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On 'Tonight Show,' Obama Unscripted

Updated 9:30 a.m.
By Scott Wilson
LOS ANGELES, Calif., March 19 -- Most of it was about the economy. But at the end of his appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," President Obama talked himself into an awkward corner.

Leno asked the president, who was finishing a two-day barnstorming visit to southern California, "Now, are they going to put a basketball -- I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down."

"No, no. I have been practicing," Obama began to laughter. During last year's campaign, one flaw he acknowledged was terrible bowling skills.

"Really? Really?" Leno said.

"I bowled a 129," the president said, again to laughter and applause.

Leno tried to be encouraging.

"No, that's very good. Yes. That's very good, Mr. President," he said.

"It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something," the president said to laughs.

Not really so funny, the White House decided.

"The President made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told journalists traveling with the president. "He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world."

Tim Shriver,chief executive of the Special Olympics, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that Obama called him from Air Force One before leaving California to apologize for the statement. "He expressed his disappointment and he apologized in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population," Shriver said. The president said he was a fan of the organization and would have some of the athletes over to the White House to bowl or play basketball, Shriver said.

Although he said he appreciated Obama's call, Shriver cautioned, "I think it's important to see that words hurt and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seem as humiliating or a put down to people with special needs do cause pain and they do result in stereotypes."

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 20, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , In Case You Missed It  
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Next: From Leno to Lettuce, Distractions Abound for Obama


Wow, this story got absolutely buried by the afternoon, like it never happened.

Nice to have good friends in the media to protect your reputation, huh Mr. President?

Posted by: Emma3 | March 20, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

My sympathies to those who think it is all right for the President of the US to make such a thoughtless comment. And we thought Biden was going to be the verbal loose cannon.
This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it is an issue of common decency and respect. But I guess that wasn't one of the changes we were supposed to count on in the White House.

Posted by: Sharon_59 | March 20, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Nothing is more ridiculous than Republican’s complaining about Obama appearing on the Tonight Show. I can understand why – they fear Obama will reach the average person and that is the last thing Republican’s want. Republican’s want democracy to stay in the Washington bubble where they think they have more control and continue to pass laws that favor the rich who in turn feed the Republican campaign machine with donations. For Obama to think outside of the box speaks well of a man who was elected by the people (not wall street, lobbyists and the rich that Republican’s represent). What are the Republican’s afraid of? They are so out of touch that maybe instead of spending their time complaining, whining and trying to change the tax laws to favor the wealthiest Americans, maybe they should spend less time complaining and actually learning how to communicate to hard working Americans who are still the vast majority.

Sorry, Republican’s, most of us work 12 hour days, 6 days a week (not 4) and if lucky we may get a week vacation (not months) at wages that is probably less than what you pay your servants or waste our tax dollars on for your pet peeve projects. After a 12 hour day, the last thing we want to do is listen to O’Reily spin on politics, Hannity whining like a soar loser or even listen to you on CNN making noise. We come home, want to turn on something that isn’t so depressing to watch, yet is both entertaining and informative (like Tonight Show) that doesn’t have an agenda to promote their political views. Like I said, it tells hard working Americans’ how out of touch Republicans are about what makes us tick and what it takes to survive in a country destroyed by Bush politics

Posted by: steveeyes | March 20, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Surprise, Obama News Conference to be Held on the East Lawn.

Posted by: aratunes | March 20, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

This really is a PC gaffe. I really doubt that very many Special Olympians would be offended by the remark. Their view of the Special Olympics is that its a really fun time. So Obama said that practicing his bowling was a really fun time. It is the families and volunteers around these athletes that will be offended.

Of course, in pick-up games in gyms around the country, wannabe players in every sport sling the "Special Olympics" label at each other and think little of it. But if the president says it on TV, its a major problem?

Posted by: mikeinmidland | March 20, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I've been working with these kids and their families for many years. Those who have a sense of humor generally fare better than those who don't.

Anyone who really does care about these families will support efforts to protect the environment and the workplace from teratogenic pollutants. Support for a superior health care delivery system will also be putting one's money where ones mouth is.

Posted by: rooster54 | March 20, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Hey, since Jan. 20 we no longer have a monarch. I'm not defending Obama. I want us to stay on track with fixing this mess. This is just one more opportunity for the neocons, neoliberals, and self serving media, who caused this mess to change the subject, just another red herring.

Look who's obsessed with PC now.

Posted by: rooster54 | March 20, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Defender of the Crown said

"If someone says he plays baseball like a two year old, it's not a swipe against two year olds."

Correct and to say you swing like a Hommo is not a swipe , they all dance well .

Posted by: JFKRules | March 20, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

If someone says he plays baseball like a two year old, it's not a swipe against two year olds.

Posted by: rooster54 | March 20, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Masking this arrogant POS as "unscripted" is being overly kind by just a bit; don't you think.

The "Special Olympics" comments last night where especially priceless and quite telling. Not only is Obummer a vacuous moron - he has the innate sensitivity of a snake.

Obozzo repeatedly shows why he is the image Google choose to include for those searching the terms "vapid imbecile".

Every time he opens his empty headed mouth when the teleprompter thought police aren't there to control this ignorant, socialist marionette's mind numbing drivel, his words just reinforce what anyone with more than two brain cells already realizes.

Apparently, if you're either a welfare or public education recipient - he appears smart. Otherwise the only "change" I have seen is that my 401K has been tied to an anchor since the libtards elected his highness.

Posted by: Bcamp55 | March 20, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

That's so gay, only a Polock would not understand it was a joke. What a bunch of sissy feeling homo's.

Posted by: JFKRules | March 20, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

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