'Special Report' Panel on Whether Racism Played Into Arrest of Harvard Professor

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from July 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that.

But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, RADIO INTERVIEW: I think it's disappointing that he weighed into something what should be a local issue and something that plays out here. As he himself said at the beginning of the press conference, he didn't know all the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The officer there, James Crowley, responding to the president's comments Wednesday night. This incident was the arrest of a Harvard professor, African-American Professor Henry Gates.

Here is how he describes the arrest and what he thought the officer was thinking: "Now it's clear he had a narrative in his head — a black man was inside someone's house, probably a white person's house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me."

Now, here is the police report, and I want to just read it as-is from Sergeant Crowley. "I asked if he would step out," he being Gates, "would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied "No I will not."

He then demanded to know who I was. I told him I was Sergeant Crowley from the Cambridge police and that I was investigating a report of a break-in in progress at the residence.

While I was making this statement, Gates opened the door and exclaimed "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?"

I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it none of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer.

Soon after that, the arrest was made for disorderly conduct, charges that have since been dropped."

Let's bring in our panel — Steve Hayes with the Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it sounds as if Obama was saying I can no more renounce Henry Louis Gates than I could renounce my own grandmother.

He should have said, "I am a friend of Gates, and therefore I'm inclined to believe his story. But since there's no way I can know what actually happened, I'll decline a comment." That would have been the right response.

Instead, the president waded into something when there is no possible way in which he could know what actually occurred, and he then implied, and he does this always cleverly and without leaving a fingerprint, that it was on account of racism, again, without any evidence.

It's not what a president ought to do. I think, as journalists, we always add the word "alleged, alleged, alleged" in talking about any ongoing story about alleged criminal activity.

A president — and that's because we, a, have to demonstrate and acknowledge ignorance, and, secondly, as a way of showing impartiality. That's what a president has to do. His influence in the country is a lot more than any journalist, and I think it was incumbent upon him to stay away.

Instead, he developed the Gates' narrative of racism, and I think in a situation in which it was at least as of now entirely unwarranted.

BAIER: Juan, the head of the Cambridge police department said the president's statements pained the department. And Sergeant Crowley actually drives on his own dime and his own time to teach a class on racial profiling at the Lowell Police Academy, saying that he has a long history of being on the right side of this issue.

What about this?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I think the key thing here is the president hadn't seen the police report.

And if he had seen the police report, he would have seen that the description, done by a Hispanic officer who wrote up the report, says that Gates came out of there with a lot of anger, fury at the police, raised the race issue, was talking about the policeman's mother, making all sorts of profane comments, and pushing the issue.

Now, let me just say here, I think this might be revealing about my psychology as a black man in America, but I do not mouth off to cops. I think cops can sometimes be prickly or even overly sensitive, and I think that they are anxious about black people in general.

So, you know what, I button my lip. And I have been stopped at times, and I grew up in a poor neighborhood in New York, and I know what it is to feel as if you are being picked on. But I button my lip.

And what I tell my kids is, you button your lips, because cops can have a lot of testosterone or they have something on their mind, or their fearful, just do what they tell you. If you're reaching for something, tell the cop you're reaching for something.

When they come to my home because an alarm has gone off, they do follow me in, and they're looking around. It is for good reason, Bret, because if there is someone holding a gun to my wife's house and they are saying get rid of the cops or we will shoot your wife, I want the cops to come in and be meticulous of looking around.

BAIER: And in fact, the Cambridge police said today said at this press conference that the house had been burglarized just recently.

WILLIAMS: Correct.

And so the cops were called there not to harass anybody. Somebody saw a break-in taking place, and by all accounts, he was forcing the door to the house. The cops come in, and I think the cops from all the reporting, and Gates is not denying any of the reporting, did what they were supposed to do. President Obama should have never have gotten himself in the midst of this. Where is all the talk about health care now that he has inserted himself in this and made this issue so large? It is a self- defeating statement by the president.

BAIER: Steve, he's saying to ABC that he's surprised by this controversy surrounding his statement because he thinks it was pretty straightforward that the police didn't need to handcuff a guy, a middle- aged man who uses a cane in his own home. I mean, he's pushing back even further after the statement he made Wednesday night.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Right.

And after he made his original comments, which I think were, to use his words, stupid, he made clear that he didn't know the facts by talking about gates having been arrested after the fact, which he was arrested from disorderly conduct. He was not arrested for or even charged with breaking and entering. I mean, that has nothing to do with the original thing. It was all in the way that Gates reacted. And according to the police officer, he asked Gates to pipe down, and he didn't do it. That is the fundamental problem. The president doesn't do this very often. He really doesn't make, I think, major, obvious gaffes very often. This is one, and I think his comments today have actually compounded his problems rather than helped him out.

BAIER: And Charles, the purpose of that news conference largely was to pitch health care reform. This was the last question, and it has taken a lot of press oxygen today.

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, this is a president who is legendary for his self-control and self-containment and discipline. And this was a lapse of it.

Maybe after an hour of defending the indefensible health care, he got exhausted and slipped. But it was unnecessary. In tennis, you call it an unforced error. It's not a major one. I don't think it will haunt him in any way, but it was unnecessary and he's going to suffer, at least for a couple of days.

WILLIAMS: I disagree.

BAIER: and Juan, last word, the ABC interview suggested that he is not apologizing for what he said...

WILLIAMS: No.

BAIER: ... that the Cambridge police department acted stupidly despite the fact that he, it didn't appear, read the police report.

WILLIAMS: He hasn't read the report.

And I want to pick up on something Steve Hayes says. The arrest was not for breaking and entering once the man was in his house. What the president said today is, why would you arrest a man who is in his own house and a guy who walks with a cane, and he's a middle-aged guy, like no problem. But that's not what it was about. It was about disorderly conduct. You can be in a wheelchair and be disorderly. So that's not the issue. And I just wanted to add that even people who are supporters, outright supporters of President Obama, Bill Cosby said today, I'm quoting here "I was shocked to hear the president making this kind of statement. I don't care how much pressure people want to put on him or put on it about race, I'm keeping my mouth shut." I don't understand why the president felt the need to do this.

BAIER: OK. Is the president helping or hurting his case for health care? We'll look at the numbers with the FOX all-stars next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARBARA LEE, (D-CA) CHAIRWOMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: We must reject the spurious claims that the cost of reforming health care in America is something our nation can't afford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus taking some swings at blue dog Democrats in the house, those are the conservative Democrats. And here is a quote from one unnamed, but talked to our producer, a senior member, saying "We don't feel like we've been dealt with honestly."

Democrat on Democrat over health care in the House as we learn that there will be a delay and Congress will not have a bill before the August recess officially today.

We're back with the panel — Juan?

WILLIAMS: I was talking to some people at the White House yesterday and today by phone, but their feeling is to make the case to these blue dog Democrats they have to be very up front and say, look, it's not to your advantage to put any space between yourself and the president of the United States when that president is a member of your own party.

That's not going to help you get reelected. It's not going to help you in your district. So don't think that somehow the president has abandoned you. You got to get with the president. You got to get with this message.

BAIER: However, you look at the polls, the FOX News opinion dynamics polls about taxes, is health care reform if passed, what will happen to your taxes? 79 percent today said that they will increase.

Then you look under the health care plans being considered, the quality of care, better, worse or the same — worse, 45 percent. I mean, those poll numbers are not party specific. Those are across the board.

WILLIAMS: Right. And it's a problem, and they understand the problem.

And what they're hoping now, and I think this may just simply be living with reality, Bret, but what they're hoping now is that the summer, the August recess will be a period in which there's lots of talk about health care in the districts and that pressure comes from the grassroots.

Don't forget, the president is using some of his campaign '08 mechanisms here to put pressure, build grass roots momentum, saying health care is broken, remind people of it, remind them that premiums have been doubling.

They are going to really push that during the recess in the hope that this gets reignited in September.

But the other scenario would be they simply lose momentum.

BAIER: Yes. The conventional wisdom would be that the lobbyists buy all the ads and pummel this program — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the reason the president has been so much in a hurry to push this before August is precisely because he's afraid the more people learn about this, the less they are going to like it.

If you watch that poll you cited, 80 percent of Americans think it is going to raise their taxes, 18 percent aren't sure. I love that 1 percent who think there is going to be a decrease in taxes. I want to meet that guy. He needs a little education or encouragement here.

(LAUGHTER)

The other thing, I understand why the president is arguing you don't want to weaken a president who is strong in '08 who swept a lot of you into office. You don't want to weaken him, because if he loses on health care, he is very much a weakened president. It could hurt him in 2010.

However, these guys who already are in conservative districts have swallowed hemlock on behalf of the president on cap and trade. They have been really wounded on that, extremely unpopular, and it didn't even pass in the Senate. So it was a wasted negative vote.

And these guys, I'm not sure they want a second swig of that hemlock on health care.

BAIER: Steve, the House Speaker says she has the votes. She keeps on insisting. It's the second day in a row. She says they're going to pass something out of the House. The blue dog Democrats are telling us that all of the blue dogs, as written now, could vote against this bill.

HAYES: Right.

BAIER: Which means she wouldn't have the votes.

HAYES: Continuing to insist it doesn't make it true, actually.

I think what's been interesting to watch today over the course of the past 12 hours is that after the president went out and put his reputation on the line, a lot of political capital to do a primetime news conference — there's only one reason you do that, and it is because you think you want to halt the negative momentum of your policy proposal.

He didn't — not only did he not do that, but today was filled with discussions of his comments on race, fact checks by usually friendly media outlets like the Associated Press and "The New York Times," and disarray among Democrats in Congress.

Not only did he not be accomplish what he set out to accomplish last night in the press conference, I think he actually took several steps backwards.

WILLIAMS: I think he needed to take the reins last night on this issues. His strategy all along has been let the thousand flowers bloom, let them argue about it on the Hill.

He needs to say here is how it benefits you and here is what I stand for to the American people last night. He needs to make news. He didn't do it.

Content and Programming Copyright 2009 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC, which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon FOX News Network, LLC'S and CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.