January 9th, 2010
04:45 PM ET
12 years ago

Reid apologizes for 'Negro dialect' comment

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/09/art.reid1.gi.jpg caption="Reid apologized Saturday for remarks he made about then-candidate Barack Obama."]Washington (CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized Saturday following reports he had privately described then-candidate Barack Obama during the presidential campaign as a black candidate who could be successful thanks in part to his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reported the remarks in their new book “Game Change,” which was purchased by CNN Saturday at a Washington-area bookstore. The book is slated for official release next Tuesday.

“He (Reid) was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama - a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination," they write.

“I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words,” Reid said in a statement to CNN.

(Update 4:00 pm: In a statement released by the White House, the president accepted Reid's apology: "Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.")

In his Saturday statement, Reid said he apologized “for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.

“I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda.”

Reid also pointed to his efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry, among other legislation favored by African-American voters: “I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African American community.”

The Nevada Democrat – who waited to formally endorsed Obama until after the conclusion of the tough presidential primary battle in 2008 - is facing an uphill re-election fight this year in his home state.

–CNN Political Producer Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report

Update: Republicans called on Democratic lawmakers and candidates Saturday to condemn Reid's original remarks. “For those who hope to one day live in a color-blind nation it appears Harry Reid is more than a few steps behind them," National Republican Senatorial Committee communication director Brian Walsh said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long history of embarrassing and controversial remarks by the senior Senator from Nevada. He always shares exactly what’s on his mind with little regard to perception or consequences, and it’s one of the reasons he is the most vulnerable incumbent Senator in either party facing re-election.

“Nevada deserves better from its leaders and this November, voters in the Silver State will have an opportunity to elect a new Senator who will put their views and values first and foremost. In the meantime, we hope Reid’s fellow Democrats in the Senate and on the campaign trail will stand up and rightly condemn these racially insensitive remarks by their elected leader.”

Filed under: Harry Reid • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (304 Responses)
  1. Andy

    Nice to see the double standard that exists with the democrats. He should resign. Using the Nword is never appropriate in any context. It says a lot about the person saying the word. Resign now please. It's amazing to see the democrats crumble. They've really been in control for 4 years now and have done nothing.

    January 9, 2010 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  2. LacrosseMom

    January 9th, 2010 2:00 pm ET
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    We all say stupid things, we all put our feet in our mouths. Conservatives & Liberals all make mistakes.

    Sen. Reid apology and move on. People are more forgiving than the media thinks we are!

    January 9, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  3. Truth Hurts

    To all of my sisters and brothers, if the parents spoke correct english in the home the children would learn correct english. Also, most of our children thinks it's cool to speak broken english and the peers that do speak correct english are teased and told that they're trying to act white. Such stupidity will be the end of us yet. My children have always known that speaking broken english would not be tolerated therefore, they grew up speaking english correctly.

    January 9, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  4. slp

    Would someone please tell me what this story has to do with republicans. Harry Reid is a democrat, Obama is a democrat. Please stop using every news story as an excuse to bash the GOP. It makes you look rediculous.

    January 9, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  5. Ms. M

    Race does matter in America and until we admit it (it's kind of like AA), we will never resolve to finding common solutions. We are all God's people and God create all people equally. Can we please focus on 'common' ground for ALL Americans? That is what we need to focus on. I really wish that we had the guts that we claim we have and not vote for any of our current politicians (Democrates and Republicans). They will all say anything to get elected but will not focus on what is right for ALL Americans. It really is a joke. We need a true third party that is the 70% of voters who are in the center. I wish that those puppet politicians on the right and the left would just vanish!! Who wants to be a hateful right wing tea partier and who wants to be a whimpy left winger? Really!!

    January 9, 2010 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  6. John

    Please people use your brains. Harry Reid is an "old" Mormon, the most racist group of people in the Nation. The Church didn't even allow blacks to hold positions of importance until recently. Reid is also a politician, who is under a lot of pressure in the next election.......he will do what he needs to do and say what he needs to say to keep his job. this man is probably one of the most dishonest power brokers ever to hold the offive he now holds. From a State run by the Mob for years, currently controlled by gambling interests....do you really believe he has any personal integrety......PLEEASE!

    January 9, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  7. slp

    Okay, I apologize. I didn't read the last part of the article so I can see where the remarks about the republicans came from. So let me add this. I don't see how it serves the GOP to comment on this. Republicans are always saying that they are tired of the race card being played regarding their opposition to President Obama and rightly so. That being said, they shouldn't comment on this. It just makes them look like a bunch of school children sticking out their tongue and saying "so there". Just let the American people be informed and let them draw their own conclusions.

    January 9, 2010 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  8. Bob Paulson

    This is complete BS!!!!

    IF anyone on the right had said something stupid like this they would be pilloried,... and rightfully so. Sen. Reid should be forced to resign just like the rest of the racist ilk.

    Remember the guy that got censured for stating that "You Lie" in a SOU address???

    Where is Harry's censure????

    Where is the freakin' media? This is why they call you guys the "Lamestream Media" because you are.

    I wonder what Keith Olberman, Chriss "Tingles" Mathews, and Rachel Maddow will say on Monday???

    For most of youy stupid koolaid drinkers on the left, you need to understand that if you are going to go after Trent Lott on something like this, you need to have equal outrage when this POS Harry Reid states something even more direct.

    You guys jump all over Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity, and they say NOTHING like this.

    Where is the "arry Resign" chorus.

    Remember that all this crap is now in fromt of the American People and we can find stuff out even when the Media is clearly carrying water for the Dems.

    January 9, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  9. Rob

    In today's day and age, how does one who considers himself a leader make such stupid remarks. If this were done in the media a la Howard Cosell, he would be fired. If he were a military officer, he would be relieved. Where are the leaders of the African-American community – Rev Jackson, the Hon Charles Rangel .... If the man were a Republican, well the result probably would not be overlooked by the media. When will the American public hold the politicians to the same standards? In all fairness, hold him accountable – and force him out. We don't need leaders in congress with this archaic mentality and outlook.

    January 9, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  10. Linda B., Ga.

    What is it, a slow day for news? OMG this happened 2 yrs ago and we NOW find it important to report. Get a Life!!

    Of Course President Obama accepted Sen. Reid's apology, our President is a true Gentleman and I do believe Sen. Reid is also...

    January 9, 2010 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  11. Truth-Bomb Thrower

    If a republican had said this, Jackson, Sharpton and every democrat in D.C. would be screaming for his head. The double standard is almost comical.

    January 9, 2010 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  12. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    I can see where folks may not like the word "Negro" being used, however, some of us older folks, do remember a time when that was the only acceptable term, and was much preferred over a derivative word of "Negro" that was used by whites, at least in the South where I live.

    That said, someone in public office for most of his life, probably should be more aware of more acceptable current terms.

    January 9, 2010 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    To Paul, let me count the ways...

    "If black people are offended at this it's because they're ashamed of the way they talk. If they don't like the way they talk then they should change it."

    FIRST, I can tell you're from the south, thinking that all black people talk the same gives that away quickly. SECOND, there is no such thing as a "Negro Dialect" or "White Dialect", there are white and black people who both speak proper (American) English and also slang or broken English. To Group all black people into a dialect is at the very least ignorant, we will give him (and you) the benefit of the doubt that you don't know any better (God bless your heart) ain't that sumthin ya'll say down int he souf? It is what it is Paul...LOVE, one of America's well-spoken African Americans.

    January 9, 2010 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  14. b franklin

    Harry Reid is a mental midget. America will be better off when he is gone from office.

    The remarks here are correct. If this had been a Republican, Harry Reid would have been all over the news complaining about the remark.

    Perhaps Reid and Obama should have a beer as this is another "teachable moment".

    Surprised that Obama didn't say that Reid acted stupidly as he said of the police dept earlier this year.

    January 9, 2010 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  15. Fan of Common Sense

    The sad thing about this is most black voters don't mind the democrats' blatant hypocrisy. As long as the democrats keep pandering to them and promising them "free goodies" from the government, most blacks couldn't care less what democrats REALLY think of them as a race..........And blacks wonder why they still lack respect in this country. They need to wake up.

    January 9, 2010 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  16. Laissez-Faire

    Reid insults black people, the President make fun of the handicapped and Lott tries to make Thurman feel good during a birthday party. The first two are excused as insensitive comments while lots statements meaning is inferred and he is kicked out of leadership.

    January 9, 2010 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  17. JSmith

    The racist comments here are idiotic beyond belief. What exactly is the Negro dialect? As a person of color who happens to be of primarily African descent, I couldn't tell you. Maybe it's because my very large family always spoke English. It's incredibly ignorant to assume that just because you watched a few "black" movies or met a few "blacks" that all persons of color speak with a poor dialect .

    On any day I'd rather speak proper English than the redneck dialect of the last president.

    January 9, 2010 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    For those who actually believe there IS a Negro Dialect, it would literally mean everyone who is considered a "Negro" or person of dark complection (that's what it means in the USA) speaks exactly the same or generally the same. Hmmmm...every black person born in the US, Africa, Europe, Australia, Canada....get my drift. It doesn't exist.

    di·a·lect (dī'ə-lěkt')


    1. A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists: Cockney is a dialect of English.
    2. A variety of language that with other varieties constitutes a single language of which no single variety is standard: the dialects of Ancient Greek.

    3. The language peculiar to the members of a group, especially in an occupation; jargon: the dialect of science.

    4. The manner or style of expressing oneself in language or the arts.

    5. A language considered as part of a larger family of languages or a linguistic branch. Not in scientific use: Spanish and French are Romance dialects.

    January 9, 2010 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  19. Usha Brooks

    When every republican who has uttered a derogatory work steps up to the plate and apologizes harry ried does not have to apologize. I am amazed in this day and age the double standards. Wake up America...........................There is nothing wrong with that remark except a poor choise of words.
    Look at the banks, institutions and mortgage companies for true racism.

    January 9, 2010 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  20. Jane

    Harry Reid spoke the truth in private but now for the sake of hypersensitive 'polictical correctness' feels he must publicly apologize. Elitist intellectuals in this country have set themselves up to determine what is or is not polictically 'correct.' Who died and left the SPEECH POLICE in charge? These media gatekeepers want to modify our language because they think by doing that they can also control what we ( the not-so-bright public) think. Poppycock!!!

    January 9, 2010 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  21. indiana voter

    Democrats are racists! They elected a President based soley on the color of his skin, they just don't want to admit it. I'll say it for them: Democrats are a bunch of Racists!

    January 9, 2010 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  22. Adam

    Wow. The liberal double standard has an address, and it's this message board.

    January 9, 2010 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  23. indiana voter


    The founding fathers and Lincoln would be ashamed of the Democrat party today! A party that is anti-American, and is trying to socialize America, and do away with capitalism and our freedoms that the the founding fathers fought to establish. Get your history straight before you start sounding like an typical idiot Democrat trying to sound smart.

    January 9, 2010 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  24. dave

    I agree with paul. what if obama was from boston and a boston accent. would people be offended then. i dont think so.

    January 9, 2010 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  25. Albo58

    Can you imagine if a Republican politician had said this? As a matter of fact, it is the Democrats that are ALWAYS playing the race and class cards...what complete hypocrits!

    January 9, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
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