White House defends Wilmore's use of N-word at correspondents dinner
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President Obama’s top spokesman on Monday defended comedian Larry Wilmore, who has come under criticism for using the N-word during his remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

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White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the president "appreciated the spirit of the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed."

The Comedy Central host ended his speech Saturday night with a seemingly heartfelt riff about the historical importance of Obama being the first black president.

"When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn't accept a black quarterback," Wilmore said.

"Now think about that. A black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team," he continued. "And now to live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the entire free world."

He then turned to Obama, pounded his chest, and said, “Yo, Barry, you did it my n----!"

Obama smiled and hugged Wilmore after he wrapped up his remarks.

But several critics objected to his use of a racial epithet.

"Never before has the n-word been used to address the president. At least, not in public and most definitely not to his face," wrote Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, who is African-American. "That’s why Wilmore’s use of it was as shocking as it was disrespectful."

American Urban Radio Networks Washington correspondent April Ryan peppered Earnest with questions about whether Wilmore's comments were inappropriate.

"Comedians are gonna go right up to the line," Earnest said.

He said that such criticism is nothing new, noting that comics such as Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes also came under fire for making controversial statements in their correspondents' dinner routines.

“I’m confident that Mr. Wilmore used the word by design. He was seeking to be provocative,” Earnest said, adding that a “fair reading” shows “he was not using the president as the butt of a joke.”

Earnest said the White House did not vet Wilmore's remarks before the event.