The overnight polls must have been brutal. Two days after his
nationally televised news conference and only hours after his press
secretary had dug the hole he was in a little deeper President Barack
Obama made a surprise appearance in the White House press room to back
off his comment that police in Cambridge, Massachussetts had "acted
stupidly" when they arrested Henry Louis Gates, a black professor at
Harvard, after an altercation in his home.
Mr. Obama acknowledged in his response to a question from Lynn Sweet of
the Chicago Sun-Times he didn't "see all the facts," but then implied
the arrest had been motivated by racism:
"There is a long history in this country of African Americans and
Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately," the
Sometimes it's a good idea to learn the facts before spouting off. It
turns out Sgt. James Crowley, the police officer Mr. Obama besmirched,
teaches a course on racial profiling and gave mouth to mouth
resuscitation to a dying black athlete; and the testimony of witnesses
in the neighborhood and that of a black cop on the scene support Sgt.
Crowley's account of the incident.
The 911 tape is said to, too, but as
of this writing, it hasn't been released. Police unions throughout the
country demanded the president apologize.
Mr. Obama, who can't seem to stop apologizing to foreign audiences for
the mostly imaginary sins of his country, couldn't quite bring himself
to say he was sorry. But he did say he could have "calibrated" his
Because Ms. Sweet's was the last question of the news conference, the
White House had told her in advance she'd be called on, and the
president seemed in a hurry to squeeze it in, some suspect the question
was planted. Ms. Sweet denies this.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged on Fox News Sunday the
president was expecting a question about Mr. Gates.
The White House
planted a question with a blogger from the Huffington Post during the
president's news conference on Iran June 23.
If Ms. Sweet's question were planted, the White House underestimated the
controversy the president's remarks would cause. But I suspect this is
still one "distraction" for which Mr. Obama is grateful. The reviews of
his performance on his signature issue were not kind.
"Facing his hardest test as president, Obama chose to go small," wrote
Ben Smith of Politico.
"At times last night I thought Obama was a beaten man," said MSNBC talk
show host Ed Schultz.
"His prime time press conference was worse than a waste of time," said
Newsweek's Howard Fineman. "He spent an hour pouring sand into the
already slowing gears of health care reform."
These reviews were from the president's admirers. His critics were more
harsh. "Obama uncorked howler after howler last night," said Jennifer
Rubin of Commentary magazine.
It isn't unusual for Mr. Obama to play fast and loose with the truth.
It is unusual for the Associated Press to call him on it.
"President Barack Obama's assertion Wednesday that government will stay
out of health care decisions in an overhauled system is hard to square
with the proposals coming out of Congress and with his own rhetoric,"
wrote AP reporters Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnkehn.
Also at variance with the facts, the AP reporters said, was Mr. Obama's
claim his health care reform wouldn't add to the deficit. They noted
that Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, had
testified the legislation "significantly expands" health costs.
"Mr. Obama promises that people who are happy with their current health
insurance can keep it," reported the Washington Times. "That's a claim
contradicted by Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group at
the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center."
The president's performance helped neither the prospects for his health
care bill nor his personal popularity.
A Rasmussen poll released Friday
(7/24) showed only 49 percent of likely voters approve of the job he's
doing, 51 percent disapprove.
Viewership for Mr. Obama's news conference was down 14 percent from the
preceding one, according to Nielsen. This prompted CNN and the New York
Times to worry he's becoming overexposed.
Republicans hope he'll hold a news conference every week.