President Obama has participated in plenty of unconventional interviews during his time in office: He sat in podcaster Marc Maron’s garage, spoke to YouTuber GloZell Green and went on Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns.”
And yet Bill Maher, who has hosted his long-running political talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO since 2003, never got the chance to go one-on-one with the president. That changed Friday, when Maher finally scored 40 minutes with Obama to chat about topics including marijuana reform, religion, Fox News and Donald Trump.
The interview, which was pre-taped and aired during Maher’s hour-long program, came after over 300,000 of the host’s fans signed a petition urging Obama to sit with Maher.
Days away from the conclusion of his eight-year term in the White House, Obama reflected on his presidency, calling it a “great run.”
“It is time,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend that there haven’t been moments of great frustration, but it is a singular privilege. I think I’m as good a president now as I’ve ever been. Because you learn stuff over eight years.”
He did note, however, that he now sees “the wisdom of the founders,” and that he’s ready to let go of the title for “democracy to work.”
“You have to have the humility to recognize that you’re a citizen, and you go back to being a citizen after this office is over,” Obama said.
Moving forward, he said, one of his biggest concerns is “the balkanization of the media,” noting that the proliferation of news outlets has made it difficult for consumers to find reliable information.
“If you don’t have some common baseline of facts — we can have a disagreement about how to deal with climate change, but if we have a big chunk of the country that just discounts what 99% of scientists say completely, it’s very hard to figure out how we move the democracy forward,” he said.
He revisited the subject of media later in the interview discussing the problematic “filters” that block potential conversations, “Look if I watched Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me either,” Obama said. “You’ve got this screen, this fun-house mirror through which people are receiving information. How to break through that is a big challenge.”
The interview was also peppered with a few lighter moments — especially when Maher pressed Obama on whether he has really quit smoking.
“Ex-[smoker],” he replied with a wink. “I’m chewing the heck out of Nicorette.”
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