Throughout his campaign, Barack Obama used new media in new ways. Last night, as president, he used the old media in a new way, appearing as a shmoozy guest on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Rather than going to an entertainment outlet that has at least a thin veneer of reportorial heft (Katie Couric), he went straight to the loose late-night talk-show circuit, where he could reach an audience who might not bother watching a more focused and detailed conversation. He reached them last night, of course, and he is reaching them today, in online clips from "The Tonight Show" all over the Internet (see above).
Despite sitting in a seat previously occupied by the likes of, you know, Paris Hilton, Obama slipped a number of big timely messages into his banter with Leno, such as: "Our future is bright if we take some smart steps right now" and "If we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be OK." About Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. he said, "I don't think people fully appreciate the plate that was handed him." And he said he was "stunned" about the AIG bonuses.
In general, the president continued to note that it took the country a long time to get in this mess (as in, "not my fault"), and it will take us a long time to get out of it (as in "be patient"). His best line -- which is certainly destined to be his most repeated line -- came early in the interview, when he said about Washington: "It's a little like 'American Idol,' except everybody is Simon Cowell."
Jay Leno -- who couldn't have asked for a better "moment" a few months before he turns over "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien and starts up a new nightly 10 p.m. gig -- was Leno. He did his Average Joe thing and expressed concern about government regulations, and he mentioned the mean Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life," who only charged 2 percent interest. He asked the president if people should be putting their money under their mattresses (no!), if it's cool to fly in Air Force One (yes!), and if people let him win when they play games with him (maybe, ha ha).
Did you watch? What did you think?
ADDED LATER: Here's the clip of the Special Olympics gaffe that's getting so much attention this morning, here (in the comments section) and elsewhere:
And here is a link to a story about Obama's apology for the blunder.