Hip-hop artist Kanye West now says he regrets his 2005 comment that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” — a remark that the nation’s 43rd president identifies in his new memoir as one of the lowest points of his eight years in office.
In an exclusive interview taped Tuesday, West told TODAY co-anchor Matt Lauer that he made the comment during a 2005 benefit concert out of “frustration” over the deaths and suffering of victims of Hurricane Katrina, which had devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that summer. The Bush administration was widely criticized for its handling of the disaster, which took nearly 2,000 lives during the hurricane and its aftermath.
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“I would tell George Bush, in my moment of frustration, I didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist,” West told Lauer. “But I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that, we as human beings don’t always choose the right words.”
West’s interview with Lauer aired Thursday on TODAY. After its taping Tuesday, the hip-hop artist made a number of remarks critical of the interview via his Twitter feed, alleging that he had been put in an uncomfortable position.
Referring to tape of his MTV VMA appearance rolling in the background as the interview took place, West asked Lauer Tuesday, "How am I supposed to talk if you're going to run this thing in the middle of my talking?" On Thursday, Lauer explained that running tape like that is standard procedure while interviewing guests, and said “We stand by what happened” during the interview.
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Shown the clip of West’s apology during a live interview about his book on Wednesday, Bush said he was glad to hear that West had had a change of heart. Although Bush specified the rapper by name in his new memoir, “Decision Points,” he said that it was the fact that many Americans perceived him as uncaring and apparently detached from the disaster that hurt him deeply.
“I appreciate that,” Bush told Lauer after viewing the clip. “It wasn’t just Kanye West who was talking like that during Katrina; I cite him as an example.Video: TODAY’s Lauer on Kanye West interview (on this page)
“I am not a hater,” he added. “I don’t hate Kanye West. I was talking about an environment in which people were willing to say things that hurt. Nobody wants to be called a racist, if in your heart you believe in equality of race.”
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In an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired Tuesday, Bush said, “I can see how the perception would be, ‘Maybe Bush didn’t care.’ But to accuse me of being a racist is disgusting.”
In “Decision Points,” Bush wrote that the knowledge that people believed he was racist and didn’t care about minorities left homeless, sick or dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina hurt him more than criticism over the invasion of Iraq in 2003:
“I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich,” he wrote. “But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low.”
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