We are living in strange, strange times.
Conan O'Brien showed a truly bizarre clip on his show Tuesday night.
Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, was interviewing the president of the United States.
During the interview, Williams, striking a most serious tone, questions Obama on the topic of Conan O'Brien's first week as host of the Tonight Show.
Obama responds with measured words, as if he's talking about some weighty issue, like the government's takeover of GM or making nice with Iran and being OK with that warmongering, anti-Semitic country having a nuclear power program.
CONAN O'BRIEN:Earlier tonight, NBC News aired part one of their special, "Inside the Obama White House: Brian Williams Reports." Part two airs tomorrow night. And Brian Williams got an exclusive interview with the president on the eve of Obama's trip to the Middle East. This is huge. But frankly, folks, I was shocked by what these two men spent their valuable time talking about. Take a look.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: I couldn't help but notice your trip this week coincides with Conan O'Brien's first week on the air. Is it because of that or were there considerations perhaps that you almost cancelled to stay and watch his first week as host of the Tonight Show?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, uh, I think that, uh, Conan will do an outstanding job. This is something we discussed several times in the Oval Office, how to manage this transition between Leno and, uh... (pause) Conan. And, uh, I think he's up to the task. Uh, but uh, I just want him to know that there's not gonna be any bailout coming out from Washington if he screws it up.
O'BRIEN: Aren't there more important things to discuss at this time in our history?
ANDY RICHTER: I know they said they talk about it all the time in the Oval Office.
O'BRIEN: They went on about me for 4 hours. That's most of the special, ladies and gentlemen. And am I crazy, I think, I might be crazy, I think the president forgot my name there for a second. Let's check that out again.
OBAMA: ...to manage this transition between Leno and, uh... (pause) Conan.
Isn't it strange that when Obama is joking he's quite convincing? When he should be serious, he laughs.
Remember this, from 60 Minutes, March 22, 2009?
ON THE SUBJECT OT THE AILING AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY THE PRESIDENT SAID HE IS STILL COMMITTED TO HELPING GENERAL MOTORS AND CHRYSLER AVERT BANKRUPTCY, BUT HE SAYS THEY HAVE YET TO DEMONSTRATE THEY CAN REMAIN ECONOMICALLY VIABLE. AND THERE ARE MAJOR POLITICAL OBSTACLES.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I just want to say that-- the only thing less popular than putting money into banks is putting money (LAUGHS) into the auto industry. So--
STEVE KROFT: 18 percent are in favor.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (LAUGHS) That's--
STEVE KROFT: Seventy-six percent against.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It-- it-- it's not a high number.
STEVE KROFT: You're sitting here. And you're-- you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, "I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about (LAUGHTER) money--” How do you deal with-- I mean, wh-- explain -
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well--
STEVE KROFT: --the mood and your laughter.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, I mean, there's got to be--
STEVE KROFT: Are you punch drunk?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, no. There's gotta be a little gallows humor to (LAUGHS) get you through the day. You know, sometimes my team-- talks about the fact that if-- if you had said to us a year ago that-- the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem-- I don't think anybody would have believed it. But-- but we've got a lot on our plate. And-- a lot of difficult decisions that we're going to have to make.
That laughter was so odd. It was creepy, and in retrospect, I guess the laughter makes sense. Maybe he was laughing at the notion that he was committed to helping GM and Chrysler avoid bankruptcy.
That did turn out to be a joke.
From the New York Times:
NBC was clearly thrilled to have enough access to President Obama to base a two-part, prime-time special on it all this week (Part II runs Wednesday night.)
Mr. Obama, however, went even one step further for the network – participating in a spoof interview segment for “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” during his formal question-and-answer session with the NBC News anchor Brian Williams at the White House.
...There was a time when such cross promotion between a network news division and its corporate entertainment sibling – during a presidential interview, no less — would have caused rebellion in the newsroom. It will be interesting to see what reaction, if any, there will be to this bit of stunt programming at NBC News.
It will also be interesting to see if there is any political blowback, especially from those who believe that some in the news media are too chummy with the president and his administration.
Yes, once upon a time, and not really that long ago... there would have been a rebellion in the newsroom.
But this is the era of Obama. This is the Twilight Zone. This is through the looking glass. We're not in Kansas anymore. However you want to put it, it's weird. Surreal.
Obama did a promo for NBC.
I guess it's the least Obama could do, given all that NBC and MSNBC do for him and his administration.
They have a symbiotic relationship. It's mutually satisfying.
There seems to be no concern whatsoever about overstepping the limits of an appropriate distance between the president and the press. Those lines have been erased. There's no distinction between the White House spin and what NBC offers. There's not even the pretense of objectivity.
The NBC News division doesn't serve as a watchdog for the public. Brian Williams is a lap dog.