Steve Harvey on President Obama: 'He respects my authenticity'

Steve Harvey on President Obama: 'He respects my authenticity'
Steve Harvey has had President Obama as a guest on his radio show 12 times since 2010. (Chris Pizzello / Invision/Associated Press)

Steve Harvey's popularity and stature are far-reaching, from hosting his own daily radio and TV talk shows, hosting the TV game show "Family Feud" and developing his bestselling, humorous insights on relationships (his "Think Like a Man" franchise).

But this week, it was Harvey's importance to President Obama that played out on the national stage as Obama used Harvey's morning syndicated radio show Wednesday to deliver a blunt condemnation of the violent riots in Baltimore that were sparked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody.

The interview marked the 12th time since 2010 that Obama has appeared on Harvey's radio show.

"As always, whenever I'm contacted by the White House, I'm just humbled," Harvey said Thursday in a phone interview. "I think, 'Wow, how did I get here from where I started?' I do honor the fact that he respects me -- the White House obviously knows what our ratings and demographics are, and the tone of the message of our show, so the president knows he can come on and talk so personally."


At the core of the bond between Obama and Harvey is a mutual respect that goes far beyond politics, Harvey said.

"He respects my authenticity and the concerns I have for the community," Harvey said. "He doesn't have to worry about me blindsiding him. He knows I won't make fun of him when he gets off the air. He knows my authenticity with my fan base, and that I have a genuine affection for everyone, not only for African Americans, for overall. I take my brand very seriously.

"I've delivered a vote of confidence for him on so many levels. And he respects me as a family man -- we talk about our families. He told me how he feels about his daughter getting ready and going out looking at colleges, and how he felt about that, asking me how I felt when I faced the same situation."

The president and Harvey go back several years. The White House also believed that Harvey would have a special understanding of the issue, in addition to having a strong following in the audience the president was trying to reach. That connection has often proved to be delicate to maneuver for Obama.

"How many times have you ever heard a president say, 'Our community'?" Harvey said. "That comes from his background as a street organizer from his days in Chicago. It's in his grass-roots nature -- at  heart, he's a grass-roots guy."

During his interview with Harvey, Obama spoke of how Gray's death had reignited the growing controversy over the death of several young African American men at the hands of police during the last few years.

"Unfortunately, we've seen these police-related killings or death too often now, and obviously everybody is starting to recognize that this is not just an isolated incident in Ferguson or New York, but we've got some broader issues," Obama said on Harvey's radio show.

The president also scolded rioters who had burned down businesses and attacked police officers: "The kind of violence that we saw from a handful of individuals in Baltimore -- there's no excuse for that. That's just criminal behavior.... People who engage in that type of violence, it needs to stop."

Harvey said that Obama put the violent uproar in Baltimore into context: "This problem is not going away, and it was there long before he became president. Black people have known about this for a long, long time, but because of technology, we actually get to see it. And it's not going away until non-African Americans get fed up with it. We're starting to hear that now."

Staff writer Christi Parsons contributed to this story.