**LATEST: The White House has apologized to Ms. Sherrod, but said there will be no “beer summit” for her, an no call from the president. Meanwhile, she is getting hate email and phonecalls from wingers, and sorry Breitbart, she does blame you, and Fox News, for what happened. (Sue him, ma’am. Please.)
And Vilsack has reportedly offered Ms. Sherrod, a different job … from Politico:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said late Wednesday that he has offered Shirley Sherrod a “unique” post at the department and that she “asked for the opportunity to think about it.”
Asked by a reporter about the job, Vilsack said, “It’s a position that needs to be filled.”
Vilsack said at a press conference that there was “no pressure from the White House” in his decision to fire Sherrod after an edited video appeared, misleadingly, to show her making comments on race. “This was my decision, a decision I made in haste,” Vilsack said.
“I wanted to make sure she understood that I regretted the circumstances and that I accepted full responsibility for them,” he said.
POLITICO’s Simmi Aujla reports that the Congressional Black Caucus will meet with Vilsack at 5:15 p.m. to discuss Sherrod’s firing.
UPDATE: From the National Review, actual criticism of the right wing media:
Finally, the conservative media has some ’splaining to do. It is dangerous to run with a story based on a snippet — and our colleagues on the right have as much of an obligation to investigate before rolling out an expose on someone (especially someone as obscure as Sherrod) as do those on the left (e.g., Dan Rather). Sherrod was a low-level bureaucrat, apparently appointed to the position of Georgia director of rural development by Tom Vilsack; it is a stretch to attribute the views of such a low-ranking functionary to President Obama.
Also, this inescapable truth:
On the first anniversary of the now famous “beer summit,” which the president called to extricate himself from the controversy into which he had injected himself (the one concerning the African-American professor at Harvard and the Cambridge cop who arrested him), the president again looks foolish. And once again, the cause was how he and his team comport themselves when the issue at hand is race.
The administration’s actions suggest that fear of media criticism, rather than facts and the national interest, too often determine its actions. As a result, we witness the paradox of a president, elected by 53 percent of the vote, appearing to hand over the keys to the White House to Glenn Beck. Not long ago, Obama acolytes said that Beck and his confreres on the right spoke for Republican Party. Today, Obama’s critics snidely, but rightly, may ask whether Beck and company speak for the President of the United States.
The piece also includes an excellent rundown of what President Obama should say, sooner rather than later.
UPDATE: An administration spokesman tells me the decision to fire Sherrod was exclusively that of the USDA. That agency’s chief, Tom Vilsack, is reviewing the situation, but CNN is reporting that after all that has happened, Ms. Sherrod may not want her job back. Developing …
Also, very good questions from Greg Sargent this morning (with hat tip to reader Flo):
… it isn’t enough for Vilsack to reinstate her. People should demand that his review include an explanation for his own decision to fire her. We need to hear his justification for the decision to ax this woman before all the facts were in, on the strength of nothing more than an Andrew Breitbart smear.
Did Vilsack make any effort to learn more about her speech before giving her the push? If not, why not? Sherrod says she told top USDA officials that the full speech would vindicate her. Did anyone at USDA give her protestations even a passing listen? Did anyone try to obtain video of the full speech? If not, why not? Why was Breitbart’s word alone allowed to drive such a high-profile decision?
And the carnival on the right continues, as right wingers scramble to position themselves on Sherrod’s side, to include … you guessed it … Mark Williams.
And Breitbart himself is now claiming that he never made it about Shirley Sherrod, and never called her a racist. Really? Here’s a clip from his post on Monday:
We are in possession of a video from in which Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaks at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her meandering speech to what appears to be an all-black audience, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.
In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn’t do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from “one of his own kind”. She refers him to a white lawyer.
Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.
Bottom line: Andrew Breitbart is a liar. Worse, he’s a race-baiter who will do anything to protect the right wing racists marching behind him, simply for political gain. Let Fox News have him, but the rest of the media should begin ignoring and dismissing him completely, and the sooner the better.
ORIGINAL POST, from Tuesday:
I was out most of the day (Tuesday) and am just catching up on the Shirley Sherrod story. Suffice it to say, it’s one of the more shameful episodes in an increasingly shameful degradation of our national discourse. I am becoming increasingly convinced that there are people on the right, to include Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and clearly, Andrew Breitbart, who will not be satisfied until white people and black people are literally killing each other in the streets. What’s worse, it appears the Obama administration fell for Breitbart’s latest ACORN-style hit job hook, line and sinker.
By now, I’m sure you know the facts of this case (as I said, many of you are probably ahead of me.) But to sum up, Shirley Sherrod was hastily fired from her job at the director of rural development for the USDA in Georgia yesterday, after Breitbart, who is as shameful a phony “journalist” as their is online (not surprisingly, he was tutored by Matt Drudge) posted a few selected, edited clips from a speech Sherrod gave before the Georgia NAACP, in which she recounts her journey from being the daughter of a father murdered by a white man and her family terrorized by the Klan in the segregated south, to a farm bureau official who contemplated withholding her full assistance to a white farmer in need, to a person transformed by the experience of doing everything in her power to help that white farmer save his family’s land, and learning that “it’s not about race, it’s about the haves and have-nots,” and that people of all races should work together. Sherrod’s story is truly powerful, as conveyed by the full video of her speech.
But Breitbart didn’t have the full video.
That didn’t stop him from smearing Sherrod as a racist, and smearing the NAACP for hosting her, in a desperate attempt to play tit-for-tat over the civil rights organization’s resolution calling on the tea party movement to condemn the racists in its ranks (later proven by Mark Williams.) So desperate are Breitbart and his fellow travelers on the right, to dredge up “black racism,” and so determined are they to destroy the president, by any means necessary, they don’t need proof. They just need somebody — anybody — black to demonize, and they let Fox News the right wing blogosphere do the rest. They did it to Van Jones. They did it with ACORN (another Breitbart heavily edited video hatchet job.) They tried it with the Fox-hyped “New Black Panthers” story, and now, they’ve done it to Sherrod.
Watch the full Shirley Sherrod speech here.
But Breitbart isn’t the only one to blame.
The White House was apparently so freaked out by just the possibility of the Sherrod story being taken up by Breitbart’s allies at Fox, and so terrified of any story that has the slightest hint of implication based on race, they, or Tom Vilsack, who heads the USDA, or both, hastily called for her resignation. (The White House denies they called for her head, but says they stand by the decision.) The NAACP initially rushed out to condemn Sherrod, and to support her firing.
Breitbart is now claiming he’s not to blame for Sherrod’s firing. Fox News is distancing itself from the story (and scrubbing Breitbart’s name from it.) And we’re even being treated to the spectacle of race-baiter in chief Glenn Beck, attempting to position himself on Ms. Sherrod’s side. Tomorrow, I half expect Rush Limbaugh to claim that Obama’s white half is racist for firing her. (UPDATE: Big Government is now slamming the administration … for believing Big Government, and firing Ms. Sherrod. Seriously. What’s next, Breitbart? Trying to recruit her into the tea party movement?)
And all of this comes after nearly a full year of the right relentlessly seeking to gin up racial animus against minorities — whether its Hispanics with the overwrought immigration debate, or blacks with the constant race-baiting of Limbaugh, Beck and Breitbart, with his team of video bandits. At the moment, it’s about the right’s desperation to defend the tea party movement against the charges of racism that themselves stem from the plainly viewed signs and behavior of their members, by generating maximum white racial resentment. In my opinion, it’s also about scaring white voters who supported Obama in 2008 away from a “niggerized” president in 2012…
At the end of her speech, Ms. Sherrod talks about how in the early days of the country, there were black and white indentured servants, who toiled together, lived together, and even married one another, and that when those in power realized the implications of their solidarity, they made the black servants slaves for life, to divide them. She said “we need to get that out of our heads,” no longer allow ourselves to be divided by race, adding “it’s not just about black people and white people, it’s about poor people.” And she says she learned that she couldn’t live her life with hate, that black and white people have to learn to live and work together, and overcome our divisions.
Shirley Sherrod is a better person than Andrew Breitbart. Hell, most people are better people than Andrew Breitbart. The White farmers involved in the story are standing behind her, even calling her a “friend for life.” The NAACP has apologized to her. She should sue the shirt off his back for slander, and the NAACP legal defense fund should take the case pro bono.
Read the NAACP’s full statement here.
The only question is, is the president of the United States, whose White House and USDA were “snookered” just like the NAACP, prepared to do the right thing, and restore her job, and her good name?
For now, Vilsack isn’t budging. And it’s more than a shame.
I’ve emailed the White House press office seeking comment, and will follow up tomorrow. But I’m not holding my breath. When A.G. Holder said we’re a nation of cowards, who knew he was pointing the finger so close to his workplace.
UPDATE: An important point from The Atlantic’s Josh Green, about the difference between the Drudge 3-ring circus of the 1990s, and the Breitbart carnival of today:
… Drudge usually focused on sex scandals and tawdry personal humiliations, which, in the end, is hardly worth getting worked up about. Yes, yes, shame on reporters for taking the bait. But c’mon.
Breitbart focuses on race. Today’s episode with Shirley Sherrod, who was forced to resign from the Agriculture Department on the basis of a doctored and intentionally misleading videotape (see below), is an especially ugly case in point, calculated to stir the very worst racial resentments. This time the political world–the NAACP, the Agriculture Secretary–moved as quickly as the media world to unthinking response, and I suspect it happened precisely because race was involved. I don’t doubt that the administration’s understandable desire to avoid racial issues played a big part in how this turned out.
But what’s galling to me–gut-wrenching, really, like watching old news footage of blacks being beaten and clubbed at lunch counters–is that Breitbart obviously understood the powerful effect his tape would have, posted it anyway, and then assumed the role of ringmaster, expertly conducting the media circus, fanning the blames. It’s hardly the first time. But the moral ugliness of what’s just happened is glaring, and it’s hard for me to see how the media can justify continuing to treat Breitbart as simply a roguish provocateur. He’s something much darker.
UPDATE 2: A post on the SF Chronicle’s blog suggests Sherrod would be on firm grounds to sue Breitbart for defamation, and there’s this:
While he says he intended to harm the NAACP, he picked Shirley Sherrod to do it. She did not ask for this.
Andrew Breitbart may be a target for the U.S. Department of Justice’ Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (â€œCCIPSâ€) which is in the Criminal Division. The website, which was forwarded to this blogger by the DOJ on another issue, covers various types of crimes that involve a computer.
If Breitbart altered the video of Shirley Sherrod to make it look like she was making a statement he then called racist, he’s certainly guilty of defamation of character against Shirley Sherrod.
Breitbart may also be guilty of Internet harassment. He certainly should be made a high-profile example to discourage others from these uses of the computer and The Internet to harass a person. Enough is enough.
The post also provides a link to the DOJ section where the applicable law is explained. It remains to be seen whether the race-averse Obama administration, even the much gutsier Eric Holder, will risk the wrath of Fox News and Glenn Beck to pursue a case.
Join the Reinstate Shirley Sherrod Facebook group here.