Published March 20, 2009
President Barack Obama might have rolled a gutter ball on NBC's "The Tonight Show."
Toward the end of the interview on Thursday, Obama told host Jay Leno he's been practicing at the White House's bowling alley but wasn't happy with his score of 129.
Leno complimented Obama on the score, but the president quipped, "It was like the Special Olympics or something," which prompted laughter from the audience.
Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the president's offhand remark was not meant to disparage the Special Olympics, only to poke some fun at the commander-in-chief's bowling skills.
"He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world," Burton told reporters flying back to Washington with Obama aboard Air Force One.
A call for comment to a Special Olympics spokesman was not returned late Thursday.
Despite making fun of his score, the president appears to be getting better the more he visits the White House lanes, which President Truman installed in 1947. During a campaign photo op a year ago at a bowling alley in Altoona, Pa., he rolled only a 37 in seven frames. The clip of the disastrous game was replayed on late night television shows such as Leno's -- one of Obama's few campaign gaffes.
Obama said he was stunned when he learned of the bonuses that bailed-out insurance giant AIG was paying its employees, and the payments raise moral and ethical problems. The administration's going to do everything it can to get them back, he said.
But Obama added the bigger problem is the culture that allowed traders to claim them. He says that's got to change if the economy is to recover.
"The larger problem is we have to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody," Obama said. "If we can get back to those values that built America, we're going to be okay."
According to NBC, Obama was the first sitting president ever to appear on "The Tonight Show." He'd already appeared twice as a candidate.
On Thursday evening, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Buton said the president's "offhand" remarks were meant to make fun "of his own bowling and in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics."
"He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world," said Burton.
Obama's TV appearance Thursday came during a series of stops in California intended to rally support for his budget proposal and his solutions to the widespread economic troubles facing the country, but some have questioned whether a light-hearted chat with Leno would strike a humorous tone when a serious one was merited.
"It's not an accident that no sitting president has ever done a show like this," media analyst Steve Adubato told FOX News on Thursday before Obama's TV appearance.
Obama didn't shy away from the typical late-night banter, though he also talked about hot-button topics in Washington, including the performance of his embattled treasury chief, Timothy Geithner. Obama said Geithner is doing an "outstanding job."
He told Leno that Geithner is a smart guy who's been handed an incredibly full plate. But he's handling it all with grace and good humor.
Listing the recession, the banking crisis and the need to coordinate with other countries, Obama acknowledged Geithner's "on the hot seat." But he says too many in Washington are trying to figure out who to blame for things -- when they should be focused on fixing them.
In his opening monologue, Leno said lots of people were surprised Obama would come on NBC -- figuring he'd be tired of big companies on the brink of disaster with a bunch of overpaid executives.
Leno also joked about the dismal state of the economy, saying it's so bad that Obama flew to California on Southwest -- making nine stops.
As for Obama, he called riding on Air Force One "pretty cool, especially because they give you that jacket with the seal on it."