July 19, 2024

Sitting with Howard Stern, the nation’s best-known shock jock, President Biden on Friday replayed the deepest lows of his life story and the highs of a decades-long political career in an appearance designed to reintroduce him to an audience of millions.

In a surprise interview on “The Howard Stern Show” that lasted for more than an hour, Mr. Stern, a skilled interviewer versed in the art of oversharing, repeatedly asked Mr. Biden to revisit the stories of love and loss that have defined his public image.

So Mr. Biden spoke at length about grieving the death of his first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, who were killed in a car crash in 1972. He talked about meeting his second wife, Jill Biden, on a blind date, and said, as he often has, that his deceased son Beau Biden should be the Biden sitting in the Oval Office.

At one point, Mr. Biden — who also told Mr. Stern that he had fallen “ass over tin cup” in love with his first wife — that he had contemplated suicide after Neilia and Naomi were killed.

“I thought, let me just go to the Delaware Memorial and jump,” he said. The president then strongly encouraged those with mental health issues to seek therapy.

The appearance allowed Mr. Biden to return to some of the raw and emotionally vulnerable stories and highlight his capacity for compassion — in other words, he revisited for Mr. Stern’s massive audience everything that had made him a compelling candidate for president in 2020. Mr. Stern’s listeners are mostly white, mostly male and mostly comfortably middle class, according to figures shared by the Howard Stern Radio Network.

At another point, Mr. Biden appeared to once again stretch the truth about being arrested at a Delaware desegregation protest as a teenager. There is no evidence that he was ever arrested at a civil-rights protest.

For this, Mr. Stern, 70, lent Mr. Biden the audience he has cultivated over decades as a drive-time shock jock and lately a more ruminative interviewer on satellite radio. SiriusXM has about 34 million subscribers, many of whom tune in for Mr. Stern’s mix of empathy and vulgarity.

By hosting Mr. Biden, Mr. Stern was also slighting his old and estranged friend, former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump was a frequent guest on Mr. Stern’s show in the 1990s and 2000s. During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Stern to be a speaker at the Republican National Convention.

But Mr. Stern, whose politics have become much more left-leaning over the years, declined the offer. Now he routinely ridicules the former president on his show and criticizes his decisions, such as appointing the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. Mr. Trump has responded by calling his former friend “a broken weirdo.”

Mr. Stern broke little new ground with Mr. Biden, except for the president saying at one point that he would debate Mr. Trump.

Otherwise, Mr. Biden spent much of the time rehashing material from his memoirs, revisiting Mr. Trump’s actions surrounding the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, and criticizing the former president for his behavior toward military veterans.

“Here’s what bothers me most,” Mr. Biden said. “We have a fundamentally different value set.”

Mr. Biden said his predecessor had refused to visit American soldiers from World War II buried in France, during a trip there in 2018, because the fallen were “losers.” (Mr. Trump has denied saying this, though several officials in the Trump White House later said that he had.) Mr. Biden also cited Mr. Trump’s history of disparaging Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was captured and held for years during the Vietnam War. Mr. McCain died of brain cancer in 2018.

“I just I’m glad I wasn’t there because, I think I would have — my son’s one of those graves,” Mr. Biden said. “The graves back here, and not there.” Beau Biden, Mr. Biden’s son, died in 2015 of brain cancer.

When the conversation turned glancingly to policy, Mr. Stern focused on work the Biden administration has done to finalize a policy requiring airlines to automatically issue cash refunds for problems like delayed flights.

The appearance allowed Mr. Biden to strike a contrast with Mr. Trump, who went on Mr. Stern’s show many times before he was elected.

In 2004, Mr. Trump told the shock jock that he could refer to his daughter Ivanka with a lurid term. In 2010, he and Mr. Stern talked at length about the sexuality of the golfer Tiger Woods — definitely “not gay,” Mr. Trump said — before discussing the attractiveness of Mr. Woods’s wife at the time. In 1997, Mr. Trump appeared on the show and talked about losing his virginity at “about age 14.” Mr. Stern told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019 that he’d tried to dissuade Mr. Trump from running for the presidency, and their relationship soured during the 2016 campaign.

“It was a difficult thing because there’s a part of me that really likes Donald, but I just don’t agree politically,” Mr. Stern said. “A more self-serving person would have gone all in on Donald because I’d probably be the F.C.C. commissioner or a Supreme Court justice by now.”

At the end of Friday’s sit-down, Mr. Stern praised Mr. Biden, listing off the president’s policy wins and praising his ability to overcome tragedy.

“I know you’d be a good father to the country, and I want to thank you for providing a calming, influential and organized administration,” Mr. Stern told Mr. Biden.

Jeremy W. Peters, Reid J. Epstein and Benjamin Mullin contributed reporting.

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