Obama Takes On Starring Role in Gates-Gate


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What a difference a day makes. We started the day speculating that the Obama-Gates story was the main takeaway from last night’s press conference, and have ended it, after a blaze of media coverage, wondering whether this whole thing is about to turn into something Obama can’t so easily brush off.

The short version is that after declaring at the health care presser last night that Cambridge police had acted “stupidly” in arresting Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates, Obama appears to be standing strong behind his choice of words. ABC’s Terry Moran, who was traveling with the President today, twittered this earlier:

“President Obama told me “cooler heads should have prevailed” in the Gates arrest. But he pointedly refused to take back the word “stupidly.”

At today’s briefing press secretary Robert Gibbs had this to say:

“Let me be clear: he was not calling the officer stupid, O.K.?” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary. He said the president was simply saying that “at a certain point the situation got far out of hand, and I think all sides understand that.”

Actually, it doesn’t look as though they do. The arresting officer James Crowley has stated that Obama was “way off base,” and the Cambridge police department is standing behind his actions. As, apparently, are national police organizations. (For those of you looking for a fuller sense of how these actions played out read John Cook’s unpacking of the police report with an eye to Mass. law, and whether or not the police officer observed it. Over at the Atlantic.com Marc Ambinder weighs in with his own Cambridge “police power” experiences.)

Also? Turns out Crowley is a racial profiling expert.

What no one seems to have really noted yet is that the reporter who asked the fateful Gates question was Lynn Sweet. Sweet, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times has covered Obama in Chicago political circles for many years, and had a reputation through the campaign as one of his sharper critics. It’s hard to conclude that when Obama called on her at the end of a policy filled briefing he didn’t at least suspect that he might be on the receiving end of a question that had nothing to do with health care.

And then there’s Obama’s remark about “not having been there and not seeing all the facts.” Gates’ arrest happened last Thursday. By Monday it was making headlines. It’s exceptionally difficult to imagine that Obama — the nation’s first Black president — walked into a nationally televised press conference without all the facts of a high profile, possibly racially motivated arrest, at hand. Suggesting to the press he did not have these facts strikes as somewhat of a pre-calculated “out” on his part. Something that gave him leave to offer his opinion without rendering a judgment. Except, of course, he’s the President, and his opinion matters. A lot. Now, whether he meant to create of this sort of firestorm is another thing entirely. But it’s interesting that he shows no sign of backing down.

So, is this about to turn into something much larger? Hard to tell yet (though the fact Drudge has been running the above headline for most of the day seems to suggest the story has legs). Already it seems to grown far beyond Gates and turned into storyline starring Obama. Not to mention it’s certainly knocked the Birthers off the front page for now. Also, Walter Cronkite.

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