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What they said: How the media and Gibbs sparred over Jimmy Carter's race remark on Obama


You have to hand it to the White House press corps. It knows how to stay on topic. As seen during a White House briefing this week, the reporters repeatedly asked about President Carter’s remark that racism is driving some opposition to President Obama.

The excerpts below make for intriguing reading, as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs discussed Carter, public perception, race relations in general and the arrest this summer of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer.

The Wednesday press briefing began with several questions about healthcare and foreign affairs. Then came the first question on Carter, combined with a query about the activist group ACORN. The unedited excerpts were taken from a transcript prepared by the White House:

Q: Okay. And I just wanted to get the White House reaction to a couple items in the news. One is former President Jimmy Carter saying that he believes an overwhelming majority of the intensely demonstrated animosity towards the President is because he’s black and those voters can’t accept the fact that a black man is President. And also an organization the President a long time ago did file that motor voter law for, ACORN --

GIBBS: A larger group of legal entities --

Q: Along with them, ACORN, a group the President has had some ties with over the years. The Census Bureau eliminated their relationship with that group for the 2010 census and the Senate overwhelmingly voted to cut off housing funding. And I was just wondering the White House reaction to either of those.

GIBBS: Well, let’s take a look at what former President Carter said. The answer that I’m going to give is the same answer that I gave on Sunday, when I was asked this question. The President does not believe that that criticism comes based on the color of his skin. We understand that people have disagreements with...

...some of the decisions that we’ve made and some of the extraordinary actions that had to be undertaken by both this administration and previous administrations to stabilize our financial system, to ensure viability of our domestic auto industry. I don’t think that -- like I said, the President does not believe that it’s based on the color of his skin.

You know, Jake, as it relates to ACORN, obviously the conduct that you see on those tapes is completely unacceptable. I think everyone would agree with that. The administration takes accountability extremely seriously. I think the Census Bureau evaluated and determined that this group could not meet the bureau’s goal of achieving a fair and accurate count in 2010.

And I assume others are evaluating to ensure, as we always are, that any grantee, whether that grant was let in this administration or in previous administrations -- there’s housing counseling grants that were let in previous administrations; FEMA grants that were let in previous administrations -- that we constantly evaluate to ensure that any grantee is living up to what has to happen in order to fulfill that grant application.

Q: Are you saying that the President is not concerned about the climate of hate in this country today?

GIBBS: No, I don’t think that was -- I think that was neither --

Q: That’s a direct quote. (Laughter.)

GIBBS: I think that was neither Jake’s question nor my answer.

Q: You don’t think it’s race-based?

GIBBS: No, I simply said I didn’t think and I don’t think the President believes that the majority of those that are upset at actions that have to be taken are --

Q: Why are they so upset that people get health care?

GIBBS: That’s a question for somebody that has that view. I’m somewhat in a bad situation to interpret that for them.

[And so it went. The questioning continued in the sometimes chaotic manner of press briefings, bouncing from topic to topic — healthcare, Carter and White House “czars.” Eventually, the questioning returned yet again to Carter. Once more to the transcript.]

Q: There’s obviously a national conversation going on about race and the role it has or hasn’t played in some of the hostility toward the President. Why is he or why are you so reluctant to talk about it? I mean, you were reluctant to talk about the House vote on Joe Wilson. You’re reluctant to talk about --

GIBBS: I think we talked about it. I don’t want to quote Bill, but I think Bill said that the House vote was a House matter and that the President had accepted his apology.

Q: Okay, I interpreted that as reluctance to get into it.

GIBBS: You didn’t ask me about the House renaming a post office last week, but I don’t think that demonstrates our reluctance to -- no, I’m not going to get into House business. That’s their business.

Q: I guess my question really is that he gave this big speech during the campaign on race. There’s now a conversation that’s risen to the level of a former President about race. Can we expect him to talk about that, to address it in any way, or is your hope to keep him away from this conversation and focused on other things?

GIBBS: Well, I think most people that see him understand that he’s an African American. So this whole notion that somehow people won’t see or notice that has always, to me, been something of a peculiar line of either questioning or reasoning. Look, I’m just simply saying I don’t think -- that the President does not believe that -- I forget exactly how the original question was -- that the majority of this is based on that. I just don’t subscribe to that. Yes, sir.

Q: If the incident in Cambridge was viewed in the President’s eyes as a teachable moment for the country, why is this not a teachable moment, in terms of the role that race is playing in society?

GIBBS: Which --

Q: The discussion going on right now, from the House floor to the former President to those remarks. Why is this not a teachable moment for this President to lend his voice?

GIBBS: Obviously the President has and has always had great concerns about race relations in this country. He’s talked about them in speeches. He’s talked about them throughout his career in politics; believes we’ve made great strides, and obviously we’ve got work to do. But I don’t -- I’m not sure I see this large national conversation going on right now.

Q: Has the White House instructed any Democrats or asked any Democrats, either in the House or Representatives or elsewhere, to stop talking about race and to get back to the health care legislation?

GIBBS: No. Ann, do you want to --

Q: What impact does it have when a former President of the United States, someone who came from the South, someone who worked against discrimination all of his career, says that the -- what was it -- an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity is because he’s black? What effect does that have on the country when a former President says that?

GIBBS: Look, you know, it adds to -- it adds to our dialogue. I’m just simply saying I don’t think the President agrees with that.

-- Steve Padilla

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Photo: Gibbs at the White House Wednesday. Credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (9)

The comments to this entry are closed.

No one has asked the question of why the democratic black caucus started the conversation about race and Obama. that has been left out.. they move to Carter without asking what Obama thinks of the black caucus saying this is about race..
how convenient.. no one in the media has asked why the democratic black caucus started the race issue to begin with.. just saying no one is paying attention

A common sense approach to all this heated rhetoric is simply for our elected leaders to display respect for our peoples. This respect is currently lacking.

Pelosi refers to us as thugs, Nazis and angry mobs. Democrats consistently refer to us as racists. Obama labels the Cambridge Police Department as racists, Axelrod tells us we are all wrong and, most recently, former president Jimmy Carter simply labels all conservatives as being hard core racists.

This type of disrespectful commentary, this type of degrading commentary coming out of Capitol Hill, out of the White House and out of our mainstream media serves only to anger Americans.

All of this informs me our elected leaders, past and present, Democrats at large, our mainstream media, none have a cow lick of common sense.

Simple notion on this; you insult a person, you will receive an insult in kind.

Our elected leaders display little common sense; they keep degrading Americans as if we are no-counts then act surprised when we react with anger.

My personal expectation is our politicians will earn my respect. So far, neither Democrats nor Republicans have earned my respect and I most certainly will treat those folks with disrespect.

Okpulot Taha
Choctaw Nation
Puma Politics

When Kanye West relinquished his self control for a moment of insane blathering, he was left hanging to dry by any who might in any way share his "views". Nobody wanted to be associated with a fringe character who has zero sense of social decorum.

When Joe Wilson, incapable of any self discipline, gave into his psychotic vision of purpose, the little lemming repubs hoisted up their black vs white flags and hailed their new Furor.

Q. Does a racist prefer not to be called a racist?

First,stop putting the microphones in front of the Southern Baptist Convention delegates.
Second,stop making excuses for Jimmy Carter.He certainly knows how to take criticism.Let him answer the questions,not Obama.
Lastly,I doubt if Wilson was motivated by race.I would hope this is the comment of a man devoted to his campaign fund donors.It is they who allowed him and encouraged him to speak their minds. Get a list of his main campaign contributors.Interview them.Ask them if he's done the right thing in their minds.They will love the publicity.

To - Okpulot Taha

Obama never called Cambridge Police Department Racist...

Assumptions like that makes people think that you dont know what your talking about.

So if you question anyone of a minority race regardless of their position. For example why Bertha Lewis and her organization and President Obama support illegal alien child prostitution, voter fraud, tax fraud, tax evasion, US taxpayers forced to pay for free healthcare for illegal aliens,'re a racist.

Okay I get that, well American blacks by and large appear to be the most racially hate filled group on earth. Most blacks I see on TV appear to be hate filled race baiting anti-semites and pushy and arrogant racists. My guess is that they are about to get it in the face. Americans aren't racists but the black power structure is. For too long laws have operated in only one direction by supporting racism and rewarding racism when it comes from blacks and illegal aliens. The democrats are a party of racists and hate mongers and they are going to eat this as the American Public has had enough of their crap.

Apparently, someone forgot to inform Jimmy Carter Barak Obama is 50 percent white and only 25 percent black.

Pres. Carter is correct about a larger number of Americans than pdeople want to admit. I am in a suburban midwestern state and was appalled to hear how many white people said before the election that the "country is not ready to have a black man in the White House." We should not ignore this, but also should not make it the most important issue in trying to get or not get work done in Washington. We need to keep going, but be aware of the fact that these people really do exist.

Bury the anthrax.
Divide and conquer.
Protecting the guilty.
Sell the 9/11 cover-up.
Pure propaganda via media.
New PR face in the White House.
AIPAC Neocon stage management.
Same puppet masters behind the curtain.
Follow the orders of the "Federal" Reserve.

Anderson Baldwin Carter Choate Clemente Gonzalez Gravel Kaptur Kucinich McKinney Nader Paul Perot Sheehan Ventura


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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