ABC News' Yunji de Nies, Sunlen Miller and Sarah Tobianski report:
President Obama made his second surprise appearance before press in the briefing room to address what he called the “media frenzy” over his comments on the Skip Gates case.
“The fact that it has garnered so much attention, I think, is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America,” The President said, “And, you know, so to the extent that my choice of words didn't illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate.”
At about 2:15 pm today the President spoke on the phone with Sergeant Jim Crowley.
“I have to tell you that, as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was a outstanding police officer and a good man, and that was confirmed in the phone conversation. And I told him that.”
Obama took partial blame for the media frenzy over the story, saying that he “helped to continue ratcheting it up” by saying that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly” comments at Wednesday night’s primetime press conference.
“I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately, I think, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.”
Mr. Obama did not say if he offered Crowley a direct apology and held fast to the notion that there was an overreaction in Professor Gate’s arrest – but admitted that Gates had to take some of the responsibility for the overreaction.
“I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.”
The President asked that everyone step back and recognize that these are “two decent” and “good people” in a circumstance in which both would have wanted to be resolved differently, but echoed sentiments in his press conference of the sensitivities that still exist over these issues.
“Be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues,” Obama said, “And even when you've got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding.”
President Obama said he hopes this can be a “teachable moment” – where “instead of pumping up the volume” American can focus on how to improve relations between police officers and minority communities.
“Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive, as opposed to negative, understandings about the issue is part of my portfolio.”
Obama said at the end of his conversation with Crowley there was a discussion about Crowley and Professor Gates coming to the White House to have a beer together.
President Obama has not spoken to Gates yet and there is no time yet scheduled for their beer get together, although White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that the meeting would likely happen.
– Yunji de Nies, Sunlen Miller and Sarah Tobianski
UPDATE: At 3:15 pm the president called and connected with Professor Gates. “They had a positive discussion during which the President told Gates about his call with Sgt. Crowley and statement to the media,” The White House says in a written statement.
The President invited Gates to join him with Sgt. Crowley at the White House “in the near future."