Seriously? Gushing Steve Kroft: Obama Sees Interviews as ‘Intellectual Workouts’

60 Minutes co-anchor Steve Kroft on Sunday conducted a nostalgic, gushing interview with Barack Obama, reminiscing that this was the 12th such time he talked to the President. The journalist closed the segment by praising the wit and brilliance of the Democrat: “President Obama, in all the times we were with him, seemed to savor the challenge of an interview. For him, it was an intellectual workout, something on par with a pickup basketball game, complete with a little trash talk.” 

It’s difficult to imagine the “intellectual workout” one could get from some of Kroft’s questions. Regarding Obama’s farewell address, the journalist wondered, “What is the thing that concerns you most right now, leaving office, about the country?” Obama responded, “Making sure that our democracy stays healthy.” 

Other not-so tough queries include: “What are your memories of this office? What's going to stick in your mind? What are you going to remember from here?” Regarding leaving the White House, Kroft sympathized, “You have trouble letting go?” 

Making this a greatest hits package, the reporter repeatedly played clips of the other 11 times he interviewed Obama, from 2007 through 2017. 

In 2007, Kroft walked around Chicago with the then-presidential candidate. After showing Obama a photo of that, the journalist mused, “So what's the difference between this guy and the guy you are now? How much smarter are you than this guy standing on the street corner?” 

In 2013, Kroft practically bragged about his access to Obama. Asked by journalist Piers Morgan how he gets so many interviews, the reporter enthused, “I think [Obama] knows that we're not going to play gotcha with him, that we're not going to go out of our way to make him look bad or stupid, and we'll let him answer the questions.” 

<<< Please support MRC's NewsBusters team with a tax-deductible contribution today. >>>

 

That didn’t stop Kroft on Sunday from sliming Trump. Talking about the President-elect, Kroft goaded, “Look. I think that the country deeply appreciates the fact that you have not spoken clearly, I think, probably what's on your mind in relation to the President-elect.” 

Even when Kroft did bring up tough issues, he did so gingerly. Regarding Israel, there was this exchange: 

KROFT: A few weeks ago you allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank. It caused a major fallout between the United States and Israel. Was it your decision to abstain?

OBAMA: Yes, ultimately.

KROFT: Why did you feel like you had to do that?

It doesn’t seem likely that Donald Trump will give Kroft 12 interviews. And if he did, they wouldn’t be so friendly. 

A partial transcript is below: 

60 Minutes
1/15/17
7:00

STEVE KROFT: Good evening. I’m Steve Kroft. Welcome to “60 Minutes Presents.” Tonight, President Barack Obama looks back at eight years in the White House. His successes. His failures and what he learned from his two terms as the nation’s chief executive and commander-in-chief. We first met him 10 years ago, when he was in his first term as a U.S. senator from Illinois and launching an unlikely campaign for president. Good evening. I’m Steve Kroft. Welcome to “60 Minutes Presents.” Tonight, President Barack Obama looks back at eight years in the White House. His successes. His failures and what he learned from his two terms as the nation’s chief executive and commander-in-chief.

We first met him 10 years ago, when he was in his first term as a U.S. senator from Illinois and launching an unlikely campaign for president.

...

KROFT: So what’s the difference between this guy and the guy you are now? How much smarter are you than this guy standing on the street corner?

...

KROFT: So what’s the difference between this guy and the guy you are now? How much smarter are you than this guy standing on the street corner?

...

KROFT: Did you learn the executive stuff on the job? Because when we first talked, I must have asked you 100 times. Your only executive experience was running the Harvard Law Review and running your own campaign. Did you have to learn a lot of this on the job?

...

KROFT: Beside the two wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, and promised to end, a financial crisis at home had pushed the United States to the brink of another Great Depression. When we spoke with the new president in March of 2009, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month, the government was throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at failing banks, and the auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Politically pummeled from all sides, Obama did his best to keep a sense of humor.

...

7:10

KROFT: A political candidacy built around hope and change and compromise would eventually become a presidency of crisis and confrontation.

Steve Kroft: Is there anything that surprised you about this job?

...

KROFT: You came into this office trying to unify the country. You said that many times during the campaign. You wanted to bring people together. You wanted to change Washington. You talked about transformative change. And you became the focal point for some of the division.

...

KROFT: You didn’t change Washington? 

...

OBAMA: I would’ve liked to have gotten that one last Supreme Court justice in there. I’d like the Supreme Court to take a look at--

KROFT: You couldn’t even get a hearing.

...

KROFT: Donald Trump, if you take away the particulars, was elected to the office, basically, on the same program that you were, of change. He wants to change Washington.

OBAMA: Well, I mean that’s a lot of particulars you’re taking away. Fair enough.

KROFT: But do you think— 

OBAMA: He was a change candidate.

KROFT: Do you think anybody can change Washington?

...

KROFT: You had two of the most unpopular presidential candidates selected by the two parties in history. Doesn’t that say something’s wrong, something serious is wrong?

...

OBAMA: And they made a difference in terms of moving the Republican Party, in terms of moving the country in a particular direction. It’s a direction I disagreed with. But it showed that, in fact, you get involved, if your voice is heard it has an impact.

KROFT: Do you feel the same way about Donald Trump?

...

KROFT: You said you don’t know how he’s going to do when he governs, but we’re in this transition period and one of the first things that he has done in this transition period is to pick a fight with the intelligence agencies. Do you think that that’s a smart move?

STEVE KROFT: You have to admit this is one of the strangest transitions in history. 

BARACK OBAMA: It's unusual. I'll agree with that. And I expect the president-elect would agree with that. Look. He's an unconventional candidate. I don't think there's anybody who's run a campaign like his successfully in modern history, not that I can think of. And as a consequence, because he didn't have the is up part of many of the establishment in his own party, because he ran sort of an improvisational campaign. 

KROFT: Can you run an improvisational presidency? 

OBAMA: I don't think so. So, now he's in the process of building up an organization, and we'll have to see how that works. And it will be a test, I think, for him and the people that he's designated to be able to execute on his vision. 

KROFT: Look, I think that the country deeply appreciates the fact that you have not spoken clearly, I think, probably what’s on your mind in relation to the president-elect. But as you said earlier it’s unusual. He seems to have spent a good deal of his time sending out tweets that, you know, that the United States must strengthen and expand its nuclear ability. That Meryl Streep is an overrated Hillary flunky. You’re watching this like everybody else. I mean what’s going on?

...

KROFT: One thing both men have in common is a love of golf and a shared knowledge of the word “mulligan,” which means a do-over to replace a lousy shot. I mean you play golf.

OBAMA: I do.

KROFT: Do you ever wish you had a mulligan? I mean in the eight years that you’ve had, if-- if you had-- if you had three or four mulligans would you use ‘em?

...

KROFT: In 2012, Obama told the Syrian government that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line…

OBAMA: That, that’s a red line for us. That could provoke us military involvement. When they were used, the president responded not with force, but diplomacy, raising questions about his credibility.

KROFT: I want to go back to, like, 2012.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: I want to-- to two words. Red line.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: You didn’t have to say that.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: And there have been reports that it wasn’t in your speech.

OBAMA: No, it wasn’t.

KROFT: That you just sort of ad-libbed it. If you could pull – and it created – it created problems for you with the military people. Would you take those words back? You didn’t have to say them.

...

KROFT: A few weeks ago you allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. It caused a major fallout between the United States and Israel. Was it your decision to abstain?

OBAMA: Yes, ultimately.

KROFT: Why did you feel like you had to do that?

...

KROFT: What are you going to miss most about this place?

...

KROFT: You’re not going to go to Wall Street, make a lot of money?

OBAMA: I’m not going to Wall Street. The amount of time that I’ll be investing in issues is going to be high. But it’ll be necessarily in a different capacity.  

...

KROFT: What are your memories of this office? What’s going to stick in your mind? What are you going to remember from here?

...

KROFT: You have trouble letting go? 

... 

KROFT: You going to have reunions? 
                        
...

KROFT: It’s not unusual for a president to issue an observation, “Beware of this. Be wary of that.” What is the thing that concerns you most right now, leaving office, about the country?

OBAMA: Making sure that our democracy stays healthy. 

...

KROFT: President Obama, in all the times we were with him, seemed to savor the challenge of an interview. For him, it was an intellectual workout, something on par with a pickup basketball game, complete with a little trash talk.

NB Daily Video Steve Kroft Barack Obama
Scott Whitlock's picture