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. edscan

    It's a dog's World.
    We have had "Yellow Dog Democrats".
    Now we have Prissy Pomeranian Republicans yapping at the heels of our Black President.
    These new "Nattering Nabobs of Negativism"
    assure me of the reason that Nixon drove Agnew out of the Vice
    Presidency. He needed someone in the line of succession that he had something on. Insurance for his much needed pardon.
    From all of this, they created the Bush Conspiracy.

    January 9, 2010 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  2. Lilly

    Everyone needs to take a deep breath, what Mr. Reid said was not racist. I am a black person. My brother still says Negro when he is talking about black people. There was the Negro baseball league. what about Negro Spiritual songs and the Negro National Anthem. Should we change these to African American? What about Rush Limabaugh's song "Barack the Magic Negro"? Are all of you who are saying Mr.
    Ried is a racist willing to say that Mr. Limbaugh is also a racist?

    January 9, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  3. conservative

    Gotta forgive the old fool; he doesn't have a clue to anything!

    January 9, 2010 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  4. Steve (the real one)

    Point 1: The remark is more than a year old. Didn't feel the need to apologize then so why now?
    Point 2" A liberal gets busted saying something silly but some on the left are still trying to blame the GOP? Ridiculous!
    Point 3: Blacks use the word "Negro" all the time! "United NEGRO College Fund", anyone?? As much I dislike this guy's politics, this is a non-story!
    Point 4: Yes, I am black!

    January 9, 2010 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  5. jpspec

    This is such a stupid subject in 2010. There are good intelligent blacks and there are bad and stupid blacks. The same is true of whites and all other "".

    I am now an old lady but 50 years ago, when most women were stay at home mothers, we would have coffee clatches. Why? For two reasons: One so their kinds could play with my kids. However, we moms were not stupid people and needed the opportunity to conversations with other adults.

    I remember one day,back in th late 50ty's, I expressed my opionion about the existing racial problem. I said,:Iis it not strange that so many white people spend their summer trying to get their white skin darker!!!!!!!

    I was for Hillary and was and still is very anti Obama He did have potential but was/is totally, completely lacking in any experience. Being president is not a on the job training position.

    January 9, 2010 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  6. rachel

    POST THIS CNN RINGO you said if Obama had a sourthen accent and played a sax would he have been elected? HMM why not? I guess all depends on whether you think beign 'negro" or African American is based on a skin color, if you base beign black on how you act. I am a democrat and it's shame that some of us can't even admit the guy was wrong in saying that and talking about an insitution that was set up when most african americans were called negros(united negro college fun") dosent make it right. Everybody wants to defend this man now, but If a republican had the same thing we all know how the media would spin it.

    January 9, 2010 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  7. Ann

    So? playing the race card .. again.

    January 9, 2010 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  8. Reggie from LA

    Not surprising. Just testimony to the perception that a number of the majority have on African Americans. It comes from the numerous exploitations and showcasing of AA experience that perpetuates some Amos and Andy stereotypes. Reid will not have been the first. Many folks have been surprised that AA can optimize use of the English language. It's a fact, not a novelty.

    January 9, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  9. manny

    I agree with Champion, CNN is actively trying to rehabilitate this half wit. Screw CNN.

    January 9, 2010 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  10. amt. CA

    I see nothing wrong with Harry Reid's comment, but then I am NOT a republican either! & never ever intend to be one.

    January 9, 2010 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  11. Joe Fattal

    Let's remember that the speeches that put Obama in the White House not his political experience. And him having a negro dialect is no surprise to everyone. He is black, or he consider himself black, and black have their own dialect. Haven't you heard of a rap song before. If its english to them, it sure not to me. And what Obama used in his speeches is as almost what Rev.Wrifgt used in his speeches but cleaner. You figure. If I was Reid I wouldn't apologize for it. Its the truth, negro have their own dialect.

    January 9, 2010 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  12. Peter Hunt

    Concerning the use of the word "negro" on the census form...

    Does anyone have any objections to the United NEGRO College Fund?

    January 9, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  13. kim

    The Democrats are the REAL RACIST!

    January 9, 2010 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  14. Jim

    A little late Harry!

    January 9, 2010 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  15. ender

    To ryan (charlston)

    There -is- no coservative party in this nation. The repulican party only claims to be conservative when the Democrats are in office. Look at your history. The republican party spends -way- more than the Democrats and -never- pays for their spending.

    We were a creditor nation before Regan took over and turned us into a debter natiuon with his rampant defict spending. And all three republican presidentd since have been very much in favor of deficit spending.

    And I won't even dignify that naïve claim of the republicans being the "big tent party". That's just laughable.

    January 9, 2010 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  16. Kam

    Old white guy makes a racist comment. Not surprised. But I do find it funny that everyone brings up "freedom of speech" when someone makes a racist comment. Look at this way. If you called your boss a whole bunch of cursewords, do you think "freedom of speech" would help you save your job?

    Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from the consequences of those speech. It just means you can't be arrested for what you say. Furthermore if he has the freedom to say racist comments then Black people have the freedom of speech to complain, but you guys don't seem to be backing Black people up on that one.

    January 9, 2010 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  17. jumbo duckbutter

    thia just proves what a nut job harry ried is,,, sen byrd was a clans man,,, if these were rebulivans the left wing media would go nuts,, lets see how oberman and msmbc spin his garbage,,,,

    January 9, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  18. D

    Oh come on Reid, what happened to............... "I am who I am. I think you just have to call things the way you see them."

    January 9, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    The sad thing is most people don't understand that the uproar over whether or not a black person should be referred to as black, or negro or African-American or etc. has nothing to do with white-on-minority racisim. In reality, it's minority-on-white racisim. The minority, (and those who want to identify with them or pander to them) use this to demonize the majority, i.e. WASP males. Yesterday, negro was an appropriate term; today it is not, but African-American is; tomorrow, that term won't be appropriate and there will be a new term to replace it in order to keep the deomoniziation alive and well. All of this has only to do with reverse-racism in an effort to transfer power from those who now hold it to those who don't but want it and will use any means to achieve it. Do you realize that a non-minority superior court judge in Los Angeles County recused himself from the Miley Cyrus trial because he referred to Asians as Orientals and, thereby, offened some Asians? Last time I checked, the Orient still refers to East Asia. And what about Obama himself? After all, in his book, "Dreams from My Father", he states that, "[t]o avoid being mistaken for a white sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets." Is it appropriate for a non-Hispanic/Latin-American to refer to an Hispanic/Latin-American as a Chicano? Does it not matter because they are both a minority in relation to the WASP? I don't care what someone calls me and I certainly don't care what somebody, Reid or anyone else, calls you. While I'm on this point, we'd all be a lot better off if we'd let people speak as they feel. At least, that way we could determine whether or not we want to associate or support those people. By silencing everyone it makes it much harder to know who our enemys are.

    January 9, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  20. once upon a horse

    well I guess this can help end the myth that only Republicans can make stupid racists comments.

    January 9, 2010 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  21. Perusing-through

    MOVING ON . . .

    Thank you President Obama for shutting this one down so quickly. 🙂

    January 9, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  22. JD

    Still more proof of the rampant racism among the liberal Democrats!

    January 9, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  23. paul

    Race only seems to matter in this administration when it serves a purpose. When it is needed for airtime and for headlines. When it comes to Harry Reid's comments now it seems that since the president wants to seem in control then BRUSH it off and keep it off the front pages.

    January 9, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  24. Anne in Houston

    don't believe Reid is sorry and I am getting irritated that politicians are forced to issue hollow apologies every time they touch on the subject of race...particularly when what they say something analytical rather than offensive. What Reid says to a certain degree is quite true and insightful and I believe was on the minds of many people who watched the election. I don't think America would have voted in a real African American and I think many black people would agree.
    Obama's racial ambiguity and his flexibility of voice and language made him more palatable to many voters even if it led to suspicion among others...
    Has Reid directly offended anyone? No. The only thing he's offended is the naive illusion that America doesn't have racial tensions. But, is he showing his age with his vocabulary and suggesting the America would not likely vote for the averagel older African American politician ? Yes. No need to apologize for the truth

    January 9, 2010 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  25. GJ

    That was an ignorant comment, and doesn't surprise me. Not because Reid is racist, but because I don't think he is the sharpest tool in the shed. We could use another Majority Leader. Schumer, anyone?

    And also, I literally laughed out loud at the Republican response. God forbid they keep some moral highground. Is the GOP really all of a sudden for racial equality (lol) and now FOR political correctnesss? Hilarious.

    January 9, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
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