ABC’s Barbara Walters' "interview" with the Obamas on Thursday's Nightline ran much more like a celebrity infomercial. Walters was her usual self, asking questions void of substance and fawning over every detail of the First Family.
With the fiscal cliff looming just weeks after the interview originally took place, Walters had no questions on any matter of political significance. She did find time to discuss the family's dog Bo, pressing Mrs. Obama, "Does he follow you around all day?" and "What is Bo getting for Christmas?" [See video after jump. MP3 audio here.]
For a reporter, Walters is pretty cozy with the White House, calling her annual Christmas interview with the Obamas "one of my favorite holiday traditions."
As the First Lady conducted Walters on a one-on-one tour of the White House shortly before Christmas, Walters asked "How many hands do you shake at Christmas time?" and followed up on how the First Lady shakes hands.
And as the teasers on other ABC programs revealed, Walters had plenty of softballs in store for the First Couple . "How do you keep the fire going?" she asked of their marriage. "Will you let Malia date yet?" wondered Walters, sounding more like the Obamas' next door neighbor.
"What is your favorite presidential perk?" she asked another hard-hitting question of President Obama.
See relevant transcript below.
December 26, 2012
11:35 p.m. EST
TERRY MORAN: Tonight on a special edition of Nightline a White House Christmas with the first family. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sit down for an intimate and revealing first interview together since the election. Only with Barbara Walters.
BARBARA WALTERS: How do you keep the fire going?
MORAN: Trimming the trees with the first dog Bo. Inside a special tradition. How they deck the halls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And ask Mrs. Obama. First graders with a very special connection to the White House tree ask their questions of the first lady
UNKOWN PERSON #1: Do they give each other presents
UNKNOWN ANNOUNCER: From the global resources of ABC News, with Terry Moran, Cynthia McFadden, and Bill Weir in New York City, this is Nightline, December 26th, 2012.
MORAN: Good evening, I'm Terry Moran. You know, for a holiday, this has been a busy time in Washington. As the negotiations surrounding that looming fiscal cliff come to a fever pitch just before the New Year. But this is also a time of tradition and celebration in the nation's capital, and nobody decks the halls like the team at the White House for Christmas. Christmas is there, has come to mean a special visit every year, not just from Santa Claus, but from ABC's own Barbara Walters. Barbara?
WALTERS: Terry, in what has become one of my favorite holiday traditions for the fourth year, I had the privilege of interviewing the president and Mrs. Obama at the White House. This interview was taped days before the tragic shooting in Connecticut and was postponed until now. It was the first time the couple sat down together since winning re-election. And Mrs. Obama also took me on a personal tour of what is called the people's house. And it's never more true than during the Christmas season. After thanksgiving, more than 80 volunteers from nearly 40 states descend on the white house, trimming 54 trees, plus every nook and cranny. First dog Bo is the star of the show. Here he is inspecting the decorations, including this larger than life model of himself, made of 20,000 pompoms. My friend.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Yes, Bo. He's really big in relation to this house.
WALTERS: This 300-pound ginger bread White House was the first stop on my exclusive behind-the-scenes tour with First Lady Michelle Obama. These are various rooms in the actual White House.
MICHELLE: Absolutely. And the details in these rooms are just beyond this year.
WALTERS: But why peer into these windows when I can see the real thing?
MICHELLE: Come on, Bo.
WALTERS: Does he follow you around all day? Next stop, the red room. Festooned with cranberries and fruit trees.
MICHELLE: For Christmas alone, we’re going to have more than 90,000 people come through these doors.
WALTERS: How many hands do you shake at Christmas time?
MICHELLE: Oh, thousands, thousands, thousands.
WALTERS: Show me how you do it without getting a….
MICHELLE: You know me, this is usually…
WALTERS: I love that, but you can't do that with everyone.
MICHELLE: I almost do.
WALTERS: And then, in the center of the White House, the Blue Room with the official White House tree.
MICHELLE: This is the joining forces tree. It's the main tree here. The biggest tree.
WALTERS: How beautiful.
MICHELLE: And the special thing about this tree, Barbara, is that the ornaments are handmade messages from military kids who live in bases all around the world. This one says "love you, dad, safe travels."
WALTERS: It’s lovely.
MICHELLE: So when visitors come, they can read these messages and, you know, just remember what these children are sacrificing during this time. This is one of my favorite trees! Look how big the tree is!
WALTERS: Earlier, the First Lady had invited some military families to see the unveiling of ornaments and to make some holiday sweets.
MICHELLE: Did you guys taste these? This is good. They had kids, they were decorating cookies, and they were so focused until I brought in Bo. They were more excited to see Bo than they are to see me or the President.
WALTERS: In fact, Bo is the only one on the White House Christmas card this year. And his paw print is alongside the first family's signatures. What is Bo getting for Christmas?
MICHELLE: Oh, Bo. Well, since he's right there, let's talk quietly so he doesn't know. I think he's going to get a couple of more plush toys. But don't tell him.
WALTERS: I won't say a word. But there would be no such restrictions when I sat down with the President and Mrs. Obama for their first joint interview since the election. After a decisive victory, they were riding a new wave of popularity. And the campaign seemed to have brought them even closer together.
WALTERS: Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, there is a photograph of you that went viral, became the most shared photograph in the history of Twitter. Here it is.
BARACK OBAMA: That's a great picture.
WALTERS: When you look at this picture, what do you think? At what point was it taken?
BARACK: I think we were campaigning in Iowa.
WALTERS: So why were you hugging so hard in Iowa?
BARACK: Because I love my wife.
MICHELLE: Well, and also, I hadn't seen him in a while. I mean, you know when you're campaigning, we’re two ships passing in the night. And the first time I saw him was when I walked onstage to greet him. And that's my honey giving me a hug.
BARACK: I like giving you hugs.
WALTERS: How do you keep the fire going?
MICHELLE: That's a good question.
BARACK: You know, we've been married now 20 years.
BARACK: And like every marriage, you have your ups and you have your downs. But if you work through the tough times, the respect and love that you feel deepens.
MICHELLE: And then there's a lot of laughter.
WALTERS: And you're funnier.
MICHELLE: Yeah, for the most part.
BARACK: Everybody thinks she's pretty funny. I'm funnier than people think.
MICHELLE: Yeah, you are.
WALTERS: That may be. You may be funnier than people think.
BARACK: I am.
WALTERS: When the election was so close, everybody was saying it's so close, did you have a moment in which you said we may lose the election? And then where do we live? Do we stay on in Washington? What do we do about the girls' schools? Did you have to ponder any of that?
MICHELLE: The girls definitely asked the question. Well what happens if dad loses? And the thing that we just tried to instill in them is that, you know what? We were fine before we were here and we're going to be fine no matter what happens.
WALTERS: I want to talk about the girls. We have been watching them grow up from little girls to young ladies. Now, Malia recently got her first cell phone. Do you monitor it and see who she calls or who she texts?
MICHELLE: I give my daughter at this age, I give her a long rope. And there is monitoring because we have rules. But monitoring may be -- you never know when I'm going to walk in your room and I'm going to definitely ask you, who are you talking to and are you talking about school work?
BARACK: And they're not very good at lying. We joke sometimes about how Malia's getting to the age now, and boys start calling and I always talk about how one of the main incentives for running again was continuing Secret Service protection so that there are men with guns around at all times.
WALTERS: Mr. President, boys can call the White House and say may I speak to Malia and they get put through?
BARACK: Well, that's part of the challenge with cell phones these days. Because it used to be you had to call…
MICHELLE: Pick up your phone and call, Mr. Obama, it's x, may I speak to your daughter. Those days are gone.
WALTERS: Will you let Malia date yet?
BARACK: Look, she's a teenager and she's going to start at some point being interested.
MICHELLE: Our goal has been to try to make sure that their lives here are as normal as they can be.
BARACK: Whatever they could do in Chicago, they should be able to do here.
WALTERS: And when we come back -- what keeps you up at night?
MORAN: Well visions of sugar plums may be dancing in the heads of children across the country, but with the weight of the world on his shoulders, what issues keep the President of the United States up at night? We return now to the White House Christmas, where ABC's Barbara Walters continues her very personal interview at home with the first couple.
WALTERS: So much goes on in both of your lives. What keeps you up at night if there are times?
BARACK: Stuff keeps me up at night all the time. But the one good thing is I generally work hard enough during the day.
MICHELLE: You’re just tired.
BARACK: By the time my head hits the pillow, most of the time I fall right to sleep. There are certain moments the night before the Bin Laden raid. There are going to be certain moments where you're amped up. But for the most part, I don't have trouble sleeping. I have trouble waking up sometimes.
WALTERS: You know, Mrs. Obama, you told me at one point that you would never run for political office. You've said that you don't have the patience for political life. Patience for what?
MICHELLE: I have learned from my husband watching him that it does require a great deal of patience to really feel the full impact of the work that you do on the ground. It doesn't happen right away.
BARACK: And she has a bigger difficulty biting her tongue.
MICHELLE: I think I've done pretty well at that.
BARACK: Not bad.
WALTERS: Was there a time when you went shh?
BARACK: No, I’ve never…are you kidding? We've been married 20 years, what you think I'm going to go shh to my wife?
MICHELLE: Yeah, I've never heard shh come out of his mouth.
BARACK: Yeah. But the point is privately, there may be
MICHELLE: I have opinions.
BARACK: She's got a few views.
MICHELLE: You know a little something about views.
WALTERS: Yes. Something about views. Yes, I do. You have an iPad.
BARACK: I do.
WALTERS: Yes. What's your favorite app?
MICHELLE: Oh, yes. Gosh. Sometimes I want to yank that out of your hands.
WALTERS: Do you ever play Scrabble together?
BARACK: No, no. Well, we do on the board, not on the iPad.
WALTERS: Who wins?
MICHELLE: He's good at Scrabble. He's very irritating researcher.
BARACK: She doesn't like losing so she stops playing.
MICHELLE: No I don't like losing to you because you're a little irritating when you win.
WALTERS: What is your favorite presidential perk?
WALTERS: The plane?
BARACK: Yeah. I mean, look, it has been a while since I flew commercial. But I remember it because I used to have to commute every week from D.C. to Chicago. And not having to take off your shoes before you get on a plane
WALTERS: Let me tell you.
BARACK: Is probably a pretty good luxury. And obviously you're never late for flights because generally the plane doesn't take off without you. At least this hasn’t happened yet.
MICHELLE: Generally. Me, on the other hand, I could get left. They're not leaving him.
WALTERS: Finally, I asked the President and First Lady a question that I've asked during each of our special holiday interviews about their high points and low points. Again, all of this before the President ordered the flags flown at half staff after the Connecticut shooting. You know, you've talked about sitting with the girls at night and talking about the rose and the thorn. Can you think of what the rose was and what the thorn was?
BARACK: For me personally, the thorn is always knowing that as Commander in Chief, I've put men and women of armed services in harm's way, and some of them we had killed and some of them get injured. And that always weighs on me. That is as raw and as fresh now as it was the first month I took office. The rose for me, other than family, was being back on the campaign trail and having this incredible opportunity to reconnect with the American people. In some ways, the election was sort of the icing on the cake. But being…
WALTERS: A lot of icing.
WALTERS: Big cake.
BARACK: Big cake.