Gibbs Can't Say If Obama Used Sexual Slur Against Tea Party Activists in Interview With Newsweek Editor

May 6, 2010 - 4:10 PM
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he could not say whether President Barack Obama used a vulgar sexual slur to describe activists in th Tea Party movement.

President Barack Obama smiles in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 23, 2010, during the signing ceremony for the health care bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Correction: An initial posting of this CNSNews.com story by Fred Lucas had incorrectly reported that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in his Thursday, May 6, 2010 press briefing that he would not check if President Barack Obama had used the term “tea baggers” to describe activists in the Tea Party movement. In response to a question about whether President Obama had used the term tea baggers, Gibbs actually said, “I can’t imagine I’m going to ask the President that. But I will entertain it.” Gibbs later added, “I will check.”

(CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not know and could not imagine asking President Barack Obama whether he used the vulgar sexual term “tea baggers” to describe Americans active in the Tea Party movement. But he added that he would check.

“I can’t imagine I would ask the president that,” Gibbs said at Thursday’s White House press briefing. "But I will entertain it.” Gibbs later added, “I will check.”
 
According to Newsweek senior editor and columnist Jonathan Alter in his new book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, the president used the slur to describe the largely conservative activists of the Tea Party movement, which has been a major force in opposition to the president's agenda over the past year.

“Tea bagging” is slang for a form of sexual contact, and a “tea bagger” is someone who engages in that act.

Alter’s book is scheduled to be released later this month. It quotes Obama saying that Republican opposition to the $787-billion economic stimulus bill “helped create the tea baggers and empowered their whole wing of the Republican Party where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

At Thursday’s White House press briefing, CNSNews.com asked: “In Jonathan Alter’s new book the president is quoted as using a vulgar term to describe the Tea Party movement. Is the quote accurate and, if so, does the president regret saying it?”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs listens to a reporters question, Monday, March 9, 2009, during his daily press briefing in the White House Pressroom at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Gibbs said: “I have--I barely have enough time to read my briefing books, and what I have--I have--no offense to Jonathan, but I have not read his book.”
 
Chip Reid of CBS News asked: “But you’d only have to read one word to answer his question.”
 
Gibbs said: “Chip, you go buy me Jonathan’s book so that he gets the royalty --
 
Reid responded: “Deal, deal.”
 
Gibbs finished: “--and I will be glad to read the word.”
 
Another reporter asked: “You haven’t heard about this, though?”
 
CNSNews.com asked: “So is the answer then that you don’t know?”
 
Gibbs said: “The answer is I haven’t read the book.”
 
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite asked: “I have two quick questions. But first, are you able to get an answer on Fred’s question about the tea-bagger quote, if the President is aware that people are offended and—”
 
Gibbs said: “Again, I’ve not seen the book. I can’t imagine I’m going to ask the President that. But I will entertain it.”
 
The reporter asked again (inaudible on the White House transcript, but discernable on audio): “Some people were offended.”
 
Gibbs said: “I will check.”

Alter's citation of the president using the term "tea bagger" is ironic given the commencement address the president delivered last Saturday at the University of Michigan. In that address, Obama criticized the uncivil discourse of politicians, pundits and talking heads.

“We've got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names,” Obama said. “Pundits and talking heads shout at each other. The media tends to play up every hint of conflict because it makes for a sexier story--which makes anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make the most outrageous comments.”