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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Media critic Andy Martin on Barack Obama’s Tonight Show blunder

Andy Martin says Barack Obama’s appearance with Jay Leno “went up in smoke.” Martin says Obama is losing his touch with the media. People who say Obama delivered “a fireside chat for the flat screen age” (New York Times) have no idea what they are talking about, says Andy. Martin promises analysis of Obama’s more serious Tonight Show error in a forthcoming column.

Internet Powerhouse Andy Martin says Barack Obama did not help himself by appearing on The Tonight Show

Obama’s “fireside chat” went up in flames

Executive Editor

“Factually Correct, Not
Politically Correct”


Obama undermines his own currency as a leader, Martin says

The media roles of candidates and public officials are vastly different; Obama is ignoring those boundaries to his own detriment

Bereft of his beloved teleprompter, Obama stumbled on Leno; BHO’s “Special Olympics” gaffe is the only aspect of his appearance likely to be remembered

(NEW YORK)(March 22, 2009) Where to begin? OK, let’s try. When they are running for office, we expect our candidates to go virtually anywhere, say virtually anything and even spoof themselves in the process.

We expect more of a president.

The “oval office” has an enduring mystique because it is not open and accessible. Even in a democracy we know there are some lines the public does not cross.

Obama may have inadvertently crossed a barrier when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Barack Obama ran a brilliant campaign for the presidency. He was well organized, focused, disciplined. What happened to him? Since he actually moved into the White House he has been stumbling.

During the campaign, and after Obama’s appearance in Berlin, I dubbed him the “World’s Greatest Entertainer.” If that’s the role he really wants, he is well on the way to attaining it. There is no doubt in my mind that when Obama leaves the White House he will make a fortune by, well, entertaining people.

Would Ronald Reagan’s master handler Michael Deaver have allowed the Great Communicator to go on an entertainment show during his White House years, during a major national crisis? I doubt it. Reagan’s roles and his appearances were always carefully scripted to enhance, not diminish, his mystique and prestige.

I often watch the first segment of the Tonight Show. Leno has better writers than Letterman. His jokes are lighter and delivered with a lighter touch. But I rarely stay tuned for the nightly presentation of actors and wannabes who are peddling some TV show, movie or other venture. It’s all very repetitive and very boring.

My experience in radio and TV goes back 41 years. I produced my first program in 1968. You learn something in four decades, and sometimes you learn the basic principles over and over again. TV has a flattening impact. People on TV lose their mystique when they appear in public in a pre-formatted program such as The Tonight Show. On that program, Jay Leno and Barack Obama are equals. In fact, it is Leno, not Obama, who is in control. Right message? I doubt it.

That is why late night hosts try so hard to obtain unique guests and create unique experiences. Even loyal viewers get bored and feel stale watching the same endless procession of promoters. Does anyone remember the “marriage” of Tiny Tim on the Tonight Show? I can understand why Leno wanted to attract Obama as a guest. No doubt there.

But why would a president want to be there?

Not surprisingly, the event turned into a disaster. Before the show even aired, Obama’s aides were issuing apologies to the “handicapped” community. The funny thing is, if they had just kept their mouths shut, the entire episode might have been largely overlooked and forgotten. In trying to “manage the news” and minimize his slip, Obama actually created more news than would have been generated if he had just said nothing.

I watched the show. The “Special Olympics” remark slipped by without a great deal of attention. It was a throwaway. Leno ignored it. Had Obama not apologized-in-advance, the impact of his mistake would have been marginal.

The mainstream media, of course, tried to gin up the event as a “fireside chat for the flat screen age.”

Obama’s appearance was nothing of the sort.

First, Obama cannot escape who he is and where he sits. He cannot escape the national crisis that challenges our democracy because he helped to inflate and magnify that crisis during the campaign and since taking office. For Obama to go on TV and act “bemused (N. Y. Times)” deprecates the seriousness of the overall situation facing our economy.

Secondly, the term “fireside chat” is being misused and overused. When President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his “fireside chats,” radio was in its infancy, less than a decade old in widespread use. Large parts of the nation were completely isolated. The public was still in awe of “wireless” communication. People were not saturated with news and information.

Contrary to V.P. Joe Biden, TV had not yet been invented as a mass medium in 1932; scientists were just beginning to toy with the concept of TV in their labs. The modern world was still in the sci-fi stage.

The comparable entertainment medium to The Tonight Show today might have been vaudeville entertainment in 1933. FDR never appeared on a vaudeville stage to hype the New Deal. On the contrary Roosevelt, like Reagan after him, was very judicious in his personal appearances. He did not want to dilute the magic of the presidency.

Obama placed himself in the context of being just another huckster on late-night TV, with a new “program” to sell. Wrong message.

In January, 2008 I pointed out that Obama was helpless without a teleprompter; in my view he was the “teleprompter candidate.” My analysis was prescient. He is vulnerable without prepared remarks. Obama is brilliant at delivery but he is very poor as an extemporaneous speaker. The “Special Olympics” remark, however innocent and innocuous, destroyed any benefit he may have hoped to obtain from The Tonight Show gig.

Where is all of Obama’s zigzagging leading? The TV bobbleheads are absolutely correct on this one: Obama’s personal popularity will endure, for now. But public support for his programs is collapsing. In 2010, the American people are going to shut down the Obama experiment. His shtick is almost over.

Obama is losing touch with his inner media compass. He was a master at extravagantly promoting himself as a candidate. But he doesn’t yet realize that the “man” cannot portray himself as a mere mortal. The next time he tries to connect with the American people he will find that he is not taken seriously; after all, he’s only the world’s greatest entertainer. If he doesn’t treat his own role with gravitas, why should we?

On Jay Leno, the joke was on Obama. Rush Limbaugh must be smiling.


FOOTNOTES: Joe Nocera in the New York Times has endorsed the views expressed in my previous column that the AIG fiasco has killed any prospect of nationalizing the banking system.

The National Conference on Barack Obama’s Missing Birth Certificate and College Records continues to receive an extremely favorable response. We are less than two weeks away from the first coherent inquiry into Obama’s opaque past in the nation’s capital. Please support the Committee of One Million (see below).

A little teaser: Obama made a classic blunder (yes, another one) on the Tonight Show. I will shortly discuss this more serious mistake in another column. Attention must be paid.

Readers of Obama: The Man Behind The Mask, say the book is still the only gold standard and practical handbook on Barack Obama's unfitness for the presidency. Buy it.
Book orders: or Immediate shipment from or signed copies (delayed for signing) from the publisher are available.
URGENT APPEAL: The Committee of One Million to Defeat Barack Obama is raising money to oppose President Barack Obama.
Please give generously. Our ability to fight and defeat Barack Obama is directly dependent on the generosity of every American.
“The Committee of One Million to Defeat Barack Obama has no bundlers, no fat cats and no illegal contributions. Obama is opposed to everything America stands for," says Executive Director Andy Martin. "But while Obama has raised an almost billion dollar slush fund, his opponents have not been able to raise sufficient resources. Americans can either contribute now, or pay later. If we do not succeed, Obama will."
Andy Martin is a legendary Chicago muckraker, author, Internet columnist, radio talk show host, broadcaster and media critic. He has over forty years of broadcasting experience in radio and television and is the dean of Illinois media and communications. He is currently promoting his best-selling book, Obama: The Man Behind The Mask. Andy is the Executive Editor and publisher of

Martin comments on regional, national and world events with over four decades of experience. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and is a former adjunct professor of law at the City University of New York. He is an announced candidate for Barack Obama’s former U. S. Senate seat.


His columns are also posted at;
[NOTE: We frequently correct typographical errors and additions/subtractions on our blogs, where you can find the latest edition of this release.]

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Blogger WXXX said...

Oh, give me a break... if President McCain had made a similar gaffe, you (or if not you, at least Rush, Sean, etc.) would be harranging the PC-thought police for making such a big deal over such an innocent comment.

But, you do have a good point, that in this instance, the Obama handlers effectively shot their man in the foot by issuing the pre-emptive apology.

On the other hand, this all might have been carefully staged to show... 'see, Barack ain't so PC after all!' to get the redneck constituency behind him, Sarah Palin & her sped-baby be damned!

9:05 PM  

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