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."
Web Politics Editor
March 20, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Barack Obama , In Case You Missed It
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