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20 March 2009


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steven gandy

I dont see how this is any more crass than Bush 43 using the military people draped in the background to
enunciate one of his inane
positions. Obama was elected primarily by the same people in Leno's audience. A little light hearted banter to explain his policies or the criticism thereof, should not be limited to the inside the beltway sycophants.

Bill Wade, NH, USA

I remember seeing Vice President Al Gore on the Letterman show. Letterman initially address the VP as "Al" and it was an awkward moment for the VP and he did correct Letterman.


While I agree with you a 100%, that this not a good idea. And I said so, this AM at the breakfast table. (much to my long suffering wife's chagrin. She's lived with my rants at the breakfast table for over 30 years now) This horse done left the barn Col. We're gettin old. The Stewart show if not next, will be inevitable. I suspect Letterman will be next. But that it is inevitable, does not mean it is cost free.


Given the presidencies job as "bully pulpit," then the dignity of the office is important. and as you suggest, Comedy show appearance lower the level.

However, Geitner has not served his boss well, I would argue, that he has stabbed him in the back to the benefit of his very wealthy financial friends.

Thanks to one of the SST posters for linking to the very informative:


William R. Cumming

So what was OBAMA's purpose just to be the first sitting President to be on the "new" primetime LENO show? Who is managing this guy or is he responsible for his own gaffs--OBAMA not LENO! Bad signs abound about the Administration and hoping it rights itself soon. Perhaps they are hoping for a disasterous event where the President can show his leadership abilities (which are far different that electability credentials and skills and completencies.) Governming the US is not street/community organizations. But hey the first 90 days are not yet up so perhaps we can just stop worrying about what gets accomplished like the Leno appearance in first 100 days and nights.


seems like Obama would be a night show guest since he's so good at rolling with the punches


Col. Lang:

Regarding the inappropriateness of the president appearing on entertainment television:

At one level, what other kind of TV is available? As you rightly point out, however, there are some forms of entertainment TV that should more obviously be avoided by the president than others. Which ones and how do you know? Remember the fuss that Bill Clinton stirred up when he appeared on MTV and answered questions about his underwear? That should probably be a universal No-No.

The president who wants to get his message out to the widest possible number of citizens is stuck, however, with how best to do this. We know that adopting an inside-the-beltway communication model, i.e., only speaking to the country ex cathedra from the White House, doesn’t work all that well for the general population as there are too many filters that get in the way of the message being received and understood. Alternatively, we know that the message is more likely to be received and understood if we deliver the message by using the existing media formats that the people themselves use. Or, by creating formats – like the town hall setting – that give people a chance to participate in the communication process.

Interrupting the final round of the Master’s to bring the nation’s golfers a message from the president is probably not a good idea. Putting the president on a TV stage with an emcee whose reputation for interviewing interesting people and whose skill at making them seem even more interesting and worth knowing and who is watched by millions of citizens every night probably is a good idea. If I’m a movie producer, dog food salesman, or President of the United States, I can’t think of a better place to let people know what I think is important and to sell them on what I want them to believe. As a “cool” medium, TV also encourages a high level of viewer participation, which might include the forming of opinions, attitudes, and points of view about the content being presented. Think here of Billy May selling Oxyclean.

On the other hand, there is always the problem of diluting the transference. I think this is the problem that Col. Lang may be talking about. We like our leaders to be unknowable, distant and somewhat mysterious so that we can believe without obvious refutation that they share our own desires and attitudes. The more we get to know them, and TV exposure provides this, the more likely we are to find out that they really do have feet of clay, truly put their pants on one leg at a time or don’t think the way we do about things that are important to us.

President Obama recognized this when he railed against the intrusion of the press on his Hawaiian vacation over Christmas. He knew not only that his privacy and that of his family would be violated but that it might also destroy some aspect of the mysterious positive image he was trying to build up with the voting public. He was particularly annoyed, for example, at the candid shot of his bare upper torso.

Although this need for maintaining some measure of personal anonymity will always remain an issue for any president or public figure – What do you mean, Rock Hudson is gay? – I’m not sure how much of an issue this is right now for President Obama. My sense is that he will know how to exploit successfully the opportunities that TV exposure gives him to sell his political positions to the general public without wearing out his welcome. Like many good entertainers whether in sports, theatre, television or politics he will always leave them wanting more.

People like Matthews, the butcher boy of MSNBC

Thanks for writing that. He's jerk, has always been a jerk, and I hate that lefties cite him approvingly when he verbally abuses a wingnut. Listen to him for one broadcast and it is completely obvious that he is the archetypal bloviator.....loves the sound of his voice.

Daniel O'Neil


I respectfully disagree. Although it would be ridiculous for Geithner to go on Leno's show, Obama has shown that he is extremely facile in managing these engaged, open-ended discussions and almost inevitably sends them into a more thoughtful and useful discussion of his (and the government's) position. The opportunity to speak directly to a population without the current media echo chamber filter is a tremendous service to democratic values in my opinion.

If Journalism were of a different sort, that is investigative and deliberative, I'd say we could rely on media for the message. But nowadays it seems like the best person for explaining Obama's position on things is, well, Obama.


I suppose you would have criticized FDR for his Fireside Chats.
Obama is a decent communicator and there is a push for getting his budget through Congress right now. He had his reasons for going on TV with Leno. Unfortunately, he had to put up with the usual inane questions about the White House dog.
After the previous administration's issues with constitutional mangling, it is reassuring to see a President who is NOT a semi-feudal CEO type.


There is serious ramble on democratic base about the bail out strategy and effectiveness. In this case Geithner is in charge of fixing the banking.

The compensation hoopla is about to turn into major media explosion. It asks basic question if Geithner is in control, knows what he is doing or just another wall st. stooge. And I don't think Obama wants that sort of cascade to continue.

I think the Joe Leno appearance is effective. He talks straight to the base and reaching the widest audience who are concern about the compensation problem and associated rumble. (Hey, the rumble on the net dies over night. Pretty amazing.) Compare this to Bush co. standard solution: media play, counter spin, talking heads..yakk yakk yakk.. Ever expanding media convolution.

I think people have to worry more about Obama can't get media access than him showing up in places that nobody has done before. So far his team seems to understand public's basic concern and react appropriately. Using the most effective method and channel.

About Presidential image? The last thing Obama wants to change is his most effective ace card. He knows how to talk to people directly and political dynamic on the street level. He can skip the reporters and media and show up himself.

I sort of get a kick out of that part. (who needs talking head telling me what is the prez state of mind and what exactly he meant in his press release and official handout? I can click the youtube and hear him chat answering regular folks myself.)

About the effectiveness of bailout package? (yargh.... the number doesn't add up. I think Geithner is toast in about 6 months or so if the number still doesn't add up. )


I think the only place we get honest commentary not pushing some corporation's agenda is from the comedy shows - Leno, Letterman, Stewart, Colbert. So it is appropriate for the President to appear on one or more of these.

Patrick Lang


You folks should all remember this conversation when over-exposure makes the president vulnerable to minor media figures over their every complaint. pl


I'm not sure what you mean by "makes the president vulnerable to minor media figures over their every complaint." I agree with others who have said Obama's best message deliverer is Obama. It was the opposite with GW Bush. He was his own worst public relations vehicle.

Obama can reach 20 million people going on Leno. I say, go for it.

I don't know how long the frightened and angry American citizens will give President Obama to fix an economic mess thirty years in the making. And I agree with you about Geithner being the convenient scapegoat. Anyone with any previous ties to Wall Street is considered a villain. And we desperately need villains.

The most sensible MSM person writing about all this lately is coming from Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post. He writes today:

"At the moment, the Treasury is working (and working and working) on ways to entice private capital back into the banking and shadow-banking system by offering government financing and guarantees against losses. Every dollar of private capital that can be attracted back into the system is a dollar that the Treasury won't have to borrow or the Federal Reserve won't have to print. And only with the return of private capital will the government be able to get back the rescue money it has committed.

"But how eager do you think private equity and hedge funds will be to invest those billions of dollars if they fear that their participation will subject them to front-page accusations, congressional inquiries and public outrage over how much they might be paying for bonuses or employee travel or office decoration? Will they participate if they think that Congress, in a moment of populist pique, will try to tax back their profits if they earn more than originally expected?

"As the financiers see it, there's a big difference between the government that sets tough terms for participation in its financial rescue programs and a government that is a fickle and unreliable partner, that tries to micromanage their businesses and changes the rules of the game with every zig and zag of public opinion. That may be an exaggerated view, but it is the financiers' view and one we need to be mindful of, since at this point we need their money and cooperation as much as they need ours."


It shows that he is a real person, all the backlash about his comment about his bowling score is just ridiculous...get a life. My god, this guy is a person that does what you and I do. He isn't allowed to joke about his score in bowling. I think the United States finally got it right with a president and yet you all try to find something wrong. I have to say I was quite impressed with his appearance on the show. It made me think wow he is a real person, much better than your last few presidents...maybe more!


"To provide greater support to mortgage lending and housing markets, the Committee decided today to increase the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet further by purchasing .... agency mortgage-backed securities .... and to increase its purchases of agency debt.... Moreover, to help improve conditions in private credit markets,....purchase...longer-term Treasury securities ...."

My translation:

In order to reflate asset markets we are willing to pay any price including the destruction of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency.

Let's not get caught up in the latest faux outrage over bonus payments and office redecorations. The real looting is taking place in Bernanke's shop with actions that even the Congress can't seem to get a handle. The "shocker" will come when the Fed's balance sheet gets marked. I have suggested a possible funding crisis in our future - these actions make that a higher probability event.

frank durkee

If you don't want an "Imperial Presidency" then why the objection to the non-imperial manner. hE'S trying to change the perception of the OFFICE, and perhaps return us to being a Republic.


Col. Lang,

We (wife and I) have also had this same discussion. Much of our perspective and nominal agreement with Obama's appearance are as follows: (We have never seen Jay Leno,do NOT watch television but are fully aware of the debate.)

Open discussion, dialog and involved criticism of 'our' Government's policies is very limited today. Criticism is cast as unpatriotic. Canadian and (Western) European national discourse is much more animinated and open. Demonstrations against government policy in Europe are not considered left-wing unpatriotic as they are here at home. I recently talked with a blue-colar Canadian from Manitoba who told me that his countrymen's impression of the U.S. is that corporate America runs the country and right-wing America has labeled dialog as seditious such that free speech has been lost.

The image of the "PRESIDENT" as a king-like unitary and near-divine authority of the country ( an image pushed by Nixon, Reagan and Bush II supporters ) has helped prevent healthy dialog. How many times did one hear "re-elect the President" rather than re-elect Nixon to hide the mal-performance of an individual behind the aurora of the office. Not re-electing the President would be tantamount to not supporting the President, and therefore not American.

Deifying the office is, to me, much like deifying the country and, therefore, tolerating no alternative perspective, neither inside our borders nor outside. Commentator Hypatia seems, to me, to be exhibit A in proof of this statement. Humbling ourselves, looking inwards to address our multitude of national and international problems with respectful understanding of diverse opinions starts with a Presidential demeanour that is not imperial but rather interactive. I, personally, can support and respect someone more who has shown interest in my involvement and consideration of my thoughts, though his marching orders may ultimately be ones with which I differ. Solidity of purpose comes after discussion.

If public performances such as on Jay Leno are not appropriate but my premise that deifying the office inhibits disagreement contains some truth, how would you propose we try to reduce the tension and animosity that has been fostered over the past few presidential terms? What is the difference between deification and nationalism/fascism? I hear your comment about over-exposure. We as a country maybe over over-steering (undamped oscillations) at this point, but how do we bring 'we the people' back on-board?

The situation regarding Geithner is much more complicated. I feel he is deeply complicit with the TARP scandals through his dealings with Paulson, AIG and Goldman-Sachs last fall. I believe he is fully compromised as Secretary of the Treasury. He is not acting at all in the interest of the U.S.A. President Obama believes in the U.S. Geithner believes in himself. This debate needs to separate the two individuals.

Landsurveyor K

BO on JL: promotes feeding frenzy.
millions of tiny sharks rip the flesh, led by the MSM big sharks.

how does that advance policy?


The problem has always been that we respect these institutions too much. They don't represented our best interests, and it is unlikely they ever will.

And the president will not have to respond to every media complaint. We don't respect them either.

That the only respectable institution is the professional clown cadre tells us all we need to know.


I agree that over-exposure to the media can lessen the magnificence of the Presidential office --

but after the last eight years, i also think lessening that magnificence is something of a good thing. Without that "magnificence" to rely upon, perhaps the post-9-11 idiocies and lies that got the U.S. into its current mess might have been more quickly discerned for what they were.

Another aspect that i have only seen cursorily mentioned, here, is that the "news" programs don't really do much of what they claim to, these days. Obama's appearance on Leno isn't much different than, say, Bush's appearance before Chris Wallass or any of those other sorts of sycophant "news professionals" to whom the President granted interviews. Leno, i'd suggest, actually was a more accurate and effective interview environment than those staged, closed events that Cheney and Bush so loved.

I grant that your worries are insightful and worthy of consideration; but I don't think that Obama appearing on Leno is the real problem.

I think the real problem is that Obama now MUST appear on Leno to get anything approaching a meaningful, direct dialogue. Were Obama to have gone on, say, Meet the Press, he would simply have been forced to respond to a long list of Republican Party talking points, each of which have been re-gurgitated and re-masticated thousands of times, and none of which have even the slightest relevance to the fabled "Main Street, U.S.A." -- except insofar as they can infuriate and terrify the nutjobs so that Republicans can muster a few more votes.

Presidential authority has already been terribly eroded by Bush Jr., and Cheney, Yoo, Addington, Wolfowitz, and the rest of those Jacobin traitors did most of the backhoeing that brought it about. The U.S. Republic is now in rapid, freefalling decline, and the U.S. media is clearly a significant part of the problem -- enabler, co-conspirator, and hired thug all at the same time.

In ancient days, we would have called them "courtiers" -- the news media, Hollywood, and all the commentators and activists in between. These days, instead, they're referred to by paygrade, to maitain the pretense that they actually serve independent purposes.

While i would welcome a president who can maintain his authority while also getting beyond the staging and message-management (i.e.: prevarications and lies) that characterize our modern, mediated discourse, i also realize that, in today's environment (and for the next generation, at least), my hopes will in no way be realized.

So seeing Obama chatting it up with Leno or Letterman seems to me, at least, a step away from the broadcast "news" excesses that are tearing apart the current U.S. system. It's a deviation that carries risks, but one cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

As for Jon Stewart: yes, the man's jokes can delve into the scatological, crude, and disrespectful. But to his credit, he generally reserves the brunt of his humor for callous dissemblers. Generally, he is extremely respectful of elected figures, even those of the Bush Junta (the same cannot be said of, say, Billy O'Ranty, or the coat-tail riding son of Mike Wallace). The relevance of his questions also often far exceeds anything -- and i do mean, anything -- one can find on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, or any of the "Sunday Kabukis".

Unlike "interviewers" and "commentators" like Matthews, Gregory, Wallass (or any of the robots that currently make up 60 Minutes), Stewart does not hide himself behind a marketing-myth of "objectivity", "intellectual authority" or "investigative responsibility". Stewart is a populist in the best sense of the word. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that he also happens to work for the comedy channel.

otiwa ogede

this is an age thing i guess. most people in my age bracket, 24-35, get their current affairs fix more from Leno, Letterman, Stewart and Colbert, than from Meet the Press, or whatever.

Funny thing is that we find these 'comedians' more 'real' than the usual beltway journos serving their corporate masters.

Obama is a master at communication, and he has defied all expectation with his ability to circumvent mainstream convention. After the Bush/Cheney nightmare I think a little 'light' entertainment is just what democracy ordered.

R Whitman

We have two separate issues here:

The first is the wisdom of Obama going on the Leno show. After watching the show I can say "he did no harm". The appearance will be forgotton by next week.

The second is the problem of Geithner and economic remedies. Geithner is an example of the Peter Principle. He has been promoted to his level of incompetence. Obamas whole economic team along with Bernanke lack coherence in their plans. Every week we have some new incomprehensible financial program announced to no effect. Sounds like the Republicans last year. This country needs a solid overarching economic plan for the next 18 months, not the piecemeal crap we have now.

Dave of Maryland

The Prime Minister has to face Question Time. What does the President have to face? Potted questions in stage-managed press conferences?

Bring on John Stewart!


British people do find it difficult to judge Americans attitudes to their president - as we don't have a similiar figure who has to be both politician and monarch.

But I'd have thought it would help the half-God/half politician to occasionally put on a human, informal face.

Didn't Roosevelt used to call them "Fireside chats?"

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