Friday, October 08, 2010

Sucker Punched

Today's Los Angeles Times has a superb article about the rush to fire Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department employee accused of racism for a speech she gave at an NAACP gathering earlier in the year. The article is based on emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the White House and the Ag Dept regarding the issue and provides a timeline for the entire episode.

The ugliness started with a video posted on the internet by Andrew Breitbart, someone the Los Angeles Times in an excess of politeness refers to as a "conservative media entrepreneur." The video has Ms. Sherrod stating she hesitated in giving a white farmer any help. The video, as we now know was devilishly edited and took that statement out of context. The full video, which was available at the time the events began to unfold, shows that Ms. Sherrod's point was that she quickly realized that the difficulties facing individual farmers were not caused by race, but lack of economic opportunity: the haves/havenots dichotomy.

When confronted with the contents of the Breitbart video, Ms. Sherrod made it clear that it was bogus and mentioned the existence of the full version. Unfortunately for her, nobody bothered to pick up the phone to call the NAACP for a rush copy. Complicating matters further, NAACP officials, caught off-guard by the claims in the Breitbart video were themselves distancing themselves from the whole matter.

Within a matter of days, Ms. Sherrod was gone. And then the full video appeared, making all those White House and Ag Dept employees running around with their hair on fire look as foolish and as inept as they feared they would look if they didn't squelch the story by immediately firing Shirley Sherrod.

As it turned out, Sherrod had been falsely accused, and the actions taken by Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack and his senior staff became a major embarrassment for the Obama administration, raising questions about its basic competence and its preoccupation with public perceptions.

Mr. Breitbart's mission was accomplished.

Since then, of course, Andy Breitbart's habit of "editing" out what he considers irrelevant has come out and he himself has been discredited. Even mildly responsible conservatives are pedaling furiously away from him. The damage, however, has been done. Ms. Sherrod's career is over, and the administration has shown that it is more concerned with image than substance or justice.

Heckuva job, Andy.

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