President Obama attends the Armed Forces Full Honor Review Farewell Ceremony at Joint Base Myers-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, Wednesday.(Photo: SAUL LOEB, AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Obama said Thursday that racial tensions haven't gotten worse in his time as president — they've just become more apparent because of the power of cell phone videos and social media.
Case in point: the live-streamed Facebook video showing four African-American youths in Chicago tying up, beating and torturing a white special needs student.
Obama called the attack a "despicable sort" of hate crime. But he also told Chicago's WBBM that racial incidents get more attention now "in part because we see visuals of racial tensions, violence and so forth because of smart phones and the Internet."
Obama gave a round of interviews with Chicago television stations as he prepares to deliver his farewell address in his hometown next Tuesday. But the interviews were dominated by racial issues and urban violence.
“What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time," he said.
In a separate interview with WLS, he recalled the racially polarizing Chicago "Council Wars" of the 1980s. "Some of your viewers are too young to remember this stuff. I promise you, for the most part, race relations have gotten better."
Obama said the violence plaguing Chicago was heartbreaking, but also a "strange exception" to the national trends. And he said he want's be be "part of the solution." "What I intend to do is to build off of some of the work that has been in done in other cities to intervene in violence, provide better support for youth that are at risk," he said. "And my presidential center and me personally, this is something where we want to join those who are intent on doing something about this. I want to be a part of the solution."
Obama is building his presidential library in Chicago's Jackson Park neighborhood.
"These are communities I know and love, and there's so many good people there," he told WLS. "And there are people I know who have been personally affected by levels of violence."
The interviews were part of Obama's "Live from the White House" strategy, which has brought 155 local television and radio reporters to the White House for one-on-one interviews, according to a USA TODAY tally. At times, he brought so many reporters to the White House that he needed cue cards to keep their names and cities straight.
Those appearances, mostly during his first term, allowed him to bypass the national media and target his message to local communities on topics like Obamacare, the minimum wage and trade.
But until Thursday, Obama had done only one interview with a Chicago station during his presidency. The interviews focused on Chicago issues but also covered some other topics:
► On the tensions between President-elect Donald Trump and the intelligence community: "My experience over the last eight years and the experience of most presidents is we cant make good decisions unless we have good intelligence," he told WMAQ. "And it's important that the president is getting the very best non-politicized intelligence possible, because national security is at stake."
But he also said he's also optimistic that "some of those current tensions will be reduced" once Trump starts getting his briefings from his own hand-picked intelligence officials.
► On a commutation for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, convicted of trying to sell Obama's former senate seat: "We have steps that go from the Justice Department and the White House counsel's office, and then I study these cases on an individual basis," he told WMAQ.. "On some of these high profile cases, we'll see what gets to my desk."