In the interview, Obama blamed the media for creating a "phony controversy" over racial remarks by a black Agriculture Department official that were posted on the Internet. His administration ousted the employee, but then apologized and offered to rehire her.
He says the media often seek controversy, not the facts. But he acknowledged that the forced resignation of Shirley Sherrod could also be blamed on those in his administration who overreacted.
Obama said the incident shows that while progress has been made, racial tensions still exist in the U.S.
"There are still inequalities out there. There's still discrimination out there," Obama said. "But we've made progress."
The wide-ranging interview also covered lighthearted topics, from Obama's knowledge of pop culture, vacationing with his family, admitting that he knows actress Lindsay Lohan is in jail, to his Blackberry use.
But he skirted a question about whether actor Mel Gibson should go to anger management classes, joking that he'd rather answer a question about the war in Afghanistan. And when asked about "Snooki," a character on the MTV reality show "Jersey Shore," Obama pleaded ignorance.
Critics say the president's message will not play well with people on the fence about him. Obama hasn't held a prime-time press conference in more than a year.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.