WASHINGTON — Three guys sitting around a picnic table, having a cold one.

Beer diplomacy? The "teachable moment" the president promised? Or just a way for the White House to get people to quit talking about the president's comments on a racial brouhaha in Massachusetts?

When Barack Obama meets Thursday with the black professor and white policeman at the center of a national uproar over race relations, he is aiming for a show that will get positive news coverage, then go away.

"There's no formal agenda other than cold beer," press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

That's not quite the teachable moment on racial unity that Obama talked about last Friday when he moved to undercut the controversy that had knocked him off message. Pressed about that, Gibbs said Obama never promised to solve everything with one meeting.

By now, most people know the backstory: Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard scholar, was arrested after police responded to a report of a possible break-in at his home in Cambridge. They found no burglars, but Sgt. James Crowley took Gates into custody, accusing him of disorderly conduct in his protesting of police behavior. The charge was soon dropped.

Then Obama inflamed matters by saying the police had "acted stupidly," though he conceded he didn't know all the facts about the case and was a little biased anyway because Gates was a friend.

Once the story began pushing all other news to the margins, Obama acknowledged that he could have chosen his words better. And he invited both men for a beer.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday outside the Oval Office.