When it was announced a week ago that Barack Obama would be appearing on NBC's Tonight Show Tuesday, NewsBusters asked if he would be interviewed by the tough Jay Leno who's been hard on the President for the past year, or the "willing accomplice" that tossed him nothing but softballs when he appeared on the show in 2011.
Sadly, Obama once again faced the willing accomplice.
Leno began the interview asking what Obama did this past weekend for his birthday.
From there came a question about whether the President teases his wife about her gray hair.
Next was a question about how serious the current terrorist threats are in the Middle East.
“What do you say to those cynics who go, ‘Oh, this is an overreaction to Benghazi?’” Leno asked.
Although Leno has made numerous jokes about the President's handling of the attack on our Libyan consulate last year, that was the only time the word "Benghazi" appeared during this interview.
I guess Leno forgot about his previous comments on the subject:
As a follow-up, Leno asked if the information we got concerning the threats came from the NSA’s surveillance program.
After a commercial break, Leno asked about NSA leaker Edward Snowden. “Some call him a whistleblower. What do you call him?”
Leno followed this up by asking if we should reconsider having government contractors such as Snowden.
“Were you surprised that Russia granted Snowden asylum?” Leno next asked. He followed this up by asking about the relationship Obama has with Vladimir Putin.
Next Leno asked if Obama will be going to the upcoming G20 summit in Russia and if he’ll meet with Putin.
From there, Leno asked why more of the world isn’t outraged about Russia’s position on gays. He followed up with whether the President thought this would affect the Olympics.
After a commercial break, Leno moved to the economy saying, “Things seem to be getting better, seem to be improving.”
This was in stark contrast to all the jokes Leno has been making about how terrible the economy is doing.
In fact, less than two weeks ago, Leno joked about the "phony recovery." I guess he forgot about that.
Next, Leno asked why infrastructure is a partisan issue. “I live in a town, the bridge is falling apart. It’s not safe. How does that become Republican or Democrat? How do you not just fix the bridge?”
Talk about a partisan softball. The President’s own advisors couldn’t have teed him up any better.
That led to Obama being able to bash Republicans without any counterpoint.
Leno further assisted the President by asking if it would be possible to do a modern WPA - almost as if right from White House talking points!
From there, Leno asked about Obama’s “bromance” with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
After a commercial break, Leno asked about Hillary Clinton, and who asked who to lunch.
Then, he asked the President what’s new with healthcare.
Shockingly, there was absolutely no skepticism whatsoever about ObamaCare, a subject that has been the butt of many Leno jokes including Monday when he said NBC Nightly News anchor is having surgery now to repair a knee injury he got playing high school football. “I guess he wants to get it done quickly before ObamaCare kicks in.”
Leno must have conveniently forgotten all of his negative views about this law, so much so that it allowed Obama to go on a lengthy commercial regarding the program with the audience applauding many of his statements giving this segment the appearance of a campaign rally.
Leno even joined in the promotion saying, “I was able to get healthcare for the guys who work at my shop for me are all over 50. They never had healthcare. And I was able to get it now because you can’t be turned down.”
How nice. So not only was Leno tossing softballs and nicely setting up the President, he was also participating in the sales job.
A far cry from the Leno that’s been ridiculing ObamaCare on a regular basis:
But the best was yet to come, as next Leno marveled at how the President spoke “very eloquently about the Trayvon Martin case. I could tell that you were speaking from the heart. Tell me about that.”
Makes you sick, doesn’t it?
This allowed the President to imply – as supposedly a Constitutional attorney, mind you! – that we don’t have a criminal justice system that is fair and just.
But the best was still to come, for Leno then grilled the President over his claim that his favorite food is broccoli. “Lying to voters is one thing, but lying to children.”
Yes, the hardest questions for the President Tuesday evening were about broccoli.
Even more curious, despite Leno spending a lot of time earlier this year joking about the Internal Revenue Service scandal - "I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke but I don't want to get audited by the IRS" - the IRS never came up during the entire interview.
Of course, readers know that I am a huge fan of Jay's, and that I've been writing quite positively about him for some time.
However, I am extremely disappointed in his performance Tuesday evening.
Certainly, none of us should have expected the President to receive a grilling on the Tonight Show.
But Obama is the first sitting President to appear on the program, this being his fourth time.
Given the fact that he will no longer face election and all the complaints Leno has voiced about the current White House resident the past year, the Tonight Show host could have done a far more balanced interview as opposed to the fawning and gushing puff piece viewers were treated to.
As NewsBusters reported when Obama was on the Tonight Show in October 2011, the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove wrote the following of that appearance:
Obama couldn’t have found a more willing accomplice. Leno—who wears his American flag pin on the right lapel, in contrast to the president’s flag-on-left—might just as well been scripted by David Axelrod. [...]
Unlike The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who piercingly challenged Obama with one tough question after another and at one point called him 'dude' during a fascinating appearance a year ago, Leno seemed content to provide the nation’s top Democrat with an informercial masquerading as a guest-shot.
Roughly two years later, Leno once again played the role of "willing accomplice" in an "infomercial" that "might just as well been scripted by David Axelrod."
To ease his conscience - and maybe ours! - Leno might go right back to lampooning the President tonight.
In fact, he made some jokes about Obama during the opening monologue of Tuesday's show.
Unfortunately, Leno continually chooses not to be the slightest bit critical of the President in his presence.
Maybe that's the way it should be. As Obama is the first sitting President to appear on a late night talk show, who knows what the protocol for this is or if there even is a protocol.
Obama has broken new ground with such appearances. He's also appeared on the CBS Late Show as well as NBC's Late Night each time getting gushed and fawned over by the host while receiving softballs.
So maybe that's the protocol.
At the very least, it appears to be the precedent, and we should expect such treatment for a Republican president in the future.
Somehow I doubt that will be the case.