Posted by: christinelsmith | July 23, 2009

Obama’s Reaction to Henry Louis Gates Jr Arrest


Henry Louis Gates Jr, an African American History professor at Harvard University, was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts by a Cambridge Police Officer who was called to the scene because of a report of a burglary in progress. In actuality, Henry Louis Gates Jr had locked himself out of his home and was attempting to enter his home through force. As a result, he was charged with disorderly conduct. The charges for disorderly conduct were recently dropped. However, his arrest has caused controversy over the issue of racial profiling. President Barack Obama was asked about the incident and he believes that racial profiling is still prevalent within the United States of America. He seems to believe that racial profiling was evident in Henry Louis Gates Jr arrest as well.




  1. I think this is a really interesting case, and touches on several issues:

    -the continuing presence of racial tension, even in the People’s Republic of Cambridge
    -how local news can make the national stage (Obama’s personal connections aside)
    -how a single event can come to signify something so much bigger
    -how the media plays into all that/drives it

    Would Obama have commented on racial profiling last night if so many news outlets had not picked up the story this week? Is a victim turning something into a media frenzy, or is this a case of activist journalism, covering something for the reason that “people need to know this is [still] happening”?

    Take a look at The Boston Globe’s front page this morning ( The lead story–“Obama scolds Cambridge Police”–is a reaction to one man’s run-in with the cops, and the next article is about the Cambridge police sergeant who “won’t apologize.” These precede one of the most important stories in the country–the health care issue (which affects every American and will for years to come). This article is below the fold, next to a photo of someone watching the solar eclipse in Asia.

    What was the thought process in designing the layout of this front page?

    No doubt, racial profiling is a really big deal (I’m not trying to excuse anyone or lessen the implications of the event) and Gates’ story is a local one. But I question the Globe’s decision to place what’s essentially a scandal story ahead of real policy that will have a huge impact on everyone in the state. I wonder (yet again): Is the story making news because it’s a big deal, or are the media making the story because it’s a big seller?

  2. To add to that–
    is it a scandal, or are the media just reading into it? Was this an isolated incident of one foolish cop/situation, or proof of inherent racism among the CPD? I don’t have an answer, I’m curious.

  3. The most trusted man in news chimed in on this the other night. Skip to 6:15 of the video for the relevant section:

    The media blaming Obama for re-writing the headlines that should have been about healthcare – pay no attention to the media behind the curtain.

  4. Adding to this, some quotes from the Huffington Post on this today:

    [This] is the typical self-referential game the media have played for years, where they push one issue over another then innocently ask why it’s getting more focus. It’s what happened with the Swift-Boating of John Kerry: major news outlets gave unlimited coverage to Kerry’s attackers, then had the audacity to step back and ask why the story ‘had legs.’

    I know reporters love process stories, but if Lauer genuinely thought health care was more important, he could have featured it and avoided the solipsistic analysis of how one story was stepping on another. If he thought race relations and profiling were more newsworthy, he could have simply said so and prioritized that. But you can’t be both the source of the news and the dispassionate observer commenting on why one story derails another, detached from your own choices.

    In short order health reform will reclaim the headlines, but for the moment, we have a perfect storm for the media and online commentariat, demonstrating yet again that events and personalities, not issues, get the lion’s share of U.S. media and online interest, and that seemingly minor stories can become proxies for larger debates.

  5. This issue was discussed on an episode of the Daily show that I watched today (tho it was a re-run). Jon Stewart was basically saying that the whole press conference was about health care and that one tiny question at the end about race was the only thing the press decided to talk about. Basically, he was criticizing Obama for the way he answered the question and he was criticizing the press for choosing to only cover Obama’s comment about the Cambridge police acting “stupidly.”

    So, I said in class on Wed that I had read the metro news and they were “fair” about their coverage on health care and race. I have been looking on their website but cant seem to find their archive or a search bar, but they talked about the professor who was arrested before the articles about race. Specifically the articles were about how Obama has approached the issue of race. There was a pro article essentially saying that Obama is doing a great job by not making it into an issue, and there was a con article saying that Obama should make race into a bigger issue because there are still a lot of racist people in our country.

    Their page two was a pro/con article about health care and page three was about race. The articles were printed the day before Obama made the comment that got all the coverage. Obama’s comment made Metro news page two on Thursday in an article titled “Controversy over Gates arrest continues”

    It made the front page in today’s paper.

  6. I have HQ audio of the Henry Gates 911 call, Moderator, If you are interested

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