The Gates-Crowley public sitcom

While Americans screamed insults at one another, Obama lost two weeks in the effort to pass healthcare reform

Published August 6, 2009 10:14AM (EDT)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) sits down for a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates (2nd L), Cambridge, Massachusetts, police Sergeant James Crowley (2nd R) and Vice President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, July 30, 2009.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) sits down for a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates (2nd L), Cambridge, Massachusetts, police Sergeant James Crowley (2nd R) and Vice President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, July 30, 2009.

Only in America: Now that the dust and feathers have settled from the nation's latest interracial pecking party, professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s daughter reveals that she thinks the wicked racist cop Sgt. James Crowley is, like, really hot. Writing in the Daily Beast, Elizabeth Gates, her distinguished father's confidante and amanuensis during the recent unpleasantries, confides that when they met at the White House "Beer Summit," the Cambridge cop's 13-year-old daughter said she'd found aspects of her father's sudden celebrity unsettling.

"I read an article where they called my father, 'sexy cop.' It was embarrassing," [Crowley's] daughter said as we sat down for cookies and Coke. 'Yeah,' I replied. 'He's pretty cute.' We laughed as Crowley's wife rubbed her daughter's back and reminded her son to mind the gift they had brought for the president."

The lad gave Obama a Red Sox jersey, a suitable gift for any occasion. In other news, Ms. Gates, mind-reading like so many since this public sitcom began, scrutinized Crowley's brood and opined, "This wasn't a family raised on hate." Professor Gates himself announced, "When he's not arresting you, Sgt. Crowley is a really likable guy."

Back in Cambridge, Gates sent flowers to 911 caller Lucia Whalen, whose attorney told Greta van Susteren on Fox News that taking the obstreperous Harvard scholar into custody struck Whalen as justifiable. After getting trashed as a bigot on national television, Whalen herself turned out to be what academicians call "a person of color." Oops.

In short, Gates, marveling about President Obama's brilliant plan to get himself off the political hotplate by hosting the beer party (actually, Crowley suggested it), has walked the incident back as far as possible without explaining what combination of circumstances caused him to act so oddly on July 16. That, we're evidently never going to get.

En route to the White House, Gates somewhat grandiosely told his daughter, "There are approximately 800,000 black men in prison, and on July 16, 2009, I simply became one of them." Now he's back at his summer home on Martha's Vineyard, pedaling his custom-made 24-speed tricycle to the beach. And more power to him.

Certain members of Gates' journalistic supporters urge a false-arrest suit. A prediction: That won't happen, either. Only fools file impulsive lawsuits; the cost is prohibitive, the discovery process unpleasant.

Did Crowley maybe improve minor facts in his much-scrutinized report? Could be. Put it this way: If you'd seen a falling-down drunk skate on a DUI because a 3 a.m. police report called a dark-blue vehicle black (I have), you might edit creatively, too.

It ain't right, but it's the way of the world.

One can only hope that Edward Burns ("Sidewalks of New York," "The Brothers McMullen") has locked up the movie rights. Not only does Crowley look like his cousin, but wry social farce is what Burns does best. Alternatively, Spike Lee could have wicked fun with yet another racial comedy of errors.

Meanwhile, and here's the thing, the incident cost the Obama White House almost two weeks in its efforts to pass medical-insurance reform, the most significant social legislation in a generation, while Americans entertained themselves screaming insults at one another.

"It is this vast and militant ignorance," H. L. Mencken wrote, "this wide-spread and fathomless prejudice against intelligence, that makes American journalism so pathetically feeble and vulgar, and so generally disreputable." The Sage of Baltimore, as he was known, wrote long before the invention of 24/7 satellite news organizations and the Internet.

Here at the sprawling rural campus of Unsolicited Opinions Inc., the one-man, six-dog think tank where this column originates, we experienced a rare sorehead supernova. On the same day the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette printed a signed letter describing your humble, obedient servant here as a hater of Christians and an enemy of God for pointing out that Sarah Palin's kind of a ditz, anonymous e-mails began to arrive from the professor's supporters.

"Look you (bleep)ing racist moron," one fellow suggested, "die in your (bleep)hole called Arkansas." Someone posting at took a similar tack. "You really this ignorant?" one fellow asked. "Or just an ignorant, right-wing, crazy, motherfrolickin' bastard? KMA Mr. Lyons. Your Southern bias is too lacking in intelligence to bother with a response. This time you have truly revealed your Arkansas roots."

Not much of a conversation-starter, would you say? As a New Jersey native, where scatological insult's an art form, I've rarely lost a name-calling contest.

But why bother? Argument's one thing. I thrive on it. But this imbecilic contumely, much encouraged by Internet anonymity, appears to be dividing the nation into feuding cultural tribes too busy feeling sorry for themselves and shrieking insults to comprehend the nation's gravest problems, much less to solve them.

Oh, and another thing: Woo Pig, Sooie!

By Gene Lyons

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at

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