The controversy over the Cambridge police officer and the Harvard
professor has escalated by the hour and taken over news cycles these
past two days. This needed a resolution, and the more the details came
out of the original case the more it appeared that resolution had to
involve an apology from President Obama.

This was about as close as we’ll get to that.

President Obama this afternoon telephoned the Cambridge
police sergeant accused of racial profiling and expressed regret for
his choice of words at a recent press conference, saying he
inadvertently ratcheted up the media frenzy when he said police “acted
stupidly” in the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“I want to make clear that in my choice of words I unfortunately
gave the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police
Department and Sergeant [James M.] Crowley specifically. I could have
calibrated those words differently,” Obama said in a surprise
appearance at the White House briefing room. “I told this to Sergeant
Crowley. I continue to believe that there was an overreaction in
pulling professor Gates out of his home and to the station. I also
continue to believe, based on what I’ve heard, that professor Gates
overreacted as well.”

The five-minute phone conversation between Obama and Crowley took
place at about 2:15 p.m., two hours after police unions held a press
conference at a hotel in Cambridge asking the president to apologize.
In recounting the exchange for the media, the president did not use the
words “apology” or “sorry,” but he made it clear he regretted fanning
the flames of an already explosive story.

He didn’t only ’give the impression’ that he was maligning the Cambridge Police Department. He said they “acted stupidly”.

“My hope is that as a consequence of this event, this
ends up being what’s called a teachable moment,” Obama said. “Where all
of us — instead of pumping up the volume — spend a little more time
listening to each other and trying to focus on how we can generally
improve relations between police officers and minority communities.
That instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more
reflective about what we can do to contribute to more unity.

That’s a good idea, a real good one. But this is about the fourth
time President Obama has referred to offensive remarks as something he
or a member of his administration (Homeland Security’s Napolitano) or
nominee (Sotomayor) would perhaps want to phrase another way, given the
chance. While that exhibits some remorse, it still leaves the
impression that perhaps the remorse is over the trouble the remarks
caused, instead of the remarks that caused the trouble.

Nonetheless, the charm offensive is on.

Between jokes, Obama noted that he had a political motivation to tamp down the rhetoric over Gates’s arrest.

“Over the last two days as we’ve discussed this issue, I don’t know
if you’ve noticed, but nobody has been paying much attention to health
care,” Obama said, eliciting laughter from the press corps.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....