July 26th, 2009
02:20 PM ET
5 years ago

Reliable Sources: Gates comments overshadow health care


WASHINGTON (CNN) – The controversy surrounding the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Junior dominated the Sunday morning talk shows, with Obama administration officials re-explaining the president's comments during Wednesday’s primetime news conference. Obama's primetime news conference was supposed to push his health care agenda to the forefront of the news cycle, but his comments about the Cambridge police department took center stage on nearly all media outlets.

Obama, who said the police officer who arrested Gates "acted stupidly," later back-tracked: first in an interview with ABC's Terry Moran and then making a surprise appearance at the White House briefing on Friday to make additional statements about the matter.

On Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz sorted through with several top journalists what Obama himself described as "the media frenzy." Should Obama have known that commenting on a racially charged story would add fuel to the media's fire?

Roger Simon, Chief Political Columnist for Politico, criticized the President's comments while noting the story as a whole is "very irresistible. No President ought to begin with a sentence with the words 'I don't have all the facts' and end the sentence with 'the police acted stupidly.' He was briefed on this question. The president answers a dozen questions or less, and he practices 20, 30, 40 questions...We can't protect the President from himself. The President really threw gasoline on the flames with something that he walked back the next day, handled properly the next day, and called it what it was, a 'teachable moment.'"

Kurtz said media professionals have an obligation to give coverage to important issues such as health care, even if the President makes other news. "You have a judgment to be made by media professionals, whether health care, this huge debate facing the country, [which] the press conference was devoted to until that last question, if it deserved equal billing."

Callie Crossley, an African American media commentator who serves as program manager for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, said the fact that the first black President speaks about a race issue is news in itself. "I think more than the President kicking it up a notch, which he did, you had to also think, 'Hey, this is the first black president talking about race from a position of understanding and having experienced racial profiling.' I think that deserves a little coverage."

Kurtz asked Lauren Ashburn, managing editor of Gannett Broadcasting, if the media rushed to conclude that Gates' arrest was an instance of racism.

"I think in the beginning, you're right, people thought this could be racism. But by the next day, the next news cycle, everybody was culpable," Ashburn said.

Kurtz also asked whether the many stories by black journalists about their own experiences with law enforcement officials could have affected the overall tone with respect to the coverage of the Gates story.

"Absolutely,” Ashburn said, "That's why we saw the kind of discussion that's going on on online comments and on talk radio. It's absolutely experience. That's where the President was coming from, albeit he probably shouldn't have said what he said, but he was coming from a place of history and a place of personal experience."


Filed under: President Obama • State of the Union
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. chuck

    What about Sarah Palin's lies in Alaska .

    July 26, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  2. Mario, mtl, ca.

    The medias are the one who spread the idea that the president makes his comments based 'racial' which is nit truth. The president just say ' it's stupid to take someone from his home when proven he was the owner' The media emphases the underline, but why?

    July 26, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. Franky, Land of Lincoln

    Very well said, good job, :)

    I do think a lot of factors came into play but I do think my boy should have take it slow but I will say if it wasn't for the Rev Wright thing, I probably would have a different perspective but considering I know where he's coming from, I ain't surprised. You know, that also may be an underrated aspect of all this. After all, til this day, people still talk about the church and it wasn't no more than 2+ months ago they were still looking for one. People tend to think issues like these don't matter but in some way, they do. They are complicated, yet ambiguous, they are tough, yet worthy. Sometimes race is not about how much you know, is how much you say...

    Very nice, :)

    July 26, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  4. Bob

    YES, he should have known. He's the President, for Pete's sake. Everything he says (or any President says) takes on meaning and gets noticed more than the typical person.

    What amazes me is how the Obamabots on the one hand can talk about how he's one of the greatest politicians the world has ever seen, and on the other hand that he shouldn't realize this simple truth, and/or that he should be able to speak his mind like a "normal" citizen.

    He's POTUS, people. Being careful what you say and understanding the implications of what you say comes with the job. Period.

    July 26, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  5. Chris

    It's sad that Gates made the racist comments that he made. It only shows that the racism on both sides has a long ways to go ........ what is interesting is how the media portrays this incident. They, along with Obama, seem to want to quickly place the blame on a policeman who was simply responding to a public call for help. What provoked the incident was the way Gates immediately started his ranting about him being black (which he isn't much more black than any of us) and trying to create an incident. You can't help but wonder if he, and any of his friend including Obama, may have scheduled this whole affair. Just who was it that called in the complaint? A neighbor? A friend? Another liberal move to gain attention it seems!!!!!

    July 26, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  6. Bob

    Hmmmm...no matter what direction this goes, there's racism involved I guess. So people that believe he shouldn't have said what he said are racists? Give me a break. The only racists in this situation are Gates, and to a lesser extent, Obama...they judged an officer's actions solely based on the color of his skin. If that's racism, I don't know what is. Or will somebody come back with the tired old "black people can't be racist" thing? Give me a break.

    If Gates had acted like a normal person who appreciated what the police were doing rather than acting like a spoiled, petulant child, this wouldn't have happened. And if Obama hadn't assumed the officer's actions were based on race, and if HE had kept his mouth shut. This wouldn't have happened. Dr. Gates and Mr. Obama, THERE is your "teachable moment".

    July 26, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  7. AJ

    Oh please, Obama didn't come from a place of "experience." Obama was attempting to make sure that black voters were wipped into a fenzy, Without them he couldnt be elected to city council. As a lifelong Democrat, I have to say I find the entire episode embarassing. I did not support him during the election cycle and I do not support him now. He's all about himself instead of it being about what is good for the nation. So I guess he accomplished his goal of securing the black vote but backfired with conservative Democrats and indies. What a farce.

    July 26, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  8. S M R

    This is where they get the saying: "Make a mountain out of a mole hill". When the Cop sees I.D. showing that it is Gates house, THAT SHOULD BE END OF STORY. I was falsely arrested twice and feel that the Gates reaction was in line of how I felt both times.I would have called the cop stupid also.

    July 26, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  9. Aren't you listening???

    Obama's favorability rating is now below 50% because Americans do not like what he is doing with health care or anything else. Keep watching the polls-he's sinking fast.....America does not want socialism....

    July 26, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  10. Willy Brown

    If you don't vote for this health care then you must be racist.

    July 26, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  11. S M R

    I think they should question the white women caller that caused this whole mess.

    July 26, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  12. Joyce

    It is unfortunate that the incident has become more about President Obama's comments that about what actually happened. The only people who know what actually happened are the people who were involved. I am quite sure that both Gates and Crowley are equally to blame. Anyone who believes that we do not have racial problems in this country is very naive. Certainly, it could have been resolved better.....or at least in a more grown-up way. To place a person who was in his own home and obviously just lost his temper in handcuffs, should be completely unacceptable. I am not a person of color, but do understand how they feel about racial profiling. As a country, we need to learn from this and hopefully grow as a more tolerant people.

    July 26, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  13. Debby

    Callie Crossley forgot to mention that Obama had to take it down a notch when he had to explain himself for saying the officers acted stupidly. Its funny how black people fail to mention Obama is half white and was raised and educated by white vs. his black father that took off on him when he was young. It seems blacks only base their judgment on the color of ones skin. So who are the racists here?

    July 26, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  14. RR

    two things:

    1) It's disgusting how many people automatically jumped to the conclusion Sgt Crawley is a racist.

    2) This is what happens when Obama talks without using a teleprompter or prepared notes.

    July 26, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  15. GuyInVA

    Cambridge PD has hinted that they may release tapes of radio transmissions from that encounter. I bet this would pick up some things said by Professor Gates. Now, he suddenly wants to drop the whole thing ("this was never about me"). Interesting.

    The Cambridge PD Officers' Union press conference was a joke. They have every right to be upset and defensive. They were called stupid by the most quoted man in the world when that man had little or no knowledge of the facts of the case. However, they are a LABOR UNION. Come 2012, they will funnel all of their union dues to democratic candidates, including the president. They have no idea how to do anything else.

    July 26, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  16. stevetall

    This ain't news, folks. It sounds to me like the police could have handled the situation better, and so could Mr. Gates. Don't think things are different for a black man? Of course they are. He should have been cooler. The cops could have contacted the neighbors to confirm Gates' identity. Well, duh!

    July 26, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  17. katiec

    Of course it does as it gives the media a chance to sensationalize,
    rather than report what is important to us all: Health Care Reform.
    Course, with their support of the republicans and their trying to
    destroy health care, maybe we are better off.

    July 26, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  18. alvino

    The officer should have just left when he learned that Gates owned the home. But then what would Rush do for his program for three days?

    You have to admit, his dividing the country with racial division is just like what happened in the 60's. As the true leader of the GOP, Rush is providing this backward direction for the dim witted party of "No!."

    July 26, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  19. Zero.

    I here by promise you CNN. I have never watched "two seconds" of "Black in America". And I never will solong as the Idiot Obama sits in the Whitehouse Never... The so9 called "African American" is as Big an idiot has him. There is no such thing as qan African Americans. Just Toto`s.... Barack Obama is the answer to nothing for their future.

    July 26, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  20. mike

    Obama showed his true 'colors' by racially profiling the arresting officer. He could have stopped the media onslought by simply apologizing; instead he backpedals and says he could have 'callibrated his words more carefully.' He had no business commenting emotionally on something he did not have the facts on.

    July 26, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  21. Grrr-awful-o

    Headline should read: "Obama cop comments overshadow healthcare". And perhaps the subtitle: "Where's the judgement now?"

    July 26, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. Chazz

    "...an African American media commentator who serves as program manager for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, said the fact that the first black President...' Seems everyone forgets his mother was white. Would that not make him just as much white as he his black? Would he have been elected if his mother's DNA had been dominate and he looked more white than black? Would the incident make news if both had been black or both had been white? The person is the issue, not the color of his skin. Skin color only is only an issue when you make it an issue, as the President and Mr. Gates did.

    July 26, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  23. B

    This thing has been totally overblown by the media!!
    Obama wanted to talk health care and naturally the reporters want to exploit sensationalism !!

    Bottom feeders.....

    July 26, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. No Hillary = No Obama

    Who commits most of the crime in this country – Black males – statistics don't lie. And you wonder why there is racial profiling? Let's get real here. CNN has turned into one big sob story with their Black in America series.

    July 26, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  25. Angus McDugan

    The question was planted and the answere planned by the White House to destract the nation's attention from Obama's failures. I would say that the plan to destract worked pretty well. Very nicely done by the Obama media manipulation team!

    July 26, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
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