Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

US media react to Obama on Leno

Barack Obama on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Mr Obama was "smooth and relaxed" on the show

"A fireside chat for the flat screen age."

That is how the New York Times's TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, described President Barack Obama's appearance on Thursday's Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

And although she noted that Mr Obama "tensed up", after Mr Leno "teasingly" accused him of viewing the economic crisis as his Treasury Secretary's "problem", her overall verdict was that the president "delivered a familiarly smooth, winning performance in an unfamiliar setting".

Ms Stanley, like many commentators, also drew attention to what she described as Mr Obama's "one impolitic moment": his description of his bowling performance as being "like the Special Olympics or something".

Mary Ann Akers, writing in the Washington Post, agreed that Mr Obama "seemed relaxed and in good cheer" on the show.

But she also pointed out Mr Obama's Special Olympics comment, noting that "the audience laughed" when he made it.


ABC's Jake Tapper predicted that the gaffe could jeopardise any future presidential talk show appearances: "The first appearance by a sitting president on "The Tonight Show" may well end up being the last," he said.

"President Obama," wrote Mr Tapper, "attempted to yuk it up with the funnyman, and ended up insulting the disabled."

Writers at the conservative National Review were quick to condemn the President's comments.

"What's next, tripping elderly nuns?" wrote Yuval Levin. "He's very lucky he's not a Republican."

No-one can toss beachballs bigger and softer than Leno
David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun

"Sounds like Joe Biden's been writing Obama's material," added Mark Hemingway.

And Jack Fowler used the remarks as an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that one of the magazine's favourite politicians recently threw her weight behind the Special Olympics:

"While the One Who We Have Been Waiting For mocks Special Olympics athletes," he wrote, "Sarah Palin is talking about her son and joining the wonderful organization."

Time magazine's James Poniewozik meditated on the concept of The Gaffe:

"They happen not in the focal moments, but in the seemingly harmless little digressions, when you're relaxed - too relaxed - you feel you've just about gotten through a high-stakes interview, and your inner censor decides to step out for a cigarette break."

And he sketched out the hypothetical reaction that would have greeted President Bush if he had made such a comment.

"My guess: howls of offense from his critics, uncomfortable rationalizations from his supporters, a brief frenzy of obsession on cable news and radio, and charges that media were carrying the President's water by downplaying the gaffe, or proving their bias by overplaying it."

'Actual news'

The American Prospect's Ezra Klein commented on the substance of the interview, in particular Mr Obama's answers on the AIG bonuses that have been causing outrage in the US this week.

Mr Obama said: "I understand Congress's frustrations, and they're responding to, I think, everybody's anger. But I think that the best way to handle this is to make sure that you've closed the door before the horse gets out of the barn."

Mr Klein remarked that this comment, suggesting as it did that Mr Obama opposed the House of Representatives' vote to claw back the bonuses through the tax system, was "actual news".

And he made a point about Mr Obama's tendency to disguise his opposition to popular policies with careful language.

"The 'I understand X's frustrations' formulation is, at this point, one of the first sentence in the Obama-to-English phrasebook. It means he doesn't support the legislation."

The Baltimore Sun's TV critic, David Zurawiklink, noted the incongruity of hearing financial jargon on an entertainment show.

"When was the last time in the history of late-night shows that the featured guest and host chatted about 'capital ratios', 'credit default swaps' and 'toxic assets'?"

And although he was complimentary about Mr Obama's performance - the president looked "as smooth and cool as Tony Bennett" - he accused Mr Leno and NBC of "hand[ing] the show over to Obama to use as he saw fit for his political purposes".

"No-one can toss beachballs bigger and softer than Leno," he added.

And he was dismissive of Mr Leno's closing remark that "this has been one of the best nights of my life".

"I'm glad that it was good for Leno," wrote Mr Zurawik. "I'm not sure what it meant for TV and its intended purpose of serving citizens first rather than politicians."

The overall verdict from the American media on Mr Obama's appearance?

The president performed well, apart from his tasteless Special Olympics reference, which would have been criticised much more if his predecessor had made it.

And Jay Leno could have asked tougher questions.

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