He was glad. On Wednesday, towards the end of his program, Markus Lanz announced cheerfully and calmly: “Tomorrow – an exclusive interview with Barack Obama”. The former US president was “a real charisma bolt,” he added. In the night from Thursday to Friday, Obama could actually be seen in the previously recorded interview in a hotel suite in Washington. Following the half-hour audience, a small Lanz panel debated in the ZDF studio, to which Obama’s former campaign advisor Julius van de Laar and New York financial expert Sandra Navini were invited.
Barack Obama has written a new book that is now available in 25 languages, including German, a thousand-page magnum opus about America, his time as president, analyzes of the present, his successor in office. In his contempt for facts, Obama sees a symptom of a country that is breaking up into two camps and one of the new media sphere, also on the Internet, which can “uncouple from reality”. As is currently happening in the White House in the face of Corona.
America, the divided country
America, the divided – why? The country has always known the conflict over exclusion or inclusion, between classes, groups, skin colors, replied Obama, who spoke as relaxed and focused as he is typical. His answers were broadcast in the original language, with subtitles.
A few days earlier he had told the BBC: “It will take more than an election to reverse these trends.” When Lanz asked questions about Trump, Obama turned to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the presidency that begins in a crisis. He knows what that means: When he came into office, the financial world was upside down. In retrospect, Obama admits that the progressive forces had “not done some things as well as it should have been for workers and farmers.” But the change in power makes him optimistic: “It will be a new day.”
Lanz wanted to know why, despite everything that had happened, 70 million Americans voted for Trump again? “People choose narratives,” says Obama, stories decide elections, not programs. He told his vision back then. Many have now sought “consolation” in Trump’s stories. The current era of “select your own facts” is a long-term problem for democracies, since people no longer agree on a factual basis, for example on climate data.
Relaxed, almost boyish
Lanz, who wanted to elicit political comments from Obama as well as emotions, asked eagerly, almost boyishly: What was it like to spend the first night in the White House? “Like in a museum,” says Obama. It was not his house, but the house “of the American people”. The move made him more aware of his enormous responsibility: Everything that happens globally now concerns him.
How do you interview a man the rare height of Barack Obama? For the dramaturgy, Lanz chose scenes from the legendary evening in 2011, when Obama mocked Donald Trump’s lies and ambitions in a satirical speech at the traditional “White House Correspondents Dinner” while at the same time the greatest military coup was under way, the “switching off” of the terrorist bin Laden in Pakistan by a US special unit.
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Was the mockery and triumph on the other day the grave hurt that drove the ridiculed millionaire to the White House? Can history be read from this pivotal point? The studio guests didn’t know that either, but they were impressed by the combination of short speech excerpts, cut like clips: Obama soberly and succinctly announces the death of Bin Laden. Trump is proud of the killing of terror prince Al Baghdadi. Here a head of state, there a charlatan.
As courteous as it is fearless
Lanz is growing. Anyone who turns on the show every now and then can just watch it. The presenter, born in 1969 from a South Tyrolean village, was considered smooth, almost assiduous, an entertainer with a colorful kettle close to the boulevard, an actor, athlete, people who reported on exotic animals, on bold sailing trips or bad accidents. But more and more Lanz has become a politically alert moderator, who confronts guests politely and fearlessly, persistently inquires, and sometimes believably touched them, for example when he listens to a Holocaust survivor.
Lanz’s people have long been coming to Lanz as they appear at Anne Will or Frank Plasberg, from Olaf Scholz to Friedrich Merz, from Alice Schwarzer to Sahra Wagenknecht, Karl Lauterbach to Boris Palmer. One of the great moments was the verbal judo lesson that Lanz gave to the former President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, at the end of 2019 when he polemicized against “the refugees” and “the media”. Lanz didn’t let up – and that’s exactly what seems easy. He also made his debut with one of the most important contemporary politicians.