Obama talks on Libya controversy

In an interview on 'The Daily Show', Obama jokes that his VP looks good in swimwear and discusses Libya.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney battle during the 2nd presidential debate in New York. Picture: AFP/Saul Loeb

NEW YORK - President Barack Obama joked that his vice president looked good in a swimsuit and said screw-ups can happen in government as he discussed the Libya controversy, mixing comedy and serious issues in an appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

In an appeal to young voters, Obama largely played it straight in his sixth appearance on the liberal-leaning comedy show, which enjoys a broad following among younger viewers.

He touted the steps he had taken to lower college costs and expand rights for gays and lesbians and warned that Republican rival Mitt Romney would bring back economic policies that would favour the very wealthy over everyone else if he won the 6 November election.

"Here's what I will say to everybody who's watching: The stakes on this could not be bigger," Obama said. "There's no excuse not to vote."

Voters under age 30 made up a crucial part of Obama's winning coalition in 2008, and Reuters/Ipsos polling data indicates they back him again this year by wide margins.

Younger Americans voted in near-record levels in the 2008, but it is unclear whether they will turn out again in such numbers this year. Obama's campaign has harnessed social media and set up an extensive network of on-campus volunteers to help ensure young supporters vote this year, and an appearance on "The Daily Show" is likely to help.

With an average audience of 1.1 million, the Comedy Central cable network show reaches roughly one-third of the viewership of the most popular late-night talk show, NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media.

But it ranks first among viewers under the age of 50, according to figures provided by the show.

Obama promised viewers he would keep working to help the economy recover from the deepest recession since the 1930s, but he also emphasised issues like student loans and civil liberties that are normally not a central part of his stump speech. He said he still wanted to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison for terrorism suspects, which he has been unable to do so far.

Asked about the administration's shifting assessment of last month's deadly attacks on a US diplomatic mission in Libya, Obama said his administration was still piecing together the evidence.

"The government is a big operation. At any given time, something screws up and you make sure you find out what's broken and you fix it," he said.

The edgy humour that Stewart is known for surfaced occasionally.

"How many times a week does Biden show up in a wet bathing suit to a meeting?" Stewart asked in an unprompted reference to Vice President Joe Biden.

"I had to put out a presidential directive on that. We had to stop that," Obama said. "I gotta say, though, he looks pretty good."