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How Jay Leno handled Michele Bachmann's appearance on his show

Michele Bachmann chatting with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show 9-16-11

As usual, there was nothing confrontational about Jay Leno's interview with his political guest, in this case, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

She was on the West Coast on Friday to speak in Orange County and at the state Republican Convention in L.A. and, who knows? Maybe to schmooze some money from the people who give California its Golden State name too. Watch out. President Obama is on his way to California too in a few days. Although, the story is, some Hollywood folks are kinda unhappy with him.

Bachmann's star soared last summer. She won the Ames Straw Poll, which means nothing in reality but sounds good in the media for a while. But that same day, Rick Perry entered the Republican presidential sweepstakes. He's a big-shot GOP governor from Texas and began sucking the air, the money and the media attention away from the only female in the contest so far.

Late-night American TV is a special breed. Some jokes. A little music. Some chatter. Maybe a movie starlet swears she got locked out of her Paris hotel room with nothing to wear but a hand towel. Nothing too complicated or controversial because regardless of the time zone, Americans are in their beds beginning to drift off to zzzzzz...

Not all Americans realize that these late-night interviews, especially with politicians, are ...

... negotiated and effectively outlined in advance between the show's and politician's staffs. (How do you think Leno has those quips so readily at hand?) Generally, the topics to be discussed -- and the ones to be left out -- are predetermined.

This can be tricky because both sides want the exposure. The show wouldn't mind a spontaneous gaffe; remember Barack Obama's "joke" about not being as bad an athlete as a Special Olympian? Ooops, he had to apologize from the plane on that one.Buttons on sale at the california republican convention, 9-16-11

Leno is very good at touching touchy subjects without seeming prosecutorial. Bachmann clearly wanted to talk about Texas Gov. Rick Perry attempting to order girls to get immunized against HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.

This has been Bachmann's main attack on an allegedly authoritarian Perry to stem her drop in the polls. Watch Leno's language in this exchange. As per agreement, he sets up Bachmann to say what she wants, as he already knows, and then gently questions the validity and gets her off the predictable "crony capitalism" talking point. And she doesn't return to it.

LENO: You and Perry went over this HPV vaccine topic. Explain this whole deal.

BACHMANN: Well, there was a situation where it was an abuse of executive power. And that's something that the governor admitted, that it was an abuse of executive power. It was an action by the governor to write an executive order to order all 12‑year‑old girls to have an injection before they could go into school.

LENO:  But it was never implemented; right? He signed it, but it was never implemented.

BACHMANN:  Right, right, right.

LENO:  OK.

BACHMANN: But it was highly controversial, and the Legislature in Texas was so angry, that they were going to -- they passed a law to overturn it because they didn't want to have the children go through that.

LENO:  OK.  I mean, is that bad?  I mean --

BACHMANN:  Well, I think so.

Michele Bachmann California Republican Convention Keynote speaker 9-16-11

LENO:  It's a vaccine to prevent -- what is it? Cervical cancer?

BACHMANN: Well, it's HPV. And the concern is that there's, you know, potentially side effects that can come with something like that. But it gives a false sense of assurance to a young woman when she has that that if she's sexually active that she doesn't have to worry about sexually transmitted diseases. And that's not necessarily true.

LENO: Well, I don't know if it gives assurance. It can prevent cervical cancer; correct?

BACHMANN: But it's the -- again, it's something that potentially could have dangerous side effects. But it's also the fact that -- of crony capitalism. People were worried that potentially --

LENO:  But parents can opt out of it; right?  A parent can say, "I don't want my daughter" -- 

BACHMANN: You can opt out, but the way that these work is the fact that when you have to opt out, you have to be very proactive. And people just assume that the government does what's best for you. And my experience has been that's not always necessarily the case.

LENO: Yeah. OK. All right.

Leno did the same thing on the "tea party" movement's debt-ceiling-increase opposition.

LENO: Do you think you would have been this strident if it was Bush-Cheney?

BACHMANN: Absolutely.

LENO:  Yeah?

On her family's gay therapy clinic. And on gay marriage:

LENO: If two gay people want to get married, that's their business; that doesn't concern us. I mean, why is that -- why is that even an issue?

BACHMANN: Well, because the family is foundational, and marriage between a man and a woman has been what the law has been for years and years.

LENO: I know. I tried it myself. It works great for me.

Bachmann got her national exposure with a cultural icon. Leno likely lived up to his bargain. That's the only way he can get guests such as her to return. But he also made clear some expressed doubts about what the candidate was dishing out.

RELATED:

Now Michele Bachmann is writing a book

New numbers indicate a Perry-Romney race is developing

Bachmann on Obama: He keeps giving speeches to say he'll give more speeches

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: (from top) Michele Bachmann appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Credit: NBC

Buttons at the California Republican Convention. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Bachmann delivers a speech Sept. 16. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

 
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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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