Robert De Niro joke: Too soon for another 'white first lady'?

Robert De Niro joke took place at a fundraiser for President Obama with first lady Michelle Obama on Monday night. The Gingrich campaign, for one, has taken exception.

Jason DeCrow/AP/File
In this 2011 file photo, actor Robert De Niro is seen in New York. De Niro opened a fundraiser starring Michelle Obama by listing her Republican rivals and jokingly suggesting that America isn't 'ready for a white first lady.' Newt Gingrich was not amused. And the Obama campaign says the actor's quip was inappropriate.

Actor Robert De Niro has just reinforced one of the truisms of a presidential campaign involving an African-American candidate: Just about any reference to race raises hackles.

Mr. De Niro hosted a fundraiser for President Obama with first lady Michelle Obama on Monday night in New York, and he kicked off his remarks with this quip: "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?"

According to the pool report, the crowd roared and someone yelled "no!" as De Niro asked, "Too soon, right?"

Newt Gingrich didn’t appreciate the irony. The presidential contender and former House speaker called the comment “inexcusable” and demanded an apology from Mr. Obama, according to the Associated Press.

"I think that Robert De Niro's wrong," Mr. Gingrich said at a campaign stop in Shreveport, La., the AP reported. "The country is ready for a new first lady, and he doesn't have to describe it in racial terms."

Tuesday afternoon, a senior Gingrich adviser – African-American, female – also jumped in, arguing that if a conservative had made such a comment, the media would have objected.

"Racial comments and jokes degrade the political process,” said Kiron Skinner, a national co-chair of the Women With Newt Coalition, in a statement. “They have no place in this presidential campaign season. Robert DeNiro and other celebrities supporting President Barack Obama don’t seem to think so. At a star-studded fundraiser in New York City last night, the actor declared that it is too soon for a white first lady. The crowd approved. The media and many others would decry an equivalent comment by a conservative or a Republican supporter of a presidential candidate."

Dr. Skinner continued, "As a senior adviser in Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign and as an African American woman, I stand against comments like DeNiro’s."

Obama didn’t apologize, but a campaign spokeswoman called the joke “inappropriate,” according to the AP.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.