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Obama Calls Officer Who Arrested Gates

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand, in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

President Obama sought to contain a growing controversy today. The president said he should've chosen his words more carefully when he said that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, acted stupidly in arresting African-American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.,.

NPR's Don Gonyea has more.

DON GONYEA: This was a week when the president wanted Americans thinking and talking about health care. Instead, many have been talking about the arrest of a black professor in his own home by a white police officer, and about the comment Mr. Obama made on the issue in a primetime news conference. Wednesday night, the president said the police had acted quote "stupidly." Police across the country took great offense. Today, the officer in the case, Sergeant James Crowley, got some very public backing at a news conference organized by Dennis O'Connor, president of the Cambridge Police Union.

Mr. DENNIS O'CONNOR (President, Cambridge Police Union): The supervisors and the patrol officers of the Cambridge Police Department deeply resent the implication and reject any suggestion that in this case, or any other case, they have allowed a person's race to direct their activities.

GONYEA: Early today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president planned no further comment on the case. But this afternoon, Mr. Obama came to the briefing room and said he'd just spoken to Sergeant Crowley.

President BARACK OBAMA: In my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department, or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And I could've calibrated those words differently.

GONYEA: The president did not say if he offered an apology, but he did indicate the conversation went well.

Pres. OBAMA: There was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don't know if that's scheduled yet but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres OBAMA: … but, we may put that together.

GONYEA: The White House says the president has now called Professor Gates. Speaking to reporters, Mr. Obama described this entire episode as a teachable moment for the nation.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, The White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.