A response to Rush Limbaugh on President Obama’s ‘Tonight Show’ appearance

August 8, 2013

On his radio show Thursday, Rush Limbaugh singled out a Fix post for a bit of derision.


Rush Limbaugh.

At issue is a piece I wrote Wednesday explaining why no one should be surprised that "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno asked President Obama serious questions about Edward Snowden and the NSA, among other topics, during an interview Tuesday. My point in the piece  --or at least my intended point -- was to note that as the definition of who can be a journalist has broadened, the line between "serious" and "fun" has blurred.

Rush took issue with that idea. Here's a piece of his argument (you can read the whole thing here):

"Normally -- and you can go back and you can look -- a Washington Post, New York Times columnist would be really upset at a president who appeared more often on comedy shows than he did in the White House pressroom or doing formal press conferences.  You can go back and you can find that that would have been....

....It wasn't that long ago you would have been ticked off that Obama wasn't making himself available to you for these so-called serious questions. But whatever Obama does, whatever standard is being destroyed or blown up, has to be tolerated in order to accommodate Obama."

Fair enough. Rush is absolutely right that most reporters -- me included -- have been frustrated by the Obama Administration's tendency to end-run the traditional media by picking and choosing where and when he gets asked questions. (Worth noting: President Obama is slated to hold a press conference Friday before he heads out of Washington for an eight-day vacation.)

But, Rush's criticism seems based on a partial reading of my piece. While I did use the Leno appearance to illustrate the line-blurring between fun/serious, I also noted that the same fuzziness brings with it some not-so-great-consequences.

I wrote, in part:

"While we see this break from type-casting as a good thing, it also creates opportunities for politicians to exploit. Take the Leno interview with Obama. While Leno did ask “serious” questions, he tended to couch them by dismissing those who criticize Obama and then not really following up in a way that say, the Post’s Dan Balz, would....

....The blurred line between what is 'serious journalism' and what is 'entertainment' allows Obama — and any high profile politician — to pick his or her spots far more often than in years past."

The whole point of the piece was that a) the distinction between serious/fun is not much of a distinction anymore b) that's generally a good thing but c) it allows politicians to exploit it to their benefit.

That's my two cents.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · August 8, 2013