The Cool President Warms to Fake News

The highlight of Stephen Colbert’s first night of shows from Iraq was the surprise taped appearance of President Obama, who ordered Commanding General Ray Odierno to cut the faux news host’s hair.

Last week, Obama appeared in a taped segment on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” in which the president deadpanned that the newly installed host would not qualify for a bailout if he failed.

I can’t get worked up over the president’s apparent affinity for fake news. It’s not even that much different from him making an in-studio appearance on Leno’s show, or a history of presdential humor that has seen Gerald Ford taping a cameo on “Saturday Night Live” or Ronald Reagan appearing on any number of Bob Hope specials.

The main difference between the Colbert and Conan appearances is that one had real purpose, and one didn’t. Critics of Obama would be hard pressed to chide him for the Colbert appearance, as he was, after all, speaking to the troops.

What surely left news purists uncomfortable was Obama’s appearance on “The Tonight Show,” not because he agreed to it, but because NBC asked him to do it. It was taped as part of an interview with Brian Williams, who had been camped out at the White House as part of the news division’s multi-part “Inside the Obama White House.” In other words, the news division had to ask the president and his staff for a favor on behalf of the entertainment division, one that undoubtedly contributed to the publicity and promotion of Conan’s first week. Conservative bloggers criticized the stunt, and dismissed the entire “Inside the White House” as a full-scale promotion for NBC, but by and large little was made of it overall, a signal of just how accustomed we all are to the blurred lines between news and entertainment.

For the record, I found the president’s appearance on “Tonight” much funnier than on Colbert, which had all the spontaniety of a Bob Hope skit.

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