by Charles Lemos, Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 10:57:28 AM EDT
The unfortunate and troubling circumstances surrounding the rather arbitary arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates should not become a distracting obsession given the urgent necessities of the body politic. If a Sargeant in the Cambridge Police Department is upset that the President of the United States considers that said officer "acted stupidly" that's his problem, not the nation's.
While it is extremely unsettling that an officer acted in a manner that was seemingly abusive of rank, it is more unsettling how easily distracted the media becomes with issues of less than paramount importance.
The Hill provides colour on the White House reaction to an increasingly comical media circus.
President Obama regrets the distraction that his comments about a police incident in Cambridge, Mass., caused, according to a White House spokesman.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that if the president knew "just how much of an overall distraction and obsession it would be, I think he would regret distracting [the media] with obsessions."
Gibbs did not say Obama apologized for his comments.
Obama started a maelstrom with his comments at Wednesday's primetime press conference, where he said police officer James Crowley and the Cambridge Police acted "stupidly" after Crowley arrested African-American Harvard scholar -- and longtime Obama friend -- Henry Louis Gates for not producing identification after breaking into his own locked home.
The ensuing fallout gathered steam Thursday and overshadowed the White House's push for progress on healthcare reform before Congress leaves for August recess.
Gibbs, speaking to reporters in his West Wing office Friday morning, said the president has no plans to call either Crowley or Gates.
Since Obama spoke Wednesday night, Gibbs and the president have seen their efforts at message control on healthcare collapse.
Police unions have blasted the president's remarks, and Crowley told reporters that Obama was out of line to weigh in on a situation when he did not know all the facts.
A man was arrested in his own home for no apparent reason other than an act of capriciousness on the part of a law enforcement officer. Even if you grant that Dr. Gates had become agitated, it is hard to believe that once Dr. Gates had proved that he was in his own home that the officer had any reason to remain on the premises.
Yet yesterday, as the President traveled to Cleveland for a town hall meeting on health care reform, Press Secretary Gibbs was inundated by questions aboard Air Force One about the President's comment on the Gates affair.
According to a White House transcript from Gibbs's conversation with reporters on the plane, he was asked 14 full or partial questions about Obama's remarks and seven about the healthcare town hall. Talk about misplaced priorities.Update [2009-7-24 15:44:28 by Charles Lemos]: The President has made a clarifying statement. "Because this has been ratcheting up and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically," the President said."I could have calibrated those words differently," he said, adding that he had invited Crowley and Gates to meet him at the White House. I'll add that my point is not to speak to the details of the case but rather to bemoan that the Gates Affair has become a distracting obsession for the media.