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. J Williams

    Since he apologized, it's obviously true... but did Reid say that to Halperin and Heilemann? It's not clear in your story. If he said that about Obama privately then you need to include who he said to. If it's an anonymous source of Hlperin's, then say so, so it is put in context. Is that source information is in Halperin's book? If so, you (CNN) need to publish that. Sources are important, and need to be clearly identified in stories.

    January 9, 2010 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  2. RealDeal

    Reid's observation / comment was absolutely spot on and right on the money.

    It is a fact that Obama is a light skinned African American, and that he speaks with extreme eloquence and intelligence.

    It is also a fact that no matter how far we've come, this is still racist America, and having darker skin would be a liability in a presidential race, as would speaking 'black pidgin English ebonics' with its horribly distorted grammar, vocabulary, and accent.

    Its something that we aren't allowed to be honest here. Everyone in politics or who has half a brain knows the truth of what Reid said...but if the if the brainless public catches wind of it we have to fall all over ourselves apologizing because they arent smart enough to understand it..

    January 9, 2010 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  3. CSK

    It would not hurt fo all people to get involved in history as it truly is, learn cultural sensitivity and stop living in the past.

    Older Whites come from a time that talking like that was not offensive in white company. Listen to your grandparents and great grandparents, they still talk like that.

    It is what it is.

    Blessings to all...

    And Yeah, President Obama is bigger than words.

    January 9, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. Radar54

    Just another case of over-sensitive minorities looking for any reason to cry "foul!"

    What minorities do you know, that are being over-sensitive to the statement, i means have you talk to any to get their view, or are you just spewing non sense?

    And why would you generalize a whole race of people about how you think they should feel about what this person said, with out talking with them.


    January 9, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. proud conservative

    FLUSH! That's that sound of Reid's re-election bid going down the toilet.

    January 9, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  6. George

    Wow, will the beaten down Republicans stop at nothing to spin any story at all in their favor? To make this (stupid) comment by Senator Reid a political issue to suggest that he is a racist and that the Republican Party is the champion of the African American Community and the citizens of Nevada should elect new (Republican) leadership in November is illogical. I think this move will back fire, the citizens of Nevada are smarter then that!

    January 9, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  7. Don

    Can you imagine the firestorm if a Republican had made that statement.

    Harry Reid is not only stupid, he is an uninspiring leader. Democrats deserve him. They should be forced to live with him as their leader until Nevada voters deliver him the thumping at the polls that he so richly deserves.

    January 9, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  8. Laissez-Faire

    Trent Lott was forced to resign his leadership position after an error in speech like this. Reid should also be forced to resign as well. Or, is it not racist because he's a democrat?

    January 9, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  9. Vicki

    Wow. Good thing Reid isn't a Republican. Because then we would most likely hear from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson how Reid is a racist and an ignorant individaul. Then there would be the demands that Reid be removed from his position. But since he is a Democrat that just said an "unfortunate comment", Reid will be allowed to continue business as usual?
    This kind of intolerance should not be accepted. All people that make racist remarks should be treated and viewed the same. Reid should take the next honorable step and immediately resign from his position. His close minded comments should not be tolerated.The Democratic party should recognize this and call for his dismissal.

    January 9, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  10. stephanie

    Who is more racist than the republican party, they could not be color blind even if their lives depended on it. It is beyond me the obsession with color in this country as if the same God that made them isn't the same God that made the black and brown man. It will not only be the greedy middle=aged white men who bring down this country, but also the racist ones who are so ignorant, that they believe if you don't look like them, speak like them or have their money, you are beneath them.....how blind, how sad........What an indelible stain!

    One more thing, regardless of party affiliation, Harry Reid is only apologizing because he was called out........out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

    January 9, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  11. JAMES

    I wonder what would happen if RUSH had made a comment like that? No I don't Jesse and Al would be setting on his front door step in 45 minutes

    January 9, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  12. Mike

    Seriously it astounds me how many of us are so uneducated and ignorant and as a result feel the need to be offended at absolutely everything. There seems to be no satisfying anyone these days.

    First of all the term "negro" defines an ancestry, not a color.
    Second... maybe people should be offended more at being called "African American" when the closest that they have been to Africa is watching National Geographic. A white man born if Africa that migrated to America would have more of a right to call himself African-American than a black person.

    Heck... depending upon who you say it to and what time they are from, would find the term "black" offensive.

    This same debate is now raging with the US census forms (even though "negro" has been on the form for over 10 years now.)

    The point of all this is... is that we need to stop whining and complaining and making a big what-to-do about something that isn't really offensive when bigger, more pressing issues are upon us.

    And if "negro" were so offensive, then why do we have things like "The United Negro College Fund" for instance!?!?

    We need to start to think people!
    And BTW... I am black/negro (take your pick).

    Peace everyone!

    January 9, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  13. dcjord50

    As a Black African American born in the early 50's at the time we were proud to be Negros until we realize the negative beliefs and values associated with the term. We decided to become Black Americans as a testament of our resilience to combat racism and discrimination and to assume responsibility for our destiny. We welcomed the term "African Americans," as a sign of our blessings to hail from the great continent of Africa where we could connect to our heritage and culture. However ignorance among older White Americans still exists. Harry Reid was taught as a child just like other older White Americans that "negros" were inferior, and "dumb." It's hard for someone like him to recognize that he was brainwashed, lied to, and mis-educated about our people. He apologized and for those of us who are Christians it's time to forgive and keep praying for others like Reid.

    January 9, 2010 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  14. Radar54

    I heard white folks in the Appalachian speak, whew!

    January 9, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  15. cwj

    Harry Reid,Thank God you are a Dem, you would be run out of town and called horrible names if you were a Republican.

    January 9, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  16. ringo

    Obama speaks like he was raised by a Midwestern white woman, and looks like the son of an African immigrant and a Caucasian American. Which is entirely reasonable, given that he IS.

    Reality is, while we may have an African/American president, we still have never had an African-American president.

    January 9, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  17. Chris W

    Where do we begin with such an idiotic farse of an incident?
    The phrases he used, the reasoning behind saying that, the vagueness of the apologizing..?
    What in the _ is all this supposed to mean to normal Americans!
    Suppose we could decide Reid was being "racially insensitive but then by default that would infer Reid cares about whites (I guess) more than others. Except it's quite clear that it doesn't matter what color the persons skin is to Reid because he's an automaton who is just robotically checking boxes on manipulating facts to his current, everchanging viewpoints which is all one can gather out of his "questionable" statement.
    He's totally useless to the nation. This was superbly showcased when he had the Freudian slip of voting "no" against his own bill which he doctored into being a sick sham.
    What a cotton head bespectacled shamblaster.
    As an Independent, I was hoping Obama could whip that party into shape but Obama is turning into the tepid pool boy for the likes of Harry Reid and "Ja Joey La la lieb em' in Iraq till all the Gaza Strip is an Israeli suburban development."
    I think the Senate should be abolished, you want to talk about less government- we only the need the House of Representatives. That's enough of a viper pit to get a handle on, these Senators are impossible.
    Harry Reid I have a question for you, what the hell is "negro dialect" ANYWAY!!?!?!!?!!!!!!

    January 9, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  18. Howard

    Reid is a corrupt tyrant who has corrupted every democrat in the Senate. He is also a bigot, as exposed here. And, remember when he said "the war is lost" This guy should go back to boxing. There's a bunch of us who would like to beat the crap out of him. Instead, he'll continue his rope-a-dope agenda and go home with a huge pension.

    January 9, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  19. Tony Hernandez

    Hey CNN - why did you delete my comment (which was the first one here)? Some of the standing comments below contain things such as "get the F over it", "the Republican party is just a bunch of bully's", "most negros don't have a dialect", etc. My comment, however, contained no insults, foul language, or anything else to warrant deletion. It was, in fact, simple but relevant commentary on the state of black-white race relations with regard to Reid's remarks (commentary that several of the posters below even echo). Your "Moderators" are out of control. Please re-include my original comments.

    January 9, 2010 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  20. Jigaboo Jones

    Is there a day that goes by that these porch monkeys aren't whining about something?

    January 9, 2010 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  21. Eric

    Barack Obama, like Tiger Woods, does not hold grudges or easily get insulted by racist words. Jesse Jackson, on the other hand, will practically die if he hears a racist comment from a white person, while turning a deaf ear to all manner of racist slurs coming from members of his own race. A century ago, it was the opposite. If a black man said hello to a white woman back then, it could trigger a riot. Today, the slightest comment by a white man is analyzed to death for racist connotations while black men freely invoke the N word and nobody cares. I think that the best name for this generation is Generation Sickest. There are a few good needles in the haystack, but they are hard to find, and the hay is rotting.

    January 9, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  22. Right Leaning Independent

    Well, lets see if the Dem bloggers pull the racist card on Reid like they so often do to the Repubs...

    January 9, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  23. Adam

    I'm sure people will call for Harry Reid to resign. Sheesh. We're so super-hyper-sensitized to EVERY LITTLE COMMENT these days. It was unfortunate, and taken out of context. I've used politically incorrect language, mockingly, many times. If those quotes were held up to the scrutiny of the internet/cable news/talk circuit, I'd look like a horrible monster. From now on, I guess nobody can ever say anything, ever. About anything.

    January 9, 2010 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  24. usualone

    Too many Americans think and talk as Mr. Reid does. The fact that he apologized is fine because it shows that one can change or become aware of his/her insensitivities. Many white people of Mr. Reid's generation and others still need to be educated about all minorities. As a religious minority, it is interesting how many people, who are basically decent people, will make derogatory remarks about my birth people. It would be interesting if the roles were reversed so they would maybe appoach life differently. Mr. Reid has grown in stature because of his apology. Even if he has a hidden agenda, Mr. Reid has learned from this experience. The nasty people on the blogs show that lots of Americans are prejudiced and use other excuses for their dislike of President Obama. If they don't like his policies there are many other constructive ways to show their displeasure.

    January 9, 2010 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  25. The True Nature of American Politics

    Harry Reid's comments were a reflection of the true nature of the mentality of the majority of American voters. Why is he being crucified for telling it like it is. Barack Obama was able to bridge the gap between members the Black subculture and middle America precisely because he was raised by white Kansas natives.

    January 9, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
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