New York Times on Obama: Now a Hero in Brazil, Too

Monday's New York Times "news analysis," "President Underscores Similarities With Brazilians, but Sidesteps One," found reporters Alexei Barrionuevo and Jackie Calmes with Obama in Rio de Janeiro highlighting the president's positive reception in Brazil, inspiring the citizenry "because of his African heritage."

From a visit to this city's most infamous slum to a national address amid the gilded elegance of a celebrated theater, President Obama on Sunday sought to underscore the shared histories and futures of the United States and Brazil, reaching out to the people of one of the most racially diverse countries in the Americas.

But Mr. Obama, on the second day of a five-day tour of Latin America, once again seemed to sidestep mentioning his own racial background in appearances here, even as Brazilians who gathered at a plaza trying to catch a glimpse of him said that he had inspired millions in this country because of his African heritage.

"Because he knows the reality of discrimination against blacks, it would be very important for him to pass on the message that it is possible to get somewhere, to be someone, in spite of all the difficulties," said CĂ©lio Frias, a 46-year-old businessman. "He is an inspiration."

Paris correspondent Scott Sayare previously engaged in foreign fawning in a September 23, 2010 story praising Obama's magical abilities to transform world opinion by his very existence: "But anti-American sentiment, once pervasive in these neighborhoods, seems to have been all but erased since the election of Mr. Obama, who has proved to be a powerful symbol of hope here and a powerful diplomatic tool."

Mr. Obama, characteristically, did not overtly address his race, or race in general, in several joint appearances with [Brazil's president Dilma] Rousseff on Saturday.

He came closest in their meeting with business executives from American and Brazilian corporations, but Mr. Obama spoke indirectly, more in terms of social and economic status than race. He hailed "the American dream" as appropriate for both the United States and Latin America, defining it as "the idea that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or how you start out, you can overcome the greatest obstacles and fulfill the greatest hopes."

"I'm a testament to that dream," he said.

Through his long presidential campaign and since, Mr. Obama has often seemed to address the issue only when forced to by outside events - like the campaign controversy over racially divisive sermons by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., or a 2009 furor over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black Harvard professor and friend, as Mr. Gates tried to enter his own home.


Did anyone "force" Obama to make his ill-advised commentary on the Gates matter, in which he said that a white Cambridge police officer had "acted stupidly" before being forced to backtrack?

Barrionuevo and Calmes threw in polls from Latin America tho prove Obama's election had improved America's reputation in Latin America.

Opinion polls in the region show that Mr. Obama's election has also improved Latin American countries' opinion of the United States as a whole. Among Brazilians, those with a favorable view increased by 16 percentage points from 57 percent in 2008 to 73 percent in 2009, according to Latinobarometro, a polling company in Santiago, Chile. The increase was higher among blacks and those of mixed race surveyed than among whites.


- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.