When President Barack Obama said at his news conference last week that the police had "acted stupidly" during the infamous arrest of a black Harvard professor in his Cambridge home, the unmistakable sound of a mistake was hard not to miss.
The president had just finished saying that he "didn't know all the facts" and the professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was a friend of his.
He should have stopped there. As the president said, racial profiling has been a recurring problem for blacks and Latinos -- and it is easy to understand why the first African-American president would want to address it.
But this was not the case nor the forum to make the point. What transpired in Cambridge was an unfortunate exchange between two men who both appear to have lost their cool.
Of course, Mr. Gates should not have been arrested in his own house -- the quick dropping of the disorderly conduct charges underscores that. But Mr. Gates seemed all too ready to assume racism on the part of Sgt. James Crowley, the white officer who responded to a neighbor's call that someone was trying to break into Mr. Gates' home. What the facts suggest is that "acting stupidly" was an equal opportunity employer in this sorry episode.
Mr. Obama's mistake of rushing in where angels fear to tread became obvious to the White House quickly and Mr. Obama soon made his defense pro-active, calling both men and conceding that his words were ill-chosen. He has invited Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley to come to the White House for a beer, the folksy way of males to settle grievances real or imagined.
While these late efforts at conciliation reflect well on Mr. Obama, he should have kept quiet until all the facts were known.