Zeleny Rides to Harry Reid's Defense Over 'Negro' Remark

Reporter Jeff Zeleny digs into the archives to give Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid the benefit of the doubt on his "negro" remark: "Few would dispute that Mr. Obama is a far smoother speaker than Mr. Reid. But were they saying essentially the same thing?"

Reporter Jeff Zeleny used an old interview with Obama to defend Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "Negro" comment in a "White House Memo" Tuesday, "Reid's Words On Race Carry Hints Of Obama's."

Zeleny already sounds a little tired of the story about besieged Democrat leader Reid, whose 2010 reelection efforts may have gotten even harder after being quoted in "Game Change," a new book by reporters John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, saying Obama had the advantage of "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Senator Harry Reid's comments about Barack Obama's race - and its positive implications for his presidential run in 2008 - have been well aired by now.

The weekend fallout has largely devolved into a familiar Democrat vs. Republican argument focusing on the political consequences for Mr. Reid, the Senate Democratic leader who is scraping through a tough re-election fight at home in Nevada.

So it was no surprise that Mr. Obama moved to quickly accept Mr. Reid's apology, considering that health care legislation and the rest of the president's initiatives are likely to rise or fall on the back of the majority leader.

But that's not the only reason Mr. Obama may have been quick to say "the book is closed" on the remark from Mr. Reid, who referred to Mr. Obama as "light-skinned" and carrying the advantage of having "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

The comment - made to the authors of a new book on the presidential campaign - is not so different from remarks Mr. Obama has made himself while navigating the complicated intersection of race and politics in America during his rapid rise to the White House.

Zeleny later elucidated:

As the flap continues over Mr. Reid's comments, I remembered an interview that I did with Mr. Obama for the Chicago Tribune back in 2005, when he had just arrived in Washington and spoke openly about the expectations for black politicians. He did not, of course, use the term "Negro dialect," as Mr. Reid did, but the comments seem apt to the current discussion of race and politics.

"We have a certain script in our politics, and one of the scripts for black politicians is that for them to be authentically black they have to somehow offend white people," Mr. Obama said. "And then if he puts a multiracial coalition together, he must somehow be compromising the efforts of the African-American community."

"To use a street term," Mr. Obama added, "we flipped the script."

Few would dispute that Mr. Obama is a far smoother speaker than Mr. Reid. But were they saying essentially the same thing?

National Review Online accused Zeleny of "circling the wagons" around Reid.