Leave it to The NY Times to create a faux historical context to absolve Barack Obama of criticism over Obama’s statement that the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly” with regard to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

What faux historical context, you ask? The Times compares Obama’s comments to comments made by John F. Kennedy on the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon on the Charles Manson murder trial, Ronald Reagan on Iran-Contra congressional hearings, and Bill Clinton on the Unabomber arrest:

President Obama may have created a media frenzy over his comment on Wednesday that the Cambridge police department acted “stupidly” in the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar, and his retreat from that comment on Friday. But he is certainly not the first president to have weighed in on a celebrated case.

While such comments are rare, some previous presidents have also commented on big cases of their day, even as court trials were under way….

All of those cases had received far more publicity by the time those presidents spoke than the matter involving Mr. Gates had received by the time Mr. Obama made his remarks. Those presidents all weathered the political storms that ensued, and some may even have been politically advantaged by them.

“At the end of the day, these are robust human beings who occupy the Oval Office, and they are skilled with robust language,” said Ted Widmer, a presidential
historian at Brown.

What a stretch. None of those presidents blamed the police or rushed to judgment while acknowledging ignorance of the facts.

JFK called Corretta Scott King to comfort her; no comparison. Nixon’s comment on Manson’s guilt was notable only because Manson held up the newspaper in front front of the jury in a failed bid for a mistrial; no comparison. Reagan expressed his belief in Oliver North’s innocence, but didn’t attack law enforcement; no comparison. And Clinton merely expressed his hope that there would be no plea bargain given how many people Ted Kozinski killed; no comparison.

Obama correctly is backtracking on his comment, and acknowledging that he contributed to the controversy. Perhaps it is time for The Times to stop trying so hard to excuse what Obama himself acknowledges was an inappropriate statement.

Related Posts:
Race and Class In Harvard Square
Et Tu, Lynn Sweet?
Another Stupid Police Story

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