A phone call meant for his sister changed Jeremy Epstein’s life and helped set the course to help re-elect President Barack Obama to a second term. Epstein is now a journalist who works for USA TODAY Sports Media Group but on that fall day in 2012 he was a relatively anonymous student.
A phone call to the home of his parents from the Gallup Poll was originally seeking to speak to his younger sister. The group was interested to see her eligibility for asking a question at the upcoming presidential debate to be held at Hofstra. But since she was 17-years-old, she was ineligible so they settled on talking to her older brother, who at the time was a 20-year-old enrolled at Adelphi University. Epstein answered a few questions and agreed to a background check by the Secret Service.
He didn’t think much of it at the time, in fact he assumed that nothing would come of it. But a few days later Epstein received a call inviting him to be a part of the audience for what was a town hall debate. He potentially might even ask a question.
Epstein signed up, but again didn’t think much of it. It wound up being the start of a process that would see him become a national sensation and change his exercise science focus into one of journalism.
“Since the debate I got a taste of what I really enjoyed doing, which was being in the journalism environment," Epstein told Mero. "From going on television, to doing radio interviews, writing articles there was never a dull moment and I thought that if I was terrible at this I would have stopped getting calls from people to appear on shows after the debate ended immediately.
“I got steady phone calls and interview requests for about a year. And I have worked hard to get my foot in the door. The perception might be ‘oh he appeared on TV a few times and now he thinks he is the next best thing’ which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
On the day of the debate, Epstein submitted his questions to the debate moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley. He sat in on meetings and preparation for the participants of the town hall – this was a full day event that included an orientation process. There was downtime, lots of it, but rumors among the participants began to swirl that Epstein’s question was going to make the cut.
And not just make the cut, but that he’d be the first to ask a question. All in front of 65 million viewers on television. He called his mother to let her know.
Epstein indeed got the first question. As he stood up, he locked eyes with President Obama - then noticed that Gov. Mitt Romney was walking toward him to answer the question.
“As a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate [that] I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me - but more importantly my parents - that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?,” Epstein asked.
In the answer, Romney promised him a job.
“I haven’t heard from him since that night,” Epstein said.
Epstein is busy these days but he doesn’t yet have a full-time job (he ended up voting for President Obama, FYI). He interned at Fox News Radio as a college associate and after transferring he graduated from Hofstra with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in political science. After college he spent two years covering the New York Jets with JetsInsider.com and he parlayed that experience into covering practices and games to working for Slam City, part of USA TODAY’s Sports Media Group. He also works with Derek Smalls of the Sugarhill Gang, who has a venture called Music Delivers Sound Therapy; he is also on an advisory committee that raises awareness for domestic violence in South Carolina. This past spring he also worked for CBS Sports during the NCAA Tournament.
Basketball is his first love and after the debate Epstein challenged the President to a game of one-on-one. President Obama said he’d beat him; Epstein disagrees. In his role with Slam City, he is a producer and booker for their podcast as well as appearing on-air.
After the debate, his life changed. He made appearances on shows on MSNBC and CNN. Glenn Beck, then of Fox News, made fun of him. Bill Maher called him a nasty name. But there were also responses from people and journalists that raved about his impact on the election and how his question resonated with the millennial generation.
“I was just another 20-year-old then - I ask one question and all of a sudden I am being called the voice of the millennial generation.,” Epstein said. “So the reaction was unbelievable, and I continued to steadily do interviews for about a year after the initial wave which ended after the election, I was contacted by the media or did at least one interview a month for about a year. I was written about in a couple books ... it was really something.”