Not sure why, aside from his wince-inducing Special Olympics joke (about 20 minutes into the clip below), President Obama’s visit to Jay Leno’s Tonight Show last night was considered such a shocking breach of presidential protocol. It’s just like when the Republicans derided Obama, puzzlingly, last summer for being too much of a “celebrity.” As if America didn’t love its celebrities, or thought there was any big deal about a presidential politician appearing on a late-night talk show. I don’t remember such complaints when Arnold Schwarzenegger (who warmly embraced Obama yesterday) announced his gubernatorial candidacy on Leno’s stage, or when John McCain announced his presidential candidacy on David Letterman’s show. Yes, Obama is now a sitting president, not a candidate, but yesterday’s visit was certainly a campaign whistlestop, and one as canny as any media-op staged by Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.
Maybe old-school media gatekeepers are just as upset about this as GOP politicians are — after all, Leno is trespassing on their turf. But they ceded that turf to Leno, Letterman and other entertainers long ago when they allowed political chat shows (both the Sunday morning network interrogations and the nightly cable screamfests) to degenerate into pro-wrestling matches. Also, when they abdicated the role of tough, probing investigative reporter to the likes of Leno, Letterman, and Jon Stewart. The line between political journalism and entertainment has long been hopelessly blurred, and it’s awfully disingenuous to start complaining about it now. Hey, pols and press, do you want TV to take politics more seriously and stop treating it as a division of show business? Physicians, heal thyselves.
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