The Times Finally Sits Down With Obama

The Times wades into a racial "tumult" over Attorney General Eric Holder's description of America as "a nation of cowards" on race matters - after ignoring it for three weeks.

Sunday's Times led with the paper's big "get" of President Obama - he finally sat down for an interview with the paper after previously snubbing it. The Times dispatched its entire White House coverage team (four reporters) to interview Obama on Air Force One for 35 minutes and the result was a lead story by Helene Cooper and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, with contribution by Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny. The headline focused on the big news out of the interview: "Obama PondersOutreach to Elements of Taliban."

President Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Mr. Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. "There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region," he said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.

Typically, Bush got no credit from the Times for the troop surge that is enabling Obama to set deadlines for withdrawal of most troops from Iraq.

A couple of interesting side elements grew out of the interview, like Helene Cooper's sidebar article, "Attorney General Chided for Language on Race."

Back on February 18, Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder had called America "essentially a nation of cowards" when it came to discussing race in a speech marking Black History Month. The Times brought it up during its interview, asking Obama:

Turning to other matters, when it comes to race relations, do you agree that we're a nation of cowards?

Obama responded with a mild rebuke of Holder, as Cooper wrote:

President Obama has chided his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., for describing America as a "nation of cowards" when discussing race, wading into a tumult that flared over Mr. Holder's indictment of the way this country talks about ethnicity.

"I think it's fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Mr. Obama said in a mild rebuke from America's first black president to its first black attorney general.


Mr. Holder made his comments last month during an address to employees at the Justice Department, saying that "though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards."

His remarks ignited protest, particularly from conservatives. One post, by Stephan Tawney on the American Pundit blog, said that "our attorney general is black, both major parties are led by black men, the president is black."

But before that, the Times had hardly noticed the "tumult," and had not even reported Holder's comments in print, only on its political blog, even though they were all over the web. Perhaps because the remarks "ignited protests...from conservatives," and not liberals.