Seeking a "teachable moment" in the wake up his controversial comments about the arrest of an African-American professor by a white policeman, President Obama on Thursday sat down over beers with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley.
"I am thankful to Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley for joining me at the White House this evening for a friendly, thoughtful conversation," the president said in a statement released shortly after the event.
"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."
At a press conference after the event, Crowley said that he and Gates had a "cordial and productive discussion" in which they "agreed to disagree."
According to Crowley, no apologies were made at the meeting.
Vice president Joe Biden was also present at the White House gathering, which was held at a white table in the rose garden. The press corps was kept 40 feet away from the event and was unable to hear what was said.
Gates and Crowley wore suits and ties; the president and vice president did not wear jackets. Gates could be seen talking to Crowley, and at one point slapped his own hand as if to make a point. Mr. Obama then joined in.
The president, as promised, drank Bud Light, while the vice president drank Buckler, a non-alcoholic beer. Gates sipped Sam Adams Light, brewed in his home state of Massachusetts, while Crowley opted for Blue Moon, which he had earlier told the president was among his favorites.
The White House had not previously indicated that Sam Adams would be available, though there had been calls for it to be added to the menu.
Gates released a statement following the gathering saying he is "hopeful that we can all move on, and that this experience will prove an occasion for education, not recrimination."
"I know that Sergeant Crowley shares this goal," he added. "Both of us are eager to go back to work tomorrow."
Earlier, Mr. Obama said this he was "fascinated by the fascination" with the gathering. Following an afternoon meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines, he told reporters that he "will be surprised if you guys all make this the lead as opposed to a very important meeting that we just had with one of our most important partners in the world, but the press has surprised me before."
The comment prompted laughter, and for good reason: The president's meeting with Gates and Crowley generated enormous media interest over the past few days. Cable networks CNN and MSNBC posted clocks in the corners of their screens counting down to the event on Thursday.
"This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day, and hopefully giving people the opportunity to listen to each other," he told reporters, seeking to play down the meeting. "And that's really all it is."
"It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect, and will hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self reflection and recognizing that other people have different points of view," Mr. Obama said.
But the event became a magnet for press and those seeking it; Rev. Al Sharpton announced that he would hold a media availability afterward, and interest groups from the The Woman's Christian Temperance Union to Pray at the Pump have used it to push their agendas. (They didn't want the White House to serve alcohol.)
He later walked back those comments, but what had been a relatively small story immediately blew up, pushing the president's health care reform efforts from the headlines.
A Pew Research Center poll out Thursday found that 41 percent of Americans disapproved of the way the president handled the situation, while just 29 percent approved.
The White House appeared conflicted about the event, and did not offer reporters much access: It was announced early in the afternoon that reporters will have only 40 seconds to view the festivities, and that the president did not comment personally afterward.