Jesse Jackson Apologizes for Open Mic Slight Against Obama

The Rev. Jesse Jackson challenges Obama on African-American issues.


July 10, 2008 — -- A day after an open microphone caught the Rev. Jesse Jackson Wednesday criticizing Sen. Barack Obama for the way he talks to the black community, the civil rights leader praised Obama but continued to challenge the presumptive Democratic nominee to place more "emphasis" on issues that affect African-Americans.

Unaware that his microphone was on before a television interview, Jackson said Obama has been overly critical of the black community.

"See Barack Obama been, um, talking down to black people on his faith based -- want to cut his nuts off," Jackson said in a video that aired Wednesday on the Fox News program "The O'Reilly Factor."

On Thursday's "Good Morning America," Jackson appeared contrite, saying he likes the Illinois senator "very much" but suggested Obama lacks passion in addressing issues that predominantly affect blacks.

"I'm a long-standing supporter [of Obama] and because of my commitment to what he represents and the campaign, I was quick to apologize for any offense or any harm or hurt," Jackson told ABC News "GMA" co-anchor Chris Cuomo.

"And yet within the black community there are some severe structural crises: The infant mortality rate is higher, life expectancy is shorter, the most children in school with teachers with less than three years' experience, the highest murder rate, and now the need to revive a ban on assault weapons," Jackson said. "I mean these things of great substance must be addressed with more passion, and he has committed to that proposition -- but I think it deserves to have a greater emphasis."

Asked whether his comments reflected a larger frustration with Obama among African-Americans, Jackson demurred, saying, "I don't think so. I think he enjoys great support because he is the leader in this rather transformative, adaptive moment," he said.

In an interview with CNN, Jackson was asked whether the genesis of his comment was that he was "envious" of Obama. The reverend said that notion was "kind of ridiculous," insisting Obama, the first African-American to win the nomination of a major party, is "running the last lap of a marathon ... and I was part of that race."

Jackson ran for president in both 1984 and 1988, winning five primaries and caucuses in his first campaign and more in the second attempt.

"If you're a home run hitter," Jackson told "GMA," "you strike out sometimes."

Jackson also expressed concern Thursday over Obama's embrace of President Bush's faith-based programs, which give federal dollars for services to religious organizations.

"My anguish is over the limitations of the most fervent faith-based programs because there is the issue of faith, hope and substance," Jackson said.

"With bridges collapsing and levees being overrun, we need to focus on the cost items of some real commitment to reinvest in urban and rural America, and that would be government-based and to some extent private sector-based," he said.

On attracting white and black voters, Jackson said Obama has "done a magnificent job with his message of reconciliation" but suggested Obama's faith-based policy plan would do little to address problems in America.

"This issue we have now with jobs and investment leaving and drugs and guns coming, murder rate up, taxes up, services down, first class jails, second-class schools," Jackson said, "faith-based would not touch the edges of that. We need a real and new government and private sector policy to turn our economy around," adding, "I think he's up to the task and I support him in those efforts."

"He's addressing it in some measure; I think he must address it in greater measure," Jackson said.

As news spread of Jackson's comments about Obama Wednesday, Jackson quickly apologized for his remarks Wednesday, calling them "hurtful and wrong."

Obama's campaign said the Illinois senator accepted Jackson's apology.

Despite the crude approach, Jackson did give voice to a frustration among some in the black community with Obama's tough love approach, reminiscent of comments made by comedian Bill Cosby.

Political watchers say that while Barack Obama doesn't want to be alienated from the black community, and Obama must also weigh the concerns of white, working class voters.

"Democrats have done a lot of research in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Obama didn't do that well and the focus groups show a big concern among white working class voters that Obama is going to put the interests of the African-American community first, that he's going to be too beholden to people like Rev. Jackson," said ABC News' "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."

Stephanopoulos said the sight of some friction between the two of them may even help Obama.

Notwithstanding Jackson's vulgar language, some Democrats argue he is not alone in thinking Obama needs to put the struggles of black America within a larger societal context.

"What he is trying to offer to Sen. Obama is, 'Hey, let's talk about all of the issues facing urban American, all of the issues facing the African-American community,'" said Donna Brazile, former vice president Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign manager and an ABC News consultant.

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