Leno show is friendly turf for Obama

If TV talk shows have become a battleground where hosts and newsmakers battle it out, Jay Leno and President Barack Obama didn't get the message.



Leno queried Obama about difficult issues — including AIG's executive bonuses and criticism of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — but with minor exception allowed the president to answer without challenge.

"Mr. President, I must say this has been one of the best nights of my life," a beaming Leno announced at the end of Obama's visit yesterday to the "Tonight" show.

It was a sharp contrast to the recent high drama of embattled CNBC financial news host Jim Cramer's painful appearance on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" or David Letterman's roasting of Republican John McCain during the presidential campaign.

Of course, a sitting UUS president is a different animal, and Obama was the first to visit "Tonight." (He'd already appeared twice as a candidate.)

"I'm excited, I'm honored to introduce my next guest, the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama," Leno said as his studio band played "Hail to the Chief."

Obama might have sensed from the outset it would not be a grueling exercise. Leno asked if it was fair to be "judged so quickly" after less than two months in office.

"I welcome the challenge," Obama said. "In Washington, it's a little bit like 'American Idol,' but everybody is Simon Cowell. Everybody's got an opinion."

The tone turned serious when the economic crisis was the topic, but Leno wasn't going to make the president sweat.

Obama had appeared "angry" and "stunned" about the AIG bonuses, Leno observed.

"Stunned is the word," Obama replied, then launched into a lengthy, wonkish description of how the insurance giant foundered and why the company bonuses symbolize the larger issue of Wall Street's "attitude of entitlement."

If Leno had a bone to pick, it was with federal efforts to tax the AIG bonuses out of existence.

"If the government decides they don't like a guy, all of a sudden, 'Hey, we're gonna tax you,"' the talk show host said.

He did tweak Obama at one point, after bringing up criticisms of Geithner. As Obama defended the treasury secretary for taking the right steps against a host of problems, Leno joked, "I love that it's all his problem."

But the biggest dig was against Leno's own network.

"A lot of people were surprised that the president came to NBC. You'd think by this time he'd be tired of big companies on the brink of disaster with a bunch of overpaid executives," Leno said during his monologue.

It was a far different atmosphere when CNBC "Mad Money" host Cramer appeared on Stewart's "The Daily Show" earlier this month and the Comedy Central host railed at him for putting entertainment above journalism. Last year, Letterman gave McCain a tough time after the Republican presidential contender canceled a "Late Show" appearance.

The White House scheduled the "Tonight" appearance as part of a broader outreach to promote Obama's agenda — one that's already had him on ESPN's "SportsCenter" this week and includes a "60 Minutes" interview airing Sunday, plus a prime-time news conference Tuesday.

On "Tonight," Obama had enough running room on to display his comedic chops as Leno delved into what he called "some personal things" with the president.

Leno pressed him on when daughters Malia and Sasha would get their pet dog.

"This is Washington. That was a campaign promise," Obama replied to the pet question, drawing audience laughter. "No, no, no, no, no, I'm teasing. The dog will be there shortly."

"How cool is it to fly in Air Force One?" a dazzled Leno asked at one point.

Toward the end of the interview on Thursday, Obama said he's been practicing at the White House's bowling alley but wasn't happy with his recent score of 129. During a campaign photo op a year ago at a bowling alley in Pennsylvania he rolled only a 37 in seven frames. The clip of the disastrous game was replayed on late night television shows such as Leno's — one of Obama's few campaign gaffes.

Watch a clip of Obama's 'Special Olympics' gaffe

Leno complimented Obama on the 129 score, but the president quipped, "It was like the Special Olympics or something," which prompted laughter from the audience.

Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the president's offhand remark was not meant to disparage the Special Olympics, only to poke some fun at the commander-in-chief's bowling skills.

"He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world," Burton told reporters flying back to Washington with Obama aboard Air Force One.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick