Historic beer summit probably not as influential as Yalta conference

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    Hey, where's Joe Biden? Although the vice president participated in the historic beer summit last night at the White House, he was not present in a photo showing President Obama, professor Gates, and Sgt. Crowley toasting each other at meeting on the South Lawn.
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You probably couldn't say President Obama's "beer summit" was as influential as FDR's "Yalta Conference," but that doesn't mean the meeting with the president, the professor, and the cop wasn't meaningful.

It is safe to say the picnic table sitdown was more influential than the many beer summits that Da Bears' Superfans had on Saturday Night Live. It just lines up somewhere between the two.

Now, because the press wasn't invited to the South Lawn meeting between President Obama, Vice President Biden, Harvard professor Henry Gates, and Cambridge police officer James Crowley, we'll just have to piece together what happened at the event.

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It's just not that newsworthy!

The White House began downplaying the significance of the meeting shortly after announcing it would happen. Just hours before the meeting yesterday, President Obama said the summit shouldn't lead the news cycle, suggesting that his meeting with the president of The Philippines should get top billing.

It didn't. All the networks led with the beer summit.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today lampooned the national media interest, saying, "My favorite was the 'Ale to the Chief' icon complete with a countdown clock [to the time the meeting began]," on NBC.

He marveled that the network played b-roll footage of President Carter's historic meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat while promoting the upcoming beer summit.

"I think the president's reaction to the hoopla was much justified," Gibbs said to laughter.

So what happened?

If you're looking for a play-by-play from the president, you're out of luck. The White House sent out a sanitized statement from President Obama following the meeting. Quite often these statements don't say much. But when it's the only thing of record coming from the White House, it's reported on.

"I am thankful to Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley for joining me at the White House this evening for a friendly, thoughtful conversation," read Obama's statement. "Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned that the two gentlemen spent some time together listening to one another, which is a testament to them. I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."

So what really happened?

Better sound bites occur when there's an interview -- and usually not with a spokesperson but the actual participant in the news. Professor Gates proved it when he told the New York Times, "We hit it off right from the beginning. When he's not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy."

That's a great quote.

And Sgt. Crowley had a winner quote as well when he was asked if the president made any contributions to the discussion.

"He provided the beer," Crowley deadpanned.

Whether he intended to be funny or not, he had the timing of a comedian, letting a few seconds waft by before adding, "He contributed in a small part but he really just wanted to bring two people together to try to solve a local issue ... and what has become a national issue."

Bottom line

Did the summit solve anything?

Crowley said it did, noting that he and Gates have"agreed to disagree" on the events that occurred around the arrest. But the meeting was "a positive step in moving forward," he said.

Gates echoed Crowley's remarks, saying that it was time to move on as well.

"I am hopeful that we can all move on, and that this experience will prove an occasion for education, not recrimination," he said. "I know that Sergeant Crowley shares this goal. Both of us are eager to go back to work tomorrow. And it turns out that the President just might have a few other things on his plate as well."

What's up next? Crowley said he and Gates are planning another meeting but no alcohol this time. The cop suggested that kool-aid or lemonade would be the beverage of choice. If you want to listen in on this next summit, you're out of luck. Crowley said the press won't be invited to this one either.

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