Clinton Supporter Apologizes to Obama
By Garance Franke-Ruta
Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson took to CNN this afternoon to make public his apology to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over remarks Johnson had made Sunday in Columbia, S.C., that were widely interpreted as a none-too-subtle attempt to make sport of Obama's teenage drug use.
"Sometimes in campaigns you get carried away in your zeal to support your candidate. And you say things that are inappropriate and not proper for a campaign that should be based on the issues," said Johnson in a phone interview with Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room." "And that is why I issued this personal apology to Senator Obama, I know Senator Obama. I have a great deal of respect for him. And I'm glad that his campaign has responded and accepted the apology."
Obama wrote openly about his teen years, including his use of "pot" and "blow," in a mid-90s Bildungsroman that became a national best seller after he ascended to the senate. Obama's book was written during the memoir boom of the early- to-mid-90s and has been critically acclaimed for its examination of race and the quest for individual identity in America. It has also, over the past year, become a source of repeated, though generally minor, controversy for his campaign.
On Sunday, during a campaign swing through South Carolina with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Johnson had said: "As an African American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues, when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood, that I won't say what he was doing in the neighborhood but he said it in his book...to say these two people would denigrate the accomplishments of civil rights marchers."
The Obama campaign promptly condemned Johnson's remarks - which were themselves made in defense of earlier Clinton comments to which supporters of Obama were objecting, about the relative roles of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pres. Lyndon Johnson in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1964 -- and Bob Johnson at first said that he meant only to refer to Obama's time as a community organizer, also discussed in great detail in his book.
That explanation was widely dismissed by observers, however, in light of earlier remarks in New Hampshire by Billy Shaheen, husband of former N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen, and Clinton's one-time N.H. state co-chair. Shaheen resigned from his role with the Clinton campaign after suggesting Obama would be attacked by Republicans for his past openness, should he be the Democratic nominee. As first reported by The Trail, Shaheen said, "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'....There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Johnson, in the short letter of apology to Obama, wrote: "I'm writing to apologize to you and your family personally for the uncalled-for comments I made at a recent Clinton event. In my zeal to support Senator Clinton, I made some very inappropriate remarks for which I am truly sorry. I hope that you will accept this apology. Good luck on the campaign trail."
Web Politics Editor
January 17, 2008; 6:55 PM ET
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