I set the DVR and decided to watch President Obama on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the morning before I checked out the critical response. I did catch the New York Post front page "No Joke! O Yukes it Up on Leno As Economy Burns", on Morning Joe before I could stop live TV. Uh oh, I thought, has Obama lost his mind or is this just The Post being The Post? (Also comment on "60 Minutes" gallows humor.)
I watched the show and yes, it was The Post being The Post. I won’t look at other papers until I write this.
I think The Washington Post (tiny picture on front page) and The New York Times, the later where it isn’t even on the front page, underplayed the story because I do think that what Obama decided to do is quite significant. While this isn’t World War Two, this was the closest address to a nation in trouble as an FDR fireside chat. (Update: It’s being reported that about 20 million people watched the show.)
The criticism that Obama shouldn’t be traveling to California in the midst of a crisis when he’s the president of the entire country, excuse the pun, just doesn’t fly. Are the same critics going to complain when he jets to England, France, Germany and the Czech Republic to meet with leaders between March 31 and April 5th?
There was lighter conversation in the last segment of the show when Leno said he wanted to ask a few personal questions and began with one about how cool it must be to fly on Air Force One. (Leno had some good jokes, one being that the first thing he’d do was watch the movie "Air Force One" on Air Force One.)
However, most of Obama’s time was spent addressing the financial problems to what may prove to be one of his largest audiences since he became president.
While Leno didn’t ask adversarial questions, his were cogent, sensible, and in fact asked most questions the average informed citizen would.
Obama did make one unfortunate faux pax when talking about his bowling score now being in the 130’s he said "it’s like — it was like Special Olympics, or something." The White House was quick to issue an apology.
To me, and I think to most viewers, the president came across as both serious and relaxed, as a man comfortable in his own skin who certainly doesn’t need a teleprompter.
I think we’ll be seeing more appearance of the president on similar shows
Added comment Mar. 16, 2009:
On 60 Minutes Obama laughed – just saw the replay and thought to myself "it’s gallows humor". On Saturday I was talking about gallows humor to a life guard at the Y who just started a job as an ambulance EMT in Boston. He said he’s already started to observe it among emergency room staff.
Streve Kroft asked Obama whether viewers would think the laughter was inappropriate and conveyed that he was taking this too lightly.
“You’re sitting here. And you’re— you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, ‘I mean, he’s sitting there just making jokes about money—’ How do you deal with— I mean: explain. . .” Kroft asked at one point.
“Are you punch-drunk?” Kroft said.
Watch the interview
Obama answered using the exact term I was thinking:
“No, no. There’s gotta be a little gallows humor to get you through the day,”
Unfortunately, those who don’t work in emergency rooms and on ambulances, and who deal with tragedies as part of their job, usually don’t get "gallows humor" and understand it is a coping mechanism.
If someone is horribly burned the doctor isn’t going to tell their loved ones that the crispy cirtter is in critical condition.
Obama, the nation’s doctor, made a public relations mistake on 60 Minutes.
More comments and clips on Gawker here.