U.S. President Barack Obama is not a man accustomed to grovelling. Yet he may have consumed a large chunk of humble pie this week when he sprang into damage control mode and offered a telephonic apology to American Indian California Attorney General for calling her the “best looking” among her peers.

The President’s Press Secretary, Jay Carney, said in his official briefing upon return from his boss’ fund-raising trip to the West Coast that “the President did speak with Attorney General Harris last night after he came back from his trip. And he called her to apologise for the distraction created by his comments.”

Mr. Obama roused the fury of many media commentators after he said — in the presence of Ms. Harris — at a private dinner on Thursday: “ ... She is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough ... She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country ... It’s true. Come on.”

While confirming that Mr. Obama had apologised, Mr. Carney, drew attention to the fact that the President had also praised Ms. Harris as a colleague. He said Mr. Obama “did not want in any way to diminish the Attorney General’s professional accomplishments and her capabilities,” and added that the President believed and fully recognised the challenge women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance.

Ms. Harris, a rising star in the Democratic firmament in her State, has been the Attorney General of California since 2010 and is considered a potential candidate for Governor or even U.S. Supreme Court, should the opportunity arise. She is the daughter of Dr. Shyamala Gopalan — a breast cancer specialist who emigrated to the U.S from Chennai in 1960. Her father, said to be Jamaican-American, is Stanford University economics professor Donald Harris. Numerous commentators criticised Mr. Obama’s “compliment”, with some describing his remark as “disgraceful,” though others said it was “more wolfish than sexist,” and some called for everyone to “lighten up.”

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