July 26th, 2009
02:20 PM ET
13 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. S Callahan

    Sometimes it makes one wonder if maybe, just maybe, this was a calculated to detract from the health care debate...to put some breathing room into the opposition....who knows....it's a lesson and teachable moment for the President for sure; and for us lowly citizens who recieve the news.

    July 26, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  2. Bob Myers

    A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The outburst that Obama first gave was the response of his heart. He wants to be above what he said, but, hasn't arrived there as yet. Now, he has to make a 'lot' of correctional comments to try to clear the air. Let's hope he can.
    There has been plenty in the past that give credence to his inner-most feelings and he can't be blamed for that. Just say: Sorry, I made a mistake.... and don't keep trying to cover it up with butter.

    July 26, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  3. Norm

    Given the cop's background he should have known that Gates would try and provoke him. Gates shouldn't have followed the cop out onto the porch and insulted the cop's mother. Gates and the cop should have all kept their mouths shut, both during and after the incident.

    If for no other reason than self interest in that he most assuredly has lost the votes of many cops, the president shouldn't have involved himself in the issue.

    July 26, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  4. Zero.

    "And the Earth was void, and without life." Sounds much the USA of today...

    July 26, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  5. Tony

    The Racist Gates decided to "Move on" Once he knew there was a recording of the incident and the Black officer that was there sided with the "White" guy. He also may have realized that there would be no book or movie deal from this and others are actually seeing him for what he really is, a racist who does not hold back on trying to use his color for ANY advancemant.

    I also hope that Crowley files a defamation suit against the "Black" guy for his racial rant. He deserves everything he gets. Racism goes both ways. Right? You would think a Harvard educated professor could use better language that "your mama".

    I have a number of African American friends and treat them with the same respect and dignity I do my White friends.

    July 26, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  6. Nini

    I expect more from the President of the United State.
    The president of the United State should know the power of his words.

    Clearly Obama doesn't and that is very concerning.

    What Obama did was divisive and NOT presidential.

    July 26, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  7. Zero.

    Divisive? Divisions? or just another Avenue away fron CNNs Biggotry...

    July 26, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
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