With The Late Show with Stephen Colbert often surpassing The Tonight Show in the late night ratings race, host Jimmy Fallon tells The New York Times his softball interview of Donald Trump during the 2016 election was a “setback.”
In the aftermath of the interview, many folks felt the segment helped to “humanize” Trump.
The resurgent interest in left-leaning programming hasn’t helped Mr. Fallon, a former star of “Saturday Night Live” who has built his brand on his all-around entertainer’s skills and down-the-middle tastes.
And as Mr. Fallon is well aware, viewers haven’t seen him in quite the same light since an interview he conducted with Mr. Trump in September, which was widely criticized for its fawning, forgiving tone. In a gesture that has come to haunt the host, he concluded the segment by playfully running his fingers through Mr. Trump’s hair.
Mr. Fallon acknowledges now that the Trump interview was a setback, if not quite a mistake, and he has absorbed at least a portion of the anger that was directed at him by critics and online detractors.
“They have a right to be mad,” a chastened Mr. Fallon said in an interview this month. “If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn’t like it. I got it.”
Mr. Fallon’s questions, however, were mostly innocuous; he asked Mr. Trump why children should want to grow up to be president and if his business background had helped him in the campaign. Their conversation concluded with Mr. Fallon fulfilling his longstanding wish of ruffling Mr. Trump’s hair.
“I didn’t do it to humanize him,” Mr. Fallon said, explaining this moment to me. “I almost did it to minimize him. I didn’t think that would be a compliment: ‘He did the thing that we all wanted to do.’”
But when the backlash did not subside, even after a few days, Mr. Fallon never addressed the controversy on air. “I didn’t talk about it, and I should have talked about it,” he said. “I regret that.”
You can watch the now infamous moment below: