David Zurawik

Obama on Leno: As nation's pain deepens, president plays TV talk-show quipster

Almost midnight in America ...

As citizens camp out on the streets of American cities to try and express their anger and frustration at the way the country and his administration have failed them, President Obama goes on TV to trade scripted quips with the always-safe Jay Leno.

But first, he hops into San Francisco on Air Force One to pick up a cool million at a campaign fund raiser.

A few months into Obama's presidency, I wrote two things about his media behavior that have only become more pronounced in recent months.

The first: When the going gets tough, the president goes on TV.

The second: The Obama White House has more contempt for the press and less respect for freedom of information and expression than any administration since that of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

These troubling tendencies have only become more acute as Obama's popularity plummets, the nation's economic woes deepen and the 2012 election draws near.

As for contempt for the press, check out this story from San Francisco Tuesday about local reporters being barred from pool coverage of the $7,500 a plate campaign fund raiser.

When I first compared Obama to Nixon in early 2009 for his lack of respect for the role of a free press in a democracy, I caught holy hell.

Well, now others are saying much the same.

And check out this scripted video exchange about GOP challengers between Obama and his NBC straight man, Leno.

I used to be merely annoyed by the way some of my colleagues in the press who were so savvy on so many other political matters fell for such phony TV scripted interplay designed to let the president score political points and reach a mass audience free and clear with his message.

But, you know what, with all the pain that so many millions of Americans are experiencing these days, it is way past annoying. It's outrageous for our president to be playing these calculated, dippy, little TV games when so many of us are in such need of real leadership.

We have no shortage of airbrushed, phony-talking, TV talk-show guests in this country. In fact, they grow like weeds in our media-saturated soil.

What we need is someone to make an honest, committed, passionate effort to try and lead us out of this darkness. Bouncing from crosscountry fund raisers to TV appearances with yuk-yuk, fawning courtiers like Jay Leno is how you take care of your own political career, not the nation you were elected to serve.

I can't wait for the college basketball season to start so I can see our president focusing his attention on working those brackets and showing off his jump shot on CBS and ESPN.

Am I wrong to think media critics should be watchdogs, too, trying to explain to citizens the ways in which our elected leaders are using media as a political tool?