Rick Sanchez Apologizes After Labeling Obama the 'Cotton-Picking President'

CNN's Rick Sanchez quickly apologized on his Rick's List program on Monday after inadvertently labeling Barack Obama the "cotton-picking president of the United States." Sanchez used the racially-tinged term in response to the President recently addressing the significant percentage of American population who believe he is Muslim or was born outside the U.S. [audio available here]

The anchor raised President Obama's recent comment about his birth certificate with correspondent Jessica Yellin 21 minutes into the 3 pm Eastern hour. Yellin explained that "this is the first time he's talked about it since the polls showing how many Americans believe him to be Muslim came out" and that "you get the sense that he's been sort of through this. He wants to set the record straight, but he really does seem to accept that he's not going to convince everyone, and he's not going to spend a lot of time and energy on something that's not going to change."

Sanchez replied to Yellin full of frustration: "I'm just sitting here just shaking my head. He is the cotton-picking president of the United States!" He continued with another slighter gaffe: "If the president of the United States doesn't have enough of a bully pulpit to convince people of a lie- that a lie is a lie, I should say, then- you know, where are we? What kind of planet are we living on? What the hell is going on here?"

To her credit, the CNN correspondent brought up the many people on the left who refused to believe Obama's predecessor: "The assumption is there are a certain number of people that just don't buy it. You know, there are people who didn't think George Bush was telling the truth. You know, there are all those bumper stickers that said, 'George W. Bush is a liar.'" Even with this, Sanchez continued with his frustration: "Here's the point. I can understand 5%. I can maybe understand 10%. I can maybe understand 15%. We're talking about- what was the latest number? A third of the American people or more?"

Moments later, after taking a commercial break, Sanchez came back with an apology, crediting his Twitter followers for spotting his error:
SANCHEZ: This is great. This is what works about having a conversation with my viewers throughout this newscast, because you know that I'm here on Twitter and I read what you write during the commercial breaks. And many of you are pointing out a fault that I just- a faux pas that I just made, and I want to apologize for it, because I obviously didn't mean any disrespect or anything when I said that.

But I was having that conversation with Jessica Yellin, and I think I said something to the effect- it's so frustrating that people are lying about the president of the United States, that people are saying these things and it seems like he is defenseless to try and deal with it- although this weekend, the President came out and defended himself. And we had a very ample conversation about what it is that the President did, what he didn't do, what his detractors say about him and what he can or can't do.

In the middle of that conversation, at one point, I said, why can't the president of the United States seem to figure this out? After all, he is the cotton-picking president of the United States. Well, soon after I said that, I started getting some Tweets from some of you, saying, you just said 'cotton-picking president of the United States' about the first black president of the United States? Without even realizing it?

I've was just saying 'cotton picking' because it's a term that I've used because I grew up in the South. It's a point that's often used to illustrate frustration- not in any way shown to use- used to show any kind of disrespect. However, I apologize nonetheless for using it, in case it was taken by anyone as an act of disrespect. So, there you go.

And, by the way, thank you! I got about ten Tweets right away from people on Twitter saying- hey, be careful using comments like that. So I do, and I apologize for it.
This isn't the first time Sanchez had to apologize for something he said on the air. On October 16, 2009, the CNN anchor gave an on-air apology for running an unconfirmed quote attributed to Rush Limbaugh earlier that week. As for other on-air gaffes, just during the course of 2010, Sanchez wasn't sure who was protesting at the annual March for Life, misidentified the Galapagos Islands as Hawaii, "joked" that it was "too cold" in Iceland "to have a volcano there," and incorrectly guessed that the Nixon/Kennedy debate took place in 1962.

The transcript of the relevant portion of the segment from Monday's Rick's List:
SANCHEZ: Take us now through what is being described as the President becoming defensive this weekend in that interview with NBC. I mean, not only did he talk about- look, what do I have to do? Go around with my birth certificate on my fore- pinned to my forehead, to get people to stop believing that I'm a Muslim?

JESSICA YELLIN: Right-

SANCHEZ: And then he also addressed the Glenn Beck rally-

YELLIN: Right.

SANCHEZ: This group of people who got together for Glenn Beck up in Washington. What did he say about that?

YELLIN: Well, first of all, on the Muslim question, this is the first time he's talked about it since the polls showing how many Americans believe him to be Muslim came out. And so, these are the first comments from him.

He is right. It came up a lot during the campaign. I was covering him and there were endless e-mails voters were getting from- you know, a friend who was e-mailing something that another friend had sent, saying that he's Muslim, and people would come up to me and ask me about it on the trail. So you get the sense that he's been sort of through this. He wants to set the record straight, but he really does seem to accept that he's not going to convince everyone, and he's not going to spend a lot of time and energy on something that's not going to change-

SANCHEZ: But that- you know that-

YELLIN: There's a certain amount of the American public that's going to believe- go ahead.

SANCHEZ: I'm just sitting here just shaking my head. He is the cotton-picking president of the United States-

YELLIN: Right-

SANCHEZ: If the president of the United States doesn't have enough of a bully pulpit to convince people of a lie- that a lie is a lie, I should say, then- you know, where are we? What kind of planet are we living on? What the hell is going on here?

YELLIN: Well, there will be a certain, I suppose- the assumption is there are a certain number of people that just don't buy it. You know, there are people who didn't think George Bush was telling the truth. You know, there are all those bumper stickers that said, 'George W. Bush is a liar.'

SANCHEZ: Yeah.

YELLIN: So maybe there's a certain amount of the population- they accept- that just, you're never going to reach them and that's how it is.

SANCHEZ: But- you know, but- but here's the point. I can understand 5%. I can maybe understand 10%. I can maybe understand 15%. We're talking about- what was the latest number? A third of the American people or more?

YELLIN: I think- there's- it depends who you ask. I think our polling had 18%. Look, we keep reporting- he keeps saying, it's something that you've got to just sort of accept at some point is, and move on. We tell the facts. We'll continue to tell the facts like they are.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, yeah. Well and- look, it's- as much as it is our job, it's also the White House's job, right? I mean- I guess it comes down to this question, and this is just a matter, I suppose, of common sense that people can figure out. I don't know. I've never been the president of the United States. (Yellin laughs) I know what it's like to be lied about. People lie about me every single day, and it just comes with being a public figure. But if I was the president of the United States and someone was just making a bald-faced lie like that one about me, would my impetus be to have a news conference to stand on top of the highest mountain, as my Mom and Dad always used to say, and just tell the truth? And it's frustrating- as Americans, as we look at all of these things, whether it's a lie about a Republican or a Democrat or whoever the heck this is going on about, it's difficult to look at it and say what a shame that it can't be remedied, that it can't be fixed. You get my drift?

YELLIN: I do. I do. You know, they blame us for talking about it so much. So go figure. (laughs)
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center