stop discussing issues that no one in the world would ever disagree with. Make it more like a town hall or debate format with more back and forth between panelists and audience members. And no PowerPoint allowed.

Q: Would you consider working for a think tank in the future?  If so, which one(s).

A: Consider, sure. Is that a plan or ambition? Certainly not.

Q: If you could start your own think tank, what would it be?

A: The Association for the Study of Sandwich StructuresThere's been a bit of a lull in sandwich innovation since the wrap came on the scene. I think a research association could really shake things up, and all think tanks would benefit. 

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on The Panel Crasher.