Barack Obama on U.S. in David Letterman’s Netflix Debut: “We Don’t Share a Common Baseline of the Facts”


In his first appearance as a late-night host since 2015, David Letterman picked a conversation partner whose return to the small screen could overshadow even his own — former president Barack Obama.david_letterman_0

In the first episode of Letterman’s new, monthly talk show on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, released early Friday morning, the former host of NBC’s Late Night and CBS’ Late Show sat down with the 44th U.S. president for Obama’s first talk-show appearance since leaving the Oval Office.


Over the course of the hour-long conversation, the pair discussed Obama’s life after presidency, the state of facts in America and moving Malia Obama into college — all while never mentioning current president Donald Trump by name, but alluding to him nevertheless.


Kicking off the program was a clip from the May 4, 2015 episode of Late Night, the last time Obama and Letterman sat down for a televised conversation. In the clip, the 44th president jokes that after he leaves the Oval Office, he hopes he and Letterman will meet again to play dominos and grab Starbucks. Just a few minutes later, Letterman surprises a live audience at the City College of New York by meeting up with Obama in semi-reclined chairs for his newest late-night show, with no tabletop games present.


Letterman opened the conversation by discussing a topic both could relate to: how it feels to leave what Letterman called “long-term jobs.”


Letterman then turned the conversation towards Michelle Obama, asking why a First Lady doesn’t have a presidential briefing. As he praised his wife, Obama also reflected on his time in office, suggesting that he might have tried to connect with constituents more.

“One of the things Michelle figured out in some ways faster than I did is that part of your ability to lead the country has to do with … shaping attitudes, shaping awareness,” he said. “When you become president and you’re in the office you think now I have to act presidential. And we lost track of what had gotten us there, and that was our ability to tell stories and relate to people.” He added that the “collapsing economy” and “two wars”— the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan, both in which the U.S. was engaged in 2008, when Obama entered office — had particularly made him feel serious.


After his two terms, Obama added that the long-term problems that remained in America were growing inequality and rising college and healthcare costs, “though [those were] not [rising] as fast as when I went into office.”


Letterman danced around discussing President Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election at the beginning of th show, asking, “hypothetically,” whether a president diminishing the press or a foreign government interfering in elections was more of a threat to democracy.


Without calling one more devastating than the other, Obama found a common thread to the two premises. “One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of the facts,” he said. “We are operating in completely different information universes. If you watch Fox News you are living on a different planet than if you listen to NPR.” When his 2008 and 2012 campaigns harnessed social media to connect and reach out to supporters, he said he didn’t realize the same technology’s capacity to “manipulate and propagandize.”

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Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett

Photographs are Courtesy:  Netflix

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